Surprisingly Good Tofu Tastes Like Chicken (Garlic Lime)

Growing up in the midwest, I never (NEVER) ate tofu. I didn’t hear about tofu until I was in my twenties. The only time people mention tofu in the midwest is when they are trying to explain how disgusting/bland something tastes (ew, that tastes like tofu). But I’m pretty sure this popular simile is only used by people who haven’t actually tried tofu. Once you know how to cook tofu, it will soon become a staple in your kitchen. A lot of people do ask – how to cook tofu so that tofu tastes like chicken? 

To make it so that tofu tastes like chicken, use “extra firm” or “super firm” tofu because they have more density. “Press” extra water out of tofu, dice into cubes, and bake at 375 F for 18-25 minutes. Season tofu after baking. Use your preferred chicken seasoning or check out our recipe for garlic lime tofu. Let’s keep going to learn more about tofu and how to make it taste like chicken. 

Tofu is a popular food for vegetarians and vegans – or for anyone trying to eat less meat. If you are trying to reduce your meat intake, tofu may be a good tool to add to your cooking tool belt. Depending on how you prepare it, it can have a similar “chew” as meat. So it may help make your meatless meals a bit more enjoyable.

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Picture of tofu before it has been "pressed" to remove extra liquid

What Is Tofu?

Tofu is made from curdled and pressed soybeans (try to look past the word “curdled” and just focus on “soybeans”) and is often fortified with vitamin B and calcium. When you buy tofu, you may be surprised to find it submerged in water. That “water” is actually is called nigari – it is “the liquid leftover from extracting salt from seawater” (These fun tofu facts are from from CookingLight’s “What Is Tofu and Is It Healthy?”).

I had never heard of nigari before (I always referred to it as “water stuff.” For example – “don’t spill that water stuff on the counter” is a fairly common sentence in my house.) So I turned to Taste’s “Homemade Tofu: Yes It’s Worth It” to learn more. Taste reports that nigari is mostly magnesium chloride. When you mix nigari with soy milk, it separates the bean curd from whey (continue ignoring “curd”). The curds are pressed together into a block to make tofu. This process is similar to how cheese is made. (I beg to differ Taste, I do not think homemade tofu is worth it. But I do appreciate your endless tofu knowledge).

Example of how to use tofu: tofu salads

A Little More About Tofu

According to Healthline, the rumor on the street is that tofu was made by accident ~2000 years ago when a chef in China mixed soy milk and nigari (all the best things in life are accidents – penicillin, TNT, my second dog). Tofu is a high protein food that easily takes on the taste of the seasoning you add to it. A 3 ounce serving of tofu has 70 calories, 0 grams saturated fat, and 8 grams of protein (CookingLight again).

Tofu is also affordable. Tofu costs ~ $1 less per pound than boneless chicken breast. Although it is not quite as affordable as beans (another high protein meat substitute). Dried beans are nearly $2 less per pound than boneless chicken breast. This information comes from US News “4 Ways Vegetarian Living Can Save Your Wallet”.

Is Tofu Good For You?

Some people worry about tofu because of the potential for GMOs. According to Healthline, research shows there is NO concern for food with GMOS, but you should buy organic tofu if you are worried. Many of the soybeans grown in the US are genetically modified. However, the organic versions are…organic (not genetically modified). So if you buy organic tofu, you can skip the GMO debate altogether (although it will cost a bit more).

Tofu is good for your heart (no wonder we love it so much)! Soy has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, and it may help reduce blood vessel inflammation. Tofu may also help improve your “good” HDL cholesterol, reduce BMI, reduce blood sugar, and prevent diabetes. Eating soy may also help reduce your risk of different types of cancer. This information came from Healthline’s “What Is Tofu and Is It Good for You?” – check their site out for more details.

Healthline does say that increased soy intake may be bad for people who have breast tumors and thyroid issues. As always, talk to a registered dietician or doctor for what is best for YOU. We are merely amateur cooks/bakers/google-ers.

Close up picture of tofu that shows the texture

What Kind of Tofu Should I Buy

There are several different types of tofu. Kitchn’s Emily Han spoke with Tim Kenny, VP of Marketing at Nasoya in “What’s the Difference Between All the Types of Tofu” and does an amazing job explaining all the tofu variations and how best to use them. So when you are ready to dive head first into the world of tofu, definitely check her article to learn more.

