As learning curves go, tofu’s is mild. Many foods and drinks take getting used to; few people enjoy their first sip of coffee (bitter), hard liquor (burning) or jalapeño (hot). But tofu isn’t threatening: it doesn’t sting or have harsh flavors that make you recoil. It’s about as scary as cottage cheese, egg white, sour cream or cooked chicken—all of which it has been compared to, legitimately, in some contexts.
Tofu’s greatest asset is its ability to disguise itself and take on the flavor of whatever it’s combined with. Soft or silken tofu whips up to a silky smooth consistency, substituting beautifully for cream cheese, mayonnaise or sour cream. The firmer, denser water-packed tofu behaves like a sponge, absorbing whatever marinade it’s paired with. Just remember to use the right variety for the job, and you’ll have a whole new appreciation for tofu.
- Water-packed tofu—Available in soft, firm and extra-firm textures, water-packed tofu always comes refrigerated. Its texture is crumbly, with a shaggy edge if pulled apart, and it has a slightly spongy uneven surface. It holds up well to stir-frying and sautéing and is terrific marinated, as it takes on whatever flavors it comes in contact with.
- Silken tofu—Silken or soft tofu’s greatest asset is its ability to disguise itself in creamy concoctions from cheesecake to dips to salad dressing. Silken or soft tofu comes aseptically packaged in small cardboard boxes (which require no refrigeration) and in tubs in water, which do require refrigeration. It really is “silky,” with a texture akin to custard. It absolutely can not be stir-fried or sautéed as it will turn to mush.
—By Crescent Dragonwagon