There are dozens of types of tofu, but firm tofu is one of the most versatile. In this article, we’ll talk about what firm tofu is, how it’s different from other common types of tofu, how it’s used, and more!
What Is Firm Tofu?
Tofu, also known as bean curd, is made from soy milk that’s been coagulated to separate the solids and the liquid. The process is similar to cheesemaking, in which dairy milk is curdled, separated, and the curds are strained and/or pressed to produce different types of cheese.
Once separated out, the soybean curds are molded into a cake. They can then be compressed to strain out the remaining water. How long the tofu is pressed depends on the desired firmness of the tofu.
Firm tofu is a type of fresh tofu with a medium level of water content when compared with silken (on the wetter end) or extra firm (on the drier end). It is the most versatile type of fresh tofu, soft enough to be used in soups and steamed dishes, yet firm enough to be pan-fried or stir-fried without falling apart.
It is also one of the most common types of tofu, becoming readily available even in regular supermarkets.
You may also find extra-firm tofu, which is not as common. It is a pressed fresh tofu that has had more moisture pressed out of it than firm tofu, with an even sturdier texture. Like firm tofu, it comes in blocks packed in water in rectangular plastic containers.
While we rarely call for extra firm in our recipes (as it isn’t as easy to find in supermarkets), you may want to use it in recipes that call for the tofu to be stir-fried or pan-fried.
What Are the Differences Between the Types of Fresh Tofu?
There are several different types of fresh tofu, designated “fresh” because the tofu is uncooked, not dried, and has otherwise been minimally processed.
We used to buy fresh tofu at a local market in Beijing, where a husband and wife team made different kinds of tofu every morning, soaking soybeans in water, cooking and grinding them to produce soy milk, and making tofu in big rectangular vats.
The freshly cut tofu that came out of this mini factory was magically delicious, with a more pronounced soybean flavor than commercially produced tofu, and priced even more magically at 40 cents per block!
They offered firm, soft, and extra firm. But what are the differences between these types of fresh tofu?
- Firm Tofu: As already mentioned, firm tofu is a pressed fresh tofu with medium moisture content. It doesn’t fall apart as readily as silken tofu or soft tofu, though it’s still soft enough to be used in soups or braised dishes. It’s also firm enough to be pan-fried.
- Silken and Soft Tofu: Silken tofu is an unpressed fresh tofu, meaning it is not pressed or strained after it is made and has a high moisture content. Once the soy milk is coagulated, the curds are not cut at all, producing a much more delicate tofu with a smooth, glassy texture (similar to custard) that breaks apart easily.
- Extra Firm Tofu: Extra firm tofu has had much of its moisture pressed out. The result a more elastic product that can be easily sliced, stir-fried and otherwise manipulated without it falling apart.
How Is IT Used?
Firm tofu has a wide range of applications and a bland flavor, so it will take on whatever flavors you add to it.
You can stir-fry it (Tofu with Black Bean Sauce), pan-fry it (Homestyle Tofu Stir Fry), deep fry it (Hakka Style Stuffed Tofu), substitute it for meat in stir-fries (Kung Pao Tofu), or put it in soups (Easy Fish Tofu Soup) and braised dishes (Quick & Easy Braised Tofu).
To use it, peel off the wrapper, and drain off most of the liquid. Carefully turn the box of tofu upside down onto a plate or in your hands to remove it from the package. Then you can slice or cube it!
Buying & Storing Firm Tofu
We prefer to buy organic non-GMO firm tofu, which can be found at some well-stocked supermarkets, as well as Asian grocery stores.
Just be sure that the package is labeled “firm,” as the packages do tend to all look similar!
Store tofu in the refrigerator and use by the date stamped on the package. Once opened, store any unused tofu in water (just transfer it to a clean container and add enough fresh water to cover it, or it will dry out), and use within 3-4 days.