Freezing tofu gives it a meaty, chewy texture that beautifully mimics the texture of chicken. In this post, we’re sharing all our best tofu tips, tricks, and marinades to create THE most mind-blowing vegan chicken – from lemon pepper tofu cutlets to the BEST EVER vegan chicken parmesan recipe. We call this process “the tofu freezer trick” and it is one plant-based cooking hack that will change your life.
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One of the first things people say when discussing tofu is “How can you eat that squishy spongy stuff?!” The answer is, we don’t. And you don’t have to either.
I’ve been freezing tofu since back in my vegetarian days, and it’s pretty much my favorite way to prepare tofu. We use it in so many recipes on this blog (they’re some of the most beloved!), and there’s always a package of tofu in our freezer or one defrosting in the fridge.
After hearing so many misconceptions and having been asked so many questions, I thought it was about time we created a post dedicated to all our tips and tricks for using this “tofu freezer trick” method, as well as put all the recipes that use it in one place for your convenience.
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What is the “Tofu Freezer Trick”?
You may have wondered before: Can I freeze tofu in the package?
Of course you can! There are some frozen tofu recipes that will tell you to open and press the tofu before freezing, but we’re here to tell you that’s not necessary at all (and kinda counterproductive)!
You see, when you freeze tofu in the water it comes in, ice crystals (read: shards) form both inside and outside and penetrate the tofu creating a new, chewy, texture that is a dead-on match for chicken. When you defrost it and drain it, those porous “tears” remain and will REALLY soak up whatever marinade you put it in.
We call the tofu we make with this method “tofu chicken,” and there are SO many ways to use it.
What does tofu chicken taste like?
Given the proper marinating and cooking techniques, it honestly tastes like a marinated skinless chicken breast! You’ll be shocked how much so. (And whenever I write that, I always think it’s nuts I used to eat something called “skinless chicken breast.” Tofu FTW.)
But seriously, in cooking, almost all flavors come from seasonings, spices, marinades, etc. For marinating tofu chicken, we always start with some of our homemade bouillon powder.
How do you substitute frozen tofu for chicken?
While we wouldn’t recommend using it for soups or casseroles (we’re big fans of soy curls for those purposes), when you need more of a stand-alone “cutlet” or “nugget” for a salad, sandwich, pasta, etc, this is the way to go! Torn and breaded, it also makes a great “popcorn chicken”!
This tofu freezer trick really opens up the door to be able to substitute tofu for chicken in all your favorite recipes. Speaking of which, a little later we’ll discuss some of our, and our readers’, favorite recipes. But first, the basics…
What You’ll Need:
We’ve included some specific recipes below, but here’s the basic framework for all of them:
- 1 (16-oz) package extra firm tofu – Make sure you use extra firm tofu, and do NOT (under any circumstances) use silken tofu. Silken tofu has an entirely different texture and will basically turn to cottage cheese when you freeze it. Lastly, make sure the tofu you’re using comes packaged in water.
- ½ cup marinade – This is where it can really get fun! We’ve included some examples of marinades we’ve used before below. Something to keep in mind: If you have a lot of water in your marinade, this will greatly affect the texture of your tofu as well as the cooking time. We suggest using a marinade with an oil base and only minimal water when absolutely necessary. The oil in the marinade will also help you get that crispy oven-fried effect that is just exquisite.
- 1-2 Tbsp vegan chicken-style bouillon powder – Since the texture of tofu when frozen like this is so close to that of chicken, we always add a little chicken-style bouillon powder to whatever marinade we’re using!
How to Make Tofu Chicken (The Tofu Freezer Trick)
While this process takes a bit of time, it could NOT be easier. And we’ve included some tips and tricks along the way to help fit this cooking method more seamlessly into your life.
How to Freeze Tofu
Take it out of your shopping bag and place the whole container in the freezer. Don’t open the package. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. 😉 No, but really, it’s that simple.
The tofu will need at least 12-24 hours to freeze completely. You don’t want to rush this.
Time-Saving Hack: If you dig this method and want to save yourself a lot of time, we highly recommend keeping a block of tofu in your freezer at all times! We order tofu just about every time we get groceries. When one package of tofu goes in the freezer, another package goes in!
How to Defrost Tofu
A slow defrost is best and will allow for the greatest texture transformation. If you have the time, I would transfer the tofu to the fridge for about 24 hours. But, depending on your fridge, it may not defrost in 24 hours and may need up to 48 hours to fully defrost.
If you want it to defrost in a day, you can transfer it to a pie dish and set it on your counter. This way, the tofu should defrost in 12-24 hours. Once defrosted, move the tofu immediately to your fridge until you’re ready to cook with it.
How do you defrost frozen tofu quickly: If you forgot to take the tofu from the freezer and you don’t have 12-24 hours (been there), put the unopened container in a large container of warm water. Make sure the water STAYS warm. A continuous trickle usually does the trick. Done this way, it should defrost in about 3-5 hours.
How to Press Tofu
You can press tofu with an actual tofu press or over some paper towels on a dish or pie plate with something heavy on top (here’s a video explaining this method).
It may seem counterproductive to press the liquids out just to saturate it again, but by getting rid of the flavorless water you’re actually creating more space for the flavorful marinade to get soaked back into all those tears the ice shards created.
How to Flavor Tofu Like Chicken
Tofu is bland AF on its own, but then again so are animal-based meats! It’s always been about the spices and flavors we add that give us the taste. That’s why marinating your tofu is a KEY part of this process. Do not skip this step!
