Got a few slabs of frozen tofu that you need to cook quickly? Then we have the perfect tofu defrosting guide for you!
How to defrost tofu? Tofu is best defrosted at room temperature with a weighted object over it to drain off excess liquid. You can also defrost the tofu by placing it in the microwave at the defrost setting or running warm water over the container to bring up the temperature of the frozen tofu.
Read below to learn more about how to properly defrost tofu and some tips on defrosting it properly using different methods!
Why Freeze Tofu?
Freezing tofu is a clever trick that many Chinese restaurants use to make tofu more porous and meatier.
Tofu is made from curdled soybean milk and has no apparent flavor on its own. But its texture is why it is so prized in Asian cuisine.
Inside tofu are protein structures that hold the shape of the block together – and even though tofu looks dense, the protein strands are aligned in such a way that there are gaps in between which helps tofu absorb liquids, and therefore, flavor!
The practice of freezing tofu goes back a long time.
Tofu was initially frozen to extend its shelf life during the winter months.
People were quick to notice, however, that once defrosted, the tofu slabs were able to soak up more moisture and even achieve a spongey and meatier texture.
So how does freezing help?
Tofu mainly consists of water, in fact, up to 80% of the mass is just water! When you freeze tofu, the water molecules inside expand, loosening the protein structure.
As the tofu continues freezing these structures are temporarily locked in place and the tofu is eventually frozen rock solid.
But when you defrost it, the tofu starts to release a lot of its moisture as the protein structures try to go back to their original alignment – but it isn’t perfect. This new alignment is what gives the tofu a chewier and meatier texture!
This effect is compounded when you add a weighted object over a frozen slab of tofu as it defrosts to release more water.
Once the tofu is drained, it becomes more absorbent and takes on a spongey texture that you can commonly find in many Chinese restaurants. `
This feature can also be achieved with refrigerated tofu – but refrigerated tofu will likely be less superior to defrosted tofu in terms of its ability to soak up flavors.
How to Freeze Tofu
To freeze tofu, you will need to cut up an extra firm slab of tofu into equal pieces.
We recommend cutting into ½ or 3/4th-inch slabs.
Once cut, place the pieces of fresh tofu on a baking tray and store the tray in the fridge at 0F for at least 8 hours.
For the best results, freeze the tofu overnight so that it solidifies completely.
Some people like to refrigerate the tofu first before storing it in the freezer, but this step is redundant and you can just store fresh tofu in the freezer without ruining its quality.
You can freeze any type of tofu but we recommend that you avoid freezing silken tofu as it will likely lose its special texture as it defrosts.
When its time to cook the tofu, all you need is to pick the right defrosting method:
Room Temperature Defrosting – Most Common Method
In most cases, defrosting tofu at room temperature is the best option if you want the same restaurant-level quality – but there are a few precautions that you need to follow.
First, make sure that you don’t leave the tofu out for more than 2 hours to avoid contamination. At normal room temperature, a ½ to 3/4th inch slab of tofu should take about 45 minutes to an hour to fully defrost.
Place the frozen piece of tofu on a clean and even surface, then place a flat weighted dish over the tofu to help it release any remaining water.
As the tofu defrosts, you should be able to see a pool of water forming around it!
Please be careful when using this method. If you leave the tofu out for longer, then it might become compromised and may not even be fit for consumption. We don’t recommend defrosting a large slab of tofu because it will take way longer to come up to room temperature.
Residual Heating Method – Quicker than Room Temperature Method
This method is the safest and quickest way to defrost tofu without affecting its overall characteristics. You will need to put the tofu in a warm bath so that it can defrost more efficiently using residual heat.
The right way to do this would be to store the tofu inside an airtight container. Place the container in a deep bowl and then fill the bowl with warm water.
Do not add boiling water to the bowl! The goal here is to gradually bring up the temperature of the tofu without actually heating it.
Leave the tofu in the bath for about 30 minutes and then take it out and drain off excess liquid by placing a weighted object over it. Once defrosted, simply use it as intended!
Refrigerating Defrosting Method – Slowest, but Safest
This is probably the safest and easiest method to defrost tofu, but you will need to give it at least 8 hours to defrost completely.
What’s great about the refrigeration method is that you can also place a weighted object over the tofu while it defrosts in the fridge overnight.
This way you can ensure the quality and safety of the tofu while also draining excess liquid.
For the best results, we recommend that you also store the tofu at room temperature with the weighted object over it for about 30 minutes before cooking it, just to get any leftover moisture out.
Microwave Method – Quickest Method
Using a microwave to defrost tofu may seem like a good idea, but we only recommend this method for people who immediately require defrosted tofu because the tofu may still have a lot of moisture inside, even after it is thawed.
To defrost frozen tofu in the microwave, simply place the frozen slabs on a microwave-safe plate and then set the microwave at the lowest setting.
Defrost for about 2-3 minutes and then check whether the tofu has started to defrost. This will give you an idea of how much longer you should need to defrost the tofu in the microwave.
We recommend running the microwave for about 2-3 more minutes until the tofu is defrosted.
If you have additional time, then we suggest finishing the defrosting process by placing a weighted object over the tofu for at least 15-20 minutes so that the leftover water is expelled.
Pan Method – Direct Heating Method
The pan method is another great way to use frozen tofu by skipping the defrosting method completely.
For this method, you will be cooking the tofu as soon as it comes out of the freezer – but there are a few precautions that you need to keep in mind.
First of all, you need to start with low heat. If you add frozen tofu to a screaming hot pan, then you will likely burn the tofu before it even defrosts properly.
Start with medium-low heat and let the tofu defrost for about 4-5 minutes in the pan. The goal here is to melt the ice crystals inside before cooking the superficial layer.
After 4-5 minutes, flip the tofu and cook the other side. By now, you should be able to see a pool of water evaporating around it. Once all the water has been evaporated, you can turn up the heat.
Gently press down on the tofu so that it compresses and makes full contact with the cooking surface. Then simply turn and repeat this step until it is cooked!
Boiling Method – Alternate Cooking Method
If you wish to cook the tofu directly, then you can also use the boiling method to quickly cook the tofu while it is frozen.
This is perhaps the easiest way to defrost and cook tofu and works well when you want to use it in soups.
Simply bring a pot of water to a boil and lightly season it. Then carefully slip in the frozen pieces of tofu and cook as intended! The tofu should take about 1-2 minutes to cook in boiling water. Once defrosted, you can use it in any way!
Freezing tofu is a fantastic way to get the most out of its flavor-absorbing capabilities and there are numerous ways to defrost it too!
Now that you know how to properly defrost it, here are some related questions:
Can you fry frozen tofu?
Yes, you can fry frozen tofu by placing the frozen pieces directly in a pan with lightly hot oil. Start with low heat and then increase the temperature to fully cook the tofu. We recommend defrosting and draining the tofu properly when you want to deep-fry it.
How long does tofu last in the freezer?
Any type of tofu can be stored in the freezer for about 3-4 months. We don’t recommend storing it for longer than 4 months as it may impact the quality of the tofu. It won’t go bad but it will certainly lose a lot of its texture!