Bean curd, also commonly known as tofu, is made from ground, pressed soybeans and has been eaten for over 2,000 years. It comes in a number of different forms that are commonly used in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Southeast Asian cuisine. Bean curd can be enjoyed uncooked or fried, steamed, baked, grilled, stewed, or stir-fried.
- Also Known As: tofu
- Origin: China, at least 2,000 years ago
- Nutritional Information: High in protein
- Main Varieties: silken/soft, firm, extra firm
Bean Curd vs. Tempeh
Tempeh is another soy product that is often sold alongside bean curd or tofu. Cooked, fermented soybeans are pressed into a dense cake along with beans, grains, and flavorings. The mixture can vary depending on the brand. Tempeh and pressed-firm bean curd can be used similarly in recipes, but tempeh has a stronger, nuttier flavor. It is often used as a replacement for meat in stir-fries.
There are a number of varieties of bean curd, with products more commonly labeled as tofu. It is most commonly sold as blocks ranging in firmness from silken or soft to extra firm. There are also a number of preserved tofu products available, especially at Asian markets.
Tofu puffs are fried golden squares in cellophane bags available in the refrigerated area of Chinese supermarkets. They are super absorbent and are usually cooked with stews, broths, and soups or sometimes stuffed with pork or beef.
Preserved bean curd or fermented tofu is bean curd cut into cubes and fermented in rice wine. It is usually sold in glass jars or cans in Chinese supermarkets and comes in a variety of flavors, including chili.
Dried bean curd sheets are also known as tofu skin and are made from the “skin” that forms on the surface of boiled soy milk. You must rehydrate dried bean curd before cooking by soaking it in cold water overnight. Tofu skin has a meaty texture and is often used in vegetarian dishes.
How to Cook With Bean Curd
Bean curd can be used directly out of the package, or it can be pressed to remove excess moisture first. How you prep your tofu (if at all) will depend upon the recipe. To press bean curd—more common with the firm and extra-firm varieties—use a tofu press. If you don't have a press, place the tofu on top of a few layers of paper towels or a clean kitchen towel, cover with more paper towels or a kitchen towel, and top with a baking sheet. Stack a cookbook or two on top of the baking sheet to weigh it down. Depending on how dry you want your bean curd, leave for a few minutes to an hour or more.
Unpressed and uncooked bean curd, especially silken or soft varieties, can be added to smoothies or creamy desserts like puddings. Silken tofu, especially when made fresh, is also served as a Chinese breakfast dish called douhua topped with soy sauce and spring onions. Firm bean curd can be deep-fried, stuffed, stewed, added to soups, baked, grilled, and more.
What Does It Taste Like?
Bean curd, or tofu, is soft, white or off-white, and nearly flavorless. The density can vary depending on whether the bean curd is silken, soft, firm, or extra firm, as well as how it is prepared. Pressed tofu is stiffer because much of the water has been pushed out, and different cooking methods can also affect the texture. Tofu takes well to marinades and flavorful sauces since it eagerly soaks up the flavors around it.
Bean Curd Recipes
In addition to playing a starring role in a long list of Asian dishes, bean curd is also a great stand-in for meat, eggs, and dairy. Broken up and sautéed, firm tofu is a tasty replacement for eggs, and when pressed and breaded, it's a satisfying swap for chicken nuggets. It can even make a surprisingly creamy whipped cream.
Where to Buy Bean Curd
Bean curd, or tofu, can be found in most major grocery stores in the refrigerated section near the cheese or vegetarian products. It is sold in blocks in plastic squares and is more commonly labeled as tofu. A wider variety of tofu can be found at Asian markets. Make sure to buy the type of tofu specified in your chosen recipe. Using silken tofu in a recipe that calls for firm tofu, for example, will not yield the best results.
You can also make your own tofu at home. The process takes some time but is simple overall and gives you complete control of the ingredients, flavor, and texture.
Bean curd will keep in its sealed, unopened container for several weeks. Once open, store any uncooked, leftover tofu in the fridge in an airtight container with water. If you change the water every day or two, the bean curd will last for five days. Leftover cooked tofu will keep in the fridge for up to three days.
Bean curd can also be frozen. Cut into cubes and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze until solid. Add to an airtight container or zip-top bag and use within three months. Let frozen tofu thaw before using and drain off any excess liquid. Previously frozen tofu has a spongier texture that can actually be preferable in some dishes, especially when marinated.