Tofu is a staple of plant-based diets, but it’s one of those foods that sadly doesn’t get a whole lot of love among meat-eaters. That’s a real shame, as tofu is one of the most versatile and all-around healthful proteins.
Sure, tofu can go horribly wrong when cooked incorrectly or the wrong type of soybean curd is used. Mushy, soggy, or just plain bland are some of the less flattering ways people describe this millennia-old foodstuff.
But when it’s done right, a la crispy tofu, it’s immensely flavorful and satisfying, and will be appreciated by all kinds of foodies, no matter if they’re plant-based or not.
Getting the Right Tofu
As with most dishes, the trick to whipping up delicious tofu is to first get the right tofu for the dish you’re trying to make.
Tofu comes in two forms: block or silken. Block tofu is commonly found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, while silken tofu is typically stored on shelves. The differences between them can make or break a dish, so it is really important to pay attention to the variety you use.
Both block and silken tofu are made from the same ingredient – pressed soybeans – but they’re produced in different ways, hence their contrasting textures. Block tofu is essentially pressed soybean curds that have been stripped of whey and combined with an anticoagulant, which gives it a more dense texture. Silken tofu, meanwhile, contains both soybean curds and whey, so it has a much softer and creamier texture.
To make things even more complicated, block tofu and silken tofu range in firmness from soft all the way to extra-firm.
When it comes to making crispy tofu, you’ll need to use extra-firm block tofu. Don’t make the mistake of thinking extra-firm silken tofu will work! Remember that for your tofu to get crispy and golden brown during cooking, it needs to be as dry as possible to start with.
Key Tips for Crispy Tofu Every Time
Along with selecting the right tofu for the job, there are key steps that you should keep in mind when making crispy tofu, especially if you want to get it spot-on each and every time!
- Press your Tofu
Pressing your tofu, yes, even extra-firm tofu, will remove any excess moisture from the block, making it easier to crisp and ensuring that it absorbs all the delicious flavors you want to cook it in. Using a Tofu Press is the most convenient way to do this, but you can also go down the traditional route if you have 45 minutes, some paper towels, and a kitchen weight to spare.
- Coat your Tofu Before Frying
Whether with cornstarch or arrowroot powder, it’s important to coat your tofu in a starchy substance before frying. This will ensure maximum crispness on the outside, while the inside of the tofu remains melt-in-your-mouth soft.
- Use a Large Pan for Frying
You’ll get the best results from cooking your tofu with a cast iron pan, but any large-bottomed stainless steel pan will also work well. It’s essential to have as wide a cooking surface area as possible to ensure you can cook all your tofu pieces evenly.
- Use a Wire Rack for Cooling
If you really want to maximize the crispiness of your tofu after it’s been fried, place it onto a wire rack to cool. You want the air to circulate around each piece to cool it down evenly and prevent any moisture from building up again.
The Ultimate Crispy Tofu Recipe
You will need:
- 1 x block extra firm tofu, pressed and cubed
- 1 x tbsp soy sauce
- 1 ½ x tbsp cornstarch or arrowroot powder
- 1-2 x tbsp olive oil
- ½ x tsp garlic powder
- ½ x small green onion, finely chopped
- Handful of sesame seeds
- In a medium bowl, add the cubed tofu and pour on the soy sauce, stirring gently to ensure even coating.
- Using a different bowl, mix together the cornstarch, garlic powder, and pepper.
- Preheat a large cast-iron pan over a medium heat. Pour in half the olive oil.
- Add the tofu to the cornstarch mixture, gently turning to ensure even coating.
- Add the tofu to the pan in a single layer. Fry for 2-3 minutes, then flip each cube and fry for an additional 2-3 on the other side. Combine remaining soy sauce and cornstarch mixture and add to the pan.
- Gently transfer the tofu to a wire rack to cool. Serve with sesame seeds and green onion.
One Final Note
For maximum crispness and flavor, you will need to serve the tofu within an hour of cooking. Tofu that’s been left to sit too long and refrigerated crispy tofu will lose its crunch and become chewy. But don’t throw away your leftovers; former crispy tofu works well in rice bowls and salads.