Poached frozen tofu and fried frozen tofu cutlets


Have you ever wondered what happens to tofu if you freeze it? Or perhaps you’ve even tried freezing it, and been dismayed to find that it changes color and texture rather dramatically.

When you freeze a block of tofu, the white, creamy texture changes into a beige colored sponge with evenly distributed cells. This is because the water in the tofu expands and forms ice crystals. There’s nothing wrong at all with frozen tofu though. It’s a time honored way of preserving tofu. Freeze dried tofu is sold as kouya dofu (or kouya tofu) or kouri dofu (tofu)), and is a great long-keeping staple.

Here though I’m going to talk about fresh tofu that you freeze yourself, since I think for most people outside of Japan it’s getting a lot easier these days to get fresh tofu, but freeze dried kouya dofu is still limited mainly to Japanese grocery stores. If you happen to overstock on fresh tofu or something though, freezing is a good way of keeping the excess. You just need to know how to deal with it for optimum flavor.

How to freeze tofu

Ideally, you want to drain the tofu out of the pack it comes in and put it into fresh water. But I have to admit that more often than not I just throw the whole unopened pack in a ziplock bag, and put it straight into the freezer.

What kind of tofu?

Silken or yakko tofu makes a finer textured frozen tofu, but any fresh tofu will work. (Interestingly, fried tofu doesn’t change much in texture when you freeze it.)

How to defrost a block of frozen tofu

De-frost it as slowly as your time allows. Transferring it to the refrigerator a day before you need it is ideal. If you are in a hurry, defrost in the microwave (on the DEFROST setting) for about 3-4 minutes per 300g block. It’s ok if it’s still a bit frozen in the middle.

Once the water surrounding the tofu is melted, take the block out. It looks like this - a beige sponge.


It’s sturdier than a fresh unfrozen tofu, but still rather fragile. Very carefully press down on top to squeeze out some of the moisture. Cut into slices.

Frozen tofu poached in vegetable bouillon

It looks like a sponge, and it really is a sponge - flavorless and ready to take on any seasonings and such that you want to throw at it.

My favorite way is to stew it gently in a stock or soup. The traditional combination of course would be something like the stewing liquid I used to cook the hijiki previously. But here I’ve poached the frozen tofu in a vegetable bouillon, just to show how versatile it is.

Ingredients for the bouillon

  • 1 medium carrot
  • A 20cm / 7 inch or so length of leek
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • A handful of fresh parsley
  • 4 cups Water
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • Olive oil
  • About 1 tsp. salt, or a vegetable stock cube
  • Black pepper
  • Up to 3 blocks of frozen tofu

Cut the carrot, leek, and celery into thin sticks. Sauté them in a hot pan with a little olive oil until lightly browned. Add water, wine, pepper, salt or stock cube, thyme and parsley and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, and carefully add the tofu slices (add a little more water if there’s not enough liquid). Simmer for at least 15 minutes.

(If you’re using freeze-dried kouya dofu, soak it in water until soft and squeeze out the water before poaching. It will be firmer and spongier than tofu you freeze yourself, but still tasty.)

You can store this, liquid and all, in the refrigerator for a few days. You can eat the tofu just as-is, drained out of the liquid. It makes a very nice bento item. Or, turn them into tofu mini-cutlets or nuggets.

Frozen tofu mini-cutlets

  • Slices of poached frozen tofu, drained and squeezed out lightly
  • Cornstarch or potato starch (gluten-free kind if you are sensitive)
  • Olive oil or butter (if you’re not a vegan)

Coat the tofu slices lightly in the cornstarch. Heat up a pan with a little olive oil or butter (or other oil of your choice). Cook the tofu slices until golden brown on both sides. Optionally sprinkle with a little paprika and salt, or soy sauce.

Here’s how it looks cut open. You can see the sponge-like texture, which is full of juicy vegetable bouillon.


These mini-cutlets or nuggets are really nice hot or cold, perfect for bento.

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Your tofu cutlets look amazing!! As a new vegan and a bento enthusiast, I’m really finding a lot of inspiration on your site — thank you so much!


those tofu cutlets look delicious.


I’m impressed: when I have questions, you have answers! I usually have problems to deal with big tofu blocks since I’m the only one at home to dare eat “that thing”. I don’t whant to throw away the rest and it doesn’t last very long in fidge. Now, I’ll have freezing attitude.

frozen tofu

Hi M,

Sounds like a wonderful idea using the poaching method to soften and add flavor to the spongy texture of thawed out tofu.

I will give it a try.

Thank you for so much for your two wonderful and oh so creative websites.

Ciao, O

Wow, I have to try this. I

Wow, I have to try this. I always wondered how my favorite Thai restaurant got their tofu so dry and sponge-like, and this must be how they do it. It would make sense, because they probably keep their tofu frozen for long-term storage.

Re: Poached frozen tofu and fried frozen tofu cutlets

Wooow! I am eating these right now and just had to THANK YOU right away for this ingenius meal! It is SO delicious! P: You always have such nice ideas for everything I just threw into the garbage can before :) My wallet is thanking you, too!

Re: Poached frozen tofu and fried frozen tofu cutlets

I really love these served hot but I'm struggling to find something to have with them as a main meal rather than a bento. I find them a little greasy (I don't eat much fried food) so I'd want an accompaniment that offsets that. The best thing I've found so far is a little diluted umeboshi puree to dip them into. Any other ideas?