According to Kitchn, the tofu varieties indicate how much nigari (water) has been pressed out of them. The firmer the tofu, the more water has been pressed out – this also increases the tofu’s fat and protein content. Firmer tofu is higher in fat and protein. Firmer tofu also require less time pressing water and less time cooking. Softer tofu (soft tofu, silk tofu, or medium tofu) are smooth and fall apart, so they are great if you want to make a dip or blend it into a protein shake (making a quick note on my to-do list). The middle of the road is “firm tofu.” Firm tofu falls apart easily and is good if you are making an “egg” scramble or crumbled “meat.” Firmer tofu (extra firm and super firm) are best if you are wanting to cube it, bake it, fry it, grill it, etc.

Firm Vs Extra Firm

In stores, I most commonly see “firm” and “extra firm.” I usually use tofu for salads, sandwiches, and wraps, so I prefer “extra firm.” I’ve used “firm” for this same purpose and find it still works, but it is a bit softer. You will have a harder time convincing yourself that “firm” tofu tastes like chicken. Make sure you spend more time “pressing” it and baking it if you are going to use it. We recommend “extra firm” tofu; this will help your tofu taste like chicken.

To help understand the difference in tofu, check out the picture below. The tofu on the right is “firm” tofu – see how it is a bit thicker? It was not pressed quite as much prior to packaging, so it still has more nigari (water). The tofu on the left is “extra firm.” It was pressed to be more dense so will hold up better to baking and sautéing.

(Please know the cat is not allowed on the table. But he wanted to try something new and he went for it. Maybe he will help inspire you to cook/eat something new. Hopefully you don’t get chased out of the kitchen and locked in the bedroom for a few hours.)

"Extra firm" tofu is on the left; it is shorter and more condensed. "Firm" tofu is on the right. It is taller and holds more liquid. This helps show the difference between the two.

How to Make Sure Your Tofu Tastes Like Chicken

When making tofu that tastes like chicken, you will never get a 100% match. The biggest difference between tofu and chicken is the density. It is important to use “extra firm” or “super firm” tofu since they are denser. You will still need to follow the steps below to press out extra water (nigari) to help improve the density even more.

This garlic lime seasoning is the perfect combination of flavorful and subtle. My husband says it tastes similar to the lime chicken from Chilis. One of the best things about tofu is that it is great at taking on flavor, so a little bit of seasoning can go a long way.

Dicing your tofu into small cubes will also help it taste more like chicken. The bigger the cube, the more likely the center will have softness to it. I prefer to dice my tofu into 1 inch x 1 inch cubes. This gives me small, dense bites, with more room for adding flavor.

Tofu Tasting for Beginners

When I met my now husband, he was an avid meat eater. I was nervous the first time I made tofu for him, so I tried to hide it in stir fry. That way he could just focus on the rest of the meal if he hated it. To my surprise, he agreed to try it. And to his surprise, he enjoyed it! I recommend this method for beginner tofu eaters. If it is a small component of your meal, you won’t overthink it as much. If you sit down to a steaming plate full of tofu the first time you try it, you may talk yourself out of it.

I recommend pairing tofu with a food that you love. If you don’t enjoy eating salads, don’t have your first tofu experience be adding tofu to a salad. It probably will not win you over. If you love pizza, try tofu pizza instead of chicken pizza. You could add it to your favorite wrap, favorite quinoa salad, or favorite burrito. Toss it with some melted cheese on a bagel. Alfredo pasta with tofu sounds pretty tasty too. Or maybe sprinkle a couple pieces into Lu’s Simple Delicious White Bean & Veggie Quesadillas (Vegetarian). Just take baby steps with tofu. You probably won’t wake up tomorrow excited to eat a handful of tofu. But I promise you will be pleasantly surprised by how tasty tofu is.

An example of how to use tofu: Bagel with melted cheese, tomato, peppers, and tofu.

How to Cook Tofu that Tastes Like Chicken

There are many ways to cook tofu – bake it, fry it, grill it, sauté it. My favorite method is a combination of baking and frying. But before you do anything, you need to press the tofu. Since tofu is full of nigari (water), you will have more success with your baking if you drain and press this.

Step 1:

Grab your “extra firm” tofu. I usually slice 3 out of the 4 sides of the top plastic seal. This will allow you to pour some of the liquid into the sink. Just remember the package is full of nigari (water) and it can make a bit of a mess when you first open it. Don’t let the packaging, the mess, or the soft, spongy brick scare you off!

Tofu package with lid pulled back. It is overflowing with water and water is splashed on the counter. This displays how much water is in the package and why it is important to drain it.

Step 2:

Now that your liquid is drained, set up a spot to “press” excess liquid out of your tofu. Place an absorbent towel (or a thick layer of paper towels) on a plate or tray. Place your tofu block on the plate. Cover your tofu with an absorbent towel (or another thick layer of paper towels).

