How to fry tofu that will keep you coming back for more.
There is a good chance you didn't like tofu the first time you tried it. Many of our initial experiences of the stuff end up in a wobbling heap of bland disappointment. But believe us, tofu can be seriously satisfying.
Fried tofu is the perfect addition to stir-fries and rice, or it can be the centre of a dish all on its own. Cooked right, it's crunchy on the outside and perfectly tender in the middle.
Here are our top tips for cooking crispy tofu perfectly every time.
1. Know it
First things first, you need to buy the right type. There are two main varieties available: silken and firm.
Silken has a higher water content and softer texture. While it has its uses (smoothies, puddings and sauces – try this cheesecake recipe), creating crispy tofu is not one of them.
Instead, opt for firm or extra-firm. This tofu has usually been pressed to remove some of the moisture, making it ideal for developing that coveted golden crust.
2. Freeze it
If you like your tofu chewy, freeze it first. The little ice crystals that develop pock the tofu with small holes altering the texture resulting in a firmer, chewier bite. It also makes it easier for marinades to absorb, which is something tofu usually struggles with.
To freeze, simply remove from its water-filled packaging, squeeze any excess water off and then wrap it in clingfilm before putting in the freezer. When you're ready to use it, just defrost and you're set to go.
Like your tofu smooth? Skip this step.
3. Press it
The trick for getting tofu crispy is to remove as much moisture as possible. So the aim before you start cooking is to get your tofu dry. Most tofu comes packaged in water to keep it fresh, but this also waterlogs it, which can lead to a soggy and bland finished dish.
To press it, start by cutting your block into similarly sized slices. Lay them on a paper-towel-lined cutting board, cover them with more paper towels and finish by plonking something heavy on top to press the moisture out. Cookbooks or pans are handy for this.
Leave the tofu to drain for a few hours before you move on to the next step.
4. Marinate it (maybe)
Tofu isn’t the best candidate for a marinade. While it can soak up flavours – particularly if it’s been frozen and properly pressed – you sometimes end up with tofu that burns on the outside and tastes like raw marinade on the inside.
The best solution? Let the tofu taste like tofu and then add most of your flavourings after it’s cooked, whether that’s a sauce or a dusting of spices.
If you want to try marinating, avoid oil-based marinades as even well-pressed tofu retains some water, which never mixes well with oil. Soy, vinegar and citrus marinades work well.
5. Coat it
Tofu can brown and get a little crispy all on its own, but things get magical when you introduce a coating.
The simplest option is to toss your pressed tofu in a little cornflour (cornstarch) with some salt and pepper. Aim for a light coating and shake off any excess.
Alternatively, dust in plain flour, dip in beaten egg and then roll in breadcrumbs (finely crushed panko work well).
6. Pan fry it
Now it’s time to get cooking. To pan fry, start by heating oil in a frying pan. Select an oil that can handle the heat and one that doubles as a flavour; a light sesame oil will impart a subtle nuttiness.
Once the oil is hot, place your tofu in the pan and leave it for at least a few minutes to allow it to develop a crust. Flip over and cook the other side.
Using a griddle pan will char sections of your tofu giving a smokier flavour.
7. Deep fry it
If you want evenly crisped tofu to rival your favourite restaurant version, you’re going to have to deep fry it.
Use an oil with a high smoke point, such as vegetable, sunflower or peanut oil, and blot with kitchen towel after frying to remove any excess.
You can use an air fryer for similar results, but while it uses much less oil, the tofu won’t be as crisp.
8. Bake it
If you’re more concerned with chew than crisp when it comes to tofu texture, try baking it in the oven.
Cooking times vary from about 20–40 minutes depending on the thickness of your tofu, and you’ll need to flip it halfway through.
While you won’t achieve the same level of crispiness that you would pan- or deep-frying it, you'll get a much chewier texture.
9. Flavour it
Plain tofu is perfectly nice, but there's so much more you can do with this versatile ingredient.
Garlic and chilli are great flavours for a stir-fry, a homemade satay sauce (try this recipe) is perfect for dipping and a coating of honey and sesame is perfect if you fancy something sweet.
Looking for more inspiration? Try one of our favourite tofu recipes:
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