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Getting rid of that "tofu flavor"

As a long-time vegetarian cook, this is mystery I've been baffled by for ages. In stir-fries and thai curries, my tofu never turns out like the flavor-absorbing, tender cubes I have at restaurants. My tofu always ends up tasting like, well... tofu. I've tried marinades, which can mask the flavor, but often add too much. I've tried elaborate washing and drying rituals. Nothing I would call a success.

Any tips? I just want to make a nice green curry with tofu that tastes like its surroundings, not like the cloudy tofu water it came packed in!

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  1. Different brand of tofu taste differently. Also, varying firmness of tofu absorbs flavors differently. I would try using a firm tofu (not organic, I don't like organic tofu) and draining it on paper towels for a couple of hours. Then place it in a marinade to let it soak up some flavor.

    For a curry, maybe try a slightly less firm tofu and cut into small cubes to simmer in the curry sauce.

    Just keep trying different brands and hopefully you'll settle on one that works for you.

    1. Do you drain your tofu? I always line a strainer with paper towels and drain for at least 10 minutes before cooking tofu. It seems like that makes it more like a dry sponge, ready to suck up flavor, than the smooshy sponge it is when packaged.

      1. i use the softer tofus.....and add them early on in the process of cooking along with the spices, so that they can absorb all they can and even toast up a little in the pan. I had tried tofu a good while back thinking it would "absorb" and for some reason it never....it just tasted like rubbery cubes to me...but i think i was using too firm tofu. I revisited it these past few weeks and now really like it. I also cut into smaller , longer thin strips instead of cubes.

        1. Most restaurants blanch or deep-fry their tofu before adding it to dishes. It makes a huge difference.

          That said, I agree that each brand has a really distinctive flavour. I can't stand most soft tofu, only the Mori-Nu; yet the firm and extra-firm kinds are fine in pretty much every brand.

          1 Reply
          1. re: piccola

            Some of the best tofu dishes use firm tofu which has been blanched (I salt the water as if for pasta), cut into "pillows" and deep fried. These are good enough to snack on as-is.

            I prefer the inexpensive tubs of tofu from my local Chinese grocery. Tofu really isn't "tasteless" and this tofu has a pleasant, mild taste. It is good "raw" in a classic like "tofu tossed with preserved egg."


          2. Get the fresh (or at least the ones that require refridgeration) in Chinese / japanese grocery stores. Don't get those boxed ones. Those are dreadful

            1. I used to "press" the liquid out of tofu before marinating and cooking with it. Take a block of fresh tofu (in the refrigerated section in sealed packages and sometimes in the deli section of co-ops) and cut it into 3/4 inch thick slices. Lay slices flat and spaced out on a paper towel lined inverted sheet pan. Cover with more paper towel. Place another sheet pan on top and weigh down with something heavy like a phone book or a cast iron skillet. Let drain like this for 30-60 minutes. Marinate in your tasty liquid of choice, then cook and eat.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Non Cognomina

                This is what I do - it truly becomes a sponge absorbing whatever the marinade is - allows me to imbue a flavor to the tofu to whatever I am cooking -

              2. freeze your tofu! i worked at a vegan cafe for some time... and we froze and then thawed our tofu-- this drastically changes the texture of it. it makes it into a very spongy texture, and it absorbs flavor very well. give it a try! i recommend doing this only with firm/extra firm tofu.

                1 Reply
                1. re: elenoise

                  Yes, that is actually commonly used in Chinese hot pot in Beijing as the tofu really absorbs the soup very well.

                  However, if the OP is trying to re-create the tofu stir fry or curry in restaurants, this freezing method will not be applicable as it will change the texture so much that it will not resemeble anything like what the OP had in the restaurants.

                2. For curry's or stir fry, I just drain and press extra-firm tofu for about 15 minutes, then cube and fry in a little oil (non-stick pan is helpful) to get the flavor I like. I put the fried cubes to the side, cook the curry or stir-fry, then add the cubes back in at the end of the cooking.

                  1. I also like freezing it, and also frying it. Of course, over the years I have gotten to the point where I just plain like tofu, it doesn't need to be highly flavored for me to enjoy it anymore.

                    1. I was adding cubed medium firm tofu to my simple bean sprout soup just long enough to heat it thru. One day I got side tracked and it ended up bubbling away for a while. I was pleasantly surprised at how it seemed to swell up and acquire a creamier pleasant texture and flavor. Just a thought in terms of whatever your cooking process is.