The longer you can marinate the tofu the better. For most recipes, we suggest 30 minutes at the very, very least but prefer to marinate them overnight.
Time-Saving Tip: If you want to score BONUS points and feel like the most organized person in the world, you can actually re-freeze your tofu in the marinade. This makes an awesome batch cooking session, as I often make several different flavors at a time. They stay good like this in the freezer for up to 2 months. When you’re ready to use them, you’ll just defrost in the fridge or on the counter and cook with one of the methods below!
How to Cook Tofu
You may be wondering, after I’ve marinated it, what is the best way to cook tofu? When we use this freeze-and-press method, our favorite way to cook tofu is by slow baking it. We find this gives the meatiest possible texture and does not leave the tofu squishy at all!
How to cook tofu in the oven: I recommend baking tofu “cutlets” like the ones above at around 350F for as long as 40-50 minutes – low and slow. This really gives the water a chance to cook out of the tofu while the outsides crisp up just enough to seal in the meaty texture.
How to air fry tofu: Air fried tofu is great. While we like to make big batches of these tofu cutlets (which is more conducive to the oven in my opinion), many of our readers have reported great results when cooking these cutlets in the air fryer. I would keep the temperature the same and cook them in small batches, flipping every 5-10 minutes until they’re crispy.
How to pan fry tofu: If you’re looking for those SUPER crispy edges while keeping some of that internal “give,” pan frying is the way to go. Just add a little bit of oil (or just a few Tbsp of the tofu marinade) to a hot pan over med-high heat and sear those babies, flipping every few minutes until beautifully browned!
Frozen Tofu Recipes
Now that we’ve gone over the basics, here are some of our favorite tofu recipes using the tofu freezer trick!
1. Lemon Pepper Tofu Cutlets
These Lemon Pepper Tofu Cutlets are our EVERYTHING chicken. So flavorful and so, so versatile! We love them warm and served over a nice pile of steaming rice with some seared veg. They’re fantastic in wraps of all kinds, but they truly found their place in the world when they got together with our vegan Caesar salad.
2. Sweet Chili Tofu Cutlets
Our Sweet Chili Tofu Cutlets are the perfect balance of sweet and spicy, giving a super kick to any dish! This is our favorite way to cook tofu for stir fry, but these are also great in salads, wraps, and easy dinner bowls!
3. Balsamic Tomato Tofu Cutlets
These Italian-inspired Balsamic Tomato Tofu Cutlets are molto delizioso! Not only are they fantastic in pasta dishes and also as sandwiches with some extra sauce and some melted vegan cheese, but just wait until you try these in a vegan bacon chicken ranch salad.
4. Tequila Lime Tofu Cutlets
These tequila lime tofu cutlets were originally created to go with our avocado tequila lime pasta. We quickly discovered how much we also love them on nachos and in tacos and quesadillas, And they just shine as the main attraction alongside some Spanish-style rice with some warm flatbread or jalapeno cornbread .
5. Vegan Chicken Parmesan
Oh, Mama mia!! If you’re looking for a breaded, fried tofu style cutlet, our restaurant-style vegan chicken parm recipe is for you! This flavor combination is just absolutely amazing over pasta or as a vegan chicken parm sandwich!
6. Vegan Chicken Parm Pizza
Tender, tiny pieces of chicken parm tofu generously grace the top of this freshly baked work of art with just just enough vegan cheese to tantalize and to tease. You can thank us later, just get this Vegan Chicken Parm Pizza in your mouth!
7. Vegan Chicken Cutlets
These vegan breaded chicken cutlets are as delicious as they are versatile. Marinated in classic Italian chicken flavors, breaded, and baked to perfection. Serve these tender tofu cutlets with any pasta dish and/or a big green salad, and everyone will be asking for seconds!
8. Crispy Greek Tofu
This vegan Greek tofu recipe is loaded with Mediterranean-inspired flavors and has a crispy outside and tender inside. Serve this vegetarian Greek inspired recipe in salads, bowls, pastas, or as a delicious Greek tofu sandwich!
9. Pesto Tofu Cutlets
These baked pesto tofu cutlets are a tasty vegan substitute for pesto chicken! These are the perfect plant-based protein for vegan pesto tofu pasta, salads, and sandwiches!
10. Vegan Honey Garlic Tofu
This vegan honey garlic recipe – made with tofu instead of chicken – will dazzle your tastebuds with its salty/sweet flavors and delight your mouth with the crispy tofu edges and tender meaty inside. It’s a fantastic simple meal prep – with many options for how to prep it, including freezer options! Serve it over brown rice or alongside mashed potatoes, add stir-fried or roasted veggies for an easy make-ahead work night dinner.
11. Vegan Buffalo Tofu Wings
If you’re looking for the best vegan boneless wings with dairy-free buffalo sauce, you’ve found the right recipe, my friend! These vegan chicken wings made with frozen and defrosted tofu are marinated, breaded, and air fried before being tossed in a spicy tangy buffalo sauce and dipped into a vegan blue cheese dip. If you’re a buffalo sauce fan (or love someone who is!), you have to try this game-changing buffalo tofu recipe.
Have you tried the tofu freezer trick before?! What did you think and how did you flavor them?
Let us know in the comments or tag us in your tofu-riffic photos on Instagram! If you’re not already hanging out with us over there, we’re @theplantpowercouple with the “the.”
We can’t wait to hear all about it. 🙂 Enjoy, friends!
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