Freeze Tofu First for Texture That Soaks Up More Sauce

By Cook's Illustrated Published May 2013

This classic Asian restaurant technique works equally well in the home kitchen.

We’ve often wondered why some tofu in Chinese restaurants has a distinctive spongy texture that allows it to soak up more of the sauce in a dish. This texture is produced by freezing the tofu solid before thawing and cooking it—a method that was originally used in China (and Japan) to preserve tofu during the winter months. Tofu is about 86 percent water; as it freezes, the ice crystals expand, pushing apart the protein network. When thawed, the water drains away, leaving the tofu with a spongy consistency that is highly absorbent. We experimented with freezing tofu in the test kitchen and quite liked the results. When stir-fried, the slabs did absorb sauce readily and had a resilient, slightly chewy texture that was far more meatlike than fresh tofu. And because the thawed tofu contained so little water, it formed a nice crust when deep-fried. To freeze, slice extra-firm tofu into 1/2- to 3/4-inch-thick slabs, spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet or plate, and place them in the freezer overnight. (At this point, the tofu can be placed in zipper-lock bags and stored in the freezer for up to a month.) To use, thaw to room temperature and press each slab gently over a colander to expel any remaining water before cooking.