Step 3:

Weigh down your tofu – gently set heavy (not too heavy) things on top of the towel that is covering your tofu. I have heavy plates (that I want to throw out, but they do come in handy for this). So I stack 3 of these on top of my tofu. You could also use books or items in your kitchen. Just make sure it’s balanced well. This will help “press out” extra fluid from your tofu.

Example of tofu press. Picture of tofu in-between two towels with heavy plates pressing it.

Step 4:

Slice your tofu! You have a ton of flexibility here. I prefer to slice mine into cubes, so I do cuts in 3 directions. I start by cutting horizontally – cutting it in half longways at the thinnest side. Then I keep the two halves stacked and cut across in each direction. I cut mine into ~1 inch x 1 inch cubes because I think it helps the tofu taste like chicken. You can slice them smaller or into larger cubes, have fun with it.

Example of how to slice the tofu length-wise
Example of how to slice tofu width-wise
Example of how to cube the tofu

Step 5:

Time to bake! Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Place your now cubed tofu onto a greased baking sheet. Make sure the tofu cubes are separated. Bake for 18-25 minutes, depending on your preference. Make sure you flip halfway (I recommend the same fork method that Lu used in her Easy Delicious Baked Tumeric & Garlic Sweet Potato Fries). I prefer my tofu to be light (can you describe tofu as light?) so I bake it for ~20 minutes. The longer you bake it, the more stiff and chewy it gets.

Tofu baking on the pan.

Step 6:

Seasoning! Mix juice from 2 limes, garlic powder, and water into bowl until well combined. Place tofu in bowl and let marinate for ~10 minutes. Stir your tofu a couple times to make sure it all gets evenly coated.

Tofu sitting in a bowl with lime juice - absorbing flavoring

Step 7:

Bring it to the stove! Heat tofu and the remaining juice on medium heat until all remaining liquid is gone. Tofu will brown slightly. The higher you turn your heat, the more it will brown. Just be careful not to burn your pan.

Tofu cubes frying on the stovetop
Finished tofu - shows the slighter browner color once it is done cooking

A Few Notes About the Surprisingly Good Tofu Tastes Like Chicken (Garlic Lime) Recipe

  • Leftover tofu can be sealed and stored in the fridge for 4-5 days (according to Food Guys “How Long Does Tofu Last”)
  • Tofu is usually found in the produce section of your favorite grocery store (at my local Price Choppers, it is in-between the mushrooms and the greens). It is more popular than you would imagine – you can buy it Walmart and Target. But you can also check your favorite health food store.
  • When pressing tofu, fold your towels so there is a thick layer above and below your tofu. Your towels will be pretty wet when done. I do not recommend using one towel that wraps above and below. The whole goal is to press out extra water…so give the tofu some space for that.
  • After all of your hard work making tofu, you deserve a donut! Check out Lu’s Quick Chocolate Lovers’ Cake Donuts (Vegan, Gluten Free).

Happy Cooking — Meu

Example of how to eat tofu: in a wrap

Surprisingly Good Tofu Tastes Like Chicken (Garlic Lime)

5 from 1 vote
Recipe by Ifyougiveagirlanoven@gmail.com Course: Dinner, LunchCuisine: Vegetarian, VeganDifficulty: Easy
Servings

5

servings
Prep time

15

minutes
Cooking time

35

minutes

Tofu is great for vegetarians, vegans, or anyone trying to eat less meat. This flavorful garlic lime tofu is the perfect for beginning tofu eaters because it tastes like chicken!

Ingredients

  • 16 ounce package of extra firm tofu

  • 2 limes (~4 tablespoons)

  • 1 tablespoon water

  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder

Directions

  • Drain water (nigari) from package of tofu. Press your tofu for 10-15 minutes. To press tofu, place tofu on plate with a towel underneath. Cover tofu with a second towel. Place heavy object on top of towel to help press out excess water.
  • Dice tofu into ~1 inch X 1 inch cubes.
  • Use your preferred non-stick spray on baking sheet. Place cubed tofu on greased baking sheet (make sure tofu cubes are separated). Bake at 375 F for 18-25 minutes.
  • Mix lime juice, water, and garlic powder in bowl. Place tofu in bowl and gently stir to coat all sides. Let tofu marinate for ~10 minutes, stir occasionally.
  • Simmer tofu and remaining juice in lightly greased frying pan until lightly browned and all water is absorbed. Enjoy!

Recipe Video

Notes

  • “Extra firm” tofu is best for this recipe.
  • Use tofu to replace chicken in your favorite recipes. Try salads, wraps, sandwiches, pizza, pasta…your options are endless!

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