This method might sound counterintuitive, but trust the process.

By Julia Sklar
May 04, 2020
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Tofu is a great source of protein for many reasons: it’s suitable for vegetarians and vegans, and it’s also cheap, versatile, and keeps in the refrigerator for months. But one way it often seems to fall short in home cooking is flavor. If you’ve ever delighted in tofu in something like a Thai curry, and then found the same dish to be tasteless in your own kitchen, one common pantry ingredient and an easy pre-cooking step could change that. I’m talking about brining your tofu. 

On the road to cooking with tofu, there is often an instruction to press the blocks and expel any excess water, so it might seem counterintuitive to actively submerge your tofu in water, but stay with me here. This method, which uses both salt and hot water, helps to simultaneously deeply season the tofu while trapping just enough moisture to keep the texture soft, but drawing out excess moisture. The end result is a tofu that carries its own flavor underneath whatever sauce or marinade you add, maintains a nice consistency even after being pressed, and fries more quickly and evenly. 

  1. Using a 16:1 ratio, bring water and salt to a boil in a pot. 
  2. Remove the pot from the heat as soon as it boils, and submerge your tofu in the hot saltwater brine with the cover off for at least 15 minutes. 
  3. After the 15 minutes are up, transfer the tofu to paper towels between two cutting boards, and press using something heavy like a cast iron skillet (or even a stack of textbooks will work) for another 15 minutes. 

You’ll need to adjust the amount of water and salt depending on how wide your pot is and how many blocks of tofu you’re brining, but make sure it’s enough to completely cover the tofu in water. For submerging one block of tofu in a four-quart stock pot, four cups of water and ¼ cup of salt works well. After you brine and press, proceed regularly with whatever recipe you’re following, whether you’re sauteing, stir-frying, breading and deep frying, braising, or anything else. 

As with hot saltwater brines that you might use on meat, it is also possible to add additional flavors to the solution depending on the style of recipe you’re following. Lemon peel, bay leaves, peppercorns, and sugar, honey, or molasses would all be welcome additions and will come through subtly in the final dish. Don’t be afraid to experiment with other ingredients in an effort to make tofu a more flavorful protein in your recipes.