Re: Poached frozen tofu and fried frozen tofu cutlets

A classic way of cutting down on the oiliness of fried food or any oily food, such as grilled blue fish (mackerel and so on) in Japanese cooking is to accompany it with some grated daikon radish. It's used in the dipping sauce used for tempura for example. Try grating some daikon radish, or even red radish, use as a garnish on top of the tofu and then drizzle a bit of soy sauce. Other grease-cutters are horseradish, ginger, and even grated raw garlic (but not before a date, maybe)

Re: Poached frozen tofu and fried frozen tofu cutlets

I am very new to both Japanese cooking and Bentos. Most of what I know came from you. I just HAD to comment on this recipe, though. I have never had tofu and had onlyheard how nasty it was. I just bought some and went forward guns blazing. I did have to make one change to the poaching process as I used two packets from ramen soup since I didn't have all the other ingredients. The tofu came out wonderful!! Even my husnand liked the fried cutlets. Please keep up the great work with your blog.

Re: Poached frozen tofu and fried frozen tofu cutlets

I'm really glad you decided to try tofu, despite what you heard about it. People who dislike tofu and call it nasty have only had bad tofu, and there's plenty of that around unfortunately. Freshly made, good tofu is creamy and satisfying and really delicious.

Re: Poached frozen tofu and fried frozen tofu cutlets

I just tried this recipe. Delicious! The hard part is saving some of it for lunch tomorrow! I'd never thought of freezing tofu, either; good to know since I don't often get to Asian markets where tofu is affordable. Keep up the tasty vegan recipes!

Re: Poached frozen tofu and fried frozen tofu cutlets

I'm going to have to try your stock, I've had frozen tofu many times--inadvertantly frozen too, when the refrigerator gets too cold and partially freezes a block. I've always just put it into a stew-textured dish to take advantage of the spongey texture. Never thought of making a cutlet! Thanks!

Amazing! Definitely a future potluck dish

First off, thank you SO MUCH for posting all these fantastic recipes online - I practically live in your pages when I've got spare time and hunger on the stomach, ha ha!
I just tried this out, unfortunately not as prepared as I'd have hoped and made my own little "stew" (a broth+dashi+sake mix, really) for the poaching and did my valiant best coating the cutlets lightly. While I've got plenty of room for improvement, even just the trick of freezing the tofu for texture has made a huge difference for me! And even with my highly-modified and not-at-all-to-specs tofu cutlets, I'm in love with their flavour!

Thank you so much, again! I plan to practice this recipe diligently in preparation for making it my favourite potluck dish (great, since I've got tons of friends who are vegetarian and a few celiacs, too!).


Re: Poached frozen tofu and fried frozen tofu cutlets

Hi Maki!

Just tried this old technique for the first time, and so far it's been a nice hit! Neither of us has traditionally been a huge tofu fan -- usually in restaurants it's just a fried, rubbery substance that's not too pleasant. But this has an interesting texture and the nice flavor of broth!

I sent the man with some, cutlet-style, in his lunch, and today I made myself a lovely little soup using the leftover broth, some tofu, and a goodly pile of baby bok choy, seasoned with Thai mushroom soy sauce and Sriracha sauce. Very, very nice!

Re: Poached frozen tofu and fried frozen tofu cutlets

Hey Maki,

does the tofu absolutely have to be frozen first? I have some tofu in my fridge and this recipe looks delicious.

Thanks, Liz

Re: Poached frozen tofu and fried frozen tofu cutlets

It totally changes the texture and you probably won't believe how it has changed the first time you defrost it. Then you can decide if you like it or not. I'm just making a batch of this with some broth I made from a roast chicken. Will be a very different flavor, but delicious nonetheless, I expect.

Re: Poached frozen tofu and fried frozen tofu cutlets

Many thanks for the yummy recipe!

Re: Poached frozen tofu and fried frozen tofu cutlets

I just made this recipe tonight. I am eating it right now with some rice noodles with butter and soy sauce. This might be the best tofu I have ever had. So much flavor!!! Gluten free and vegetarian. How fantastic!

Re: Poached frozen tofu and fried frozen tofu cutlets

I just made this & yum!! I used some mushroom bullion with carrot & onion, and I put a sprinkle of Ginger and of dry mustard in the cornstarch. I used a nonstick skillet and with less oil it makes a much drier cutlet, but still yummy!

I can't wait to try this with curry powder!

Re: Poached frozen tofu and fried frozen tofu cutlets


First of all, thank you very, very much for your lovely recipe. I had some tofu yesterday and it was amazingly delicious, THANK YOU! I t tastes so much like gluten meat, or vegetable meat that I love but it is more expensive than tofu. I have four questions (sorry!) for you please and I will most grateful if you could advise please:

1) Half of the tofu block was just like yours, sponge like and with small holes, but the other half had large tears and it broke up in chunks quite quickly when cut. I still fried them, with difficulty but fried them. What can I do to avoid this please? And can I cut the block when it is still quite frozen in the middle to avoid it breaking up like it did? I let it defrost it in the cling film in a bowl in the fridge, 24 hours before.

2) I pat dried my poached slices well and coated them (I sliced them and then poached them- I think that is the way to do it by reading your instructions) in corn flour. They didn’t look as golden as yours, they had a very light colour and sort of a silky crust. Did you use wheat flour or have you used it before? Can I use breadcrumbs, or maybe beaten egg and breadcrumbs?

3) And the last query is, I have searched online and found other sites where they suggest to sprinkle with salt the UNFROZEN, fresh block cut out in chunks and leave it for an hour. Then pat dry well, coat it and fry it. Have you tried this? I don’t think the texture would be as good as the pre frozen tofu recipe…..what do you think? Thank you so much, Best regards,

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