Making the Crispiest Tofu for All Your Dishes

How do you get your tofu so crispy. No, you don’t have to deep-fry it to get it that way. You actually don’t have to fry the tofu at..

The first thing you have to do is start with a good brand of tofu. Not all blocks of tofu are created equal. Some contain more water than others and some might say “extra-firm” on the package but you would never know it. Nasoya and Woodstock Foods, make the firmest tofu with the least water. Nasoya even makes vacuum-packed tofu in super-firm with hardly any water at all! Be sure to buy extra-firm or super-firm; the firmer the tofu, the less water it will absorb even after it’s pressed.

Once you have your favorite tofu, you want to press it and drain it. Tofu is filled with water and you have to get it out or it will come out during cooking and make the tofu soggy. Plus, when all that water comes out, there is more room for the tofu to absorb flavors from marinades and spices. Pressing tofu makes it firmer and even if you want it even firmer and with a chewier texture, you can freeze it and then thaw it, press it and drain it.

A word of caution, though: if you press the tofu too much, it can get overcooked too easily. Press it enough to get out the excess moisture to keep it crispy on the outside but soft and moist on the inside. For more, see Tips that will Make You Love Tofu.

Depending on the recipe you’re making, you will cut the block of tofu into cubes, slices or whatever shape you like. Don’t cut the cubes too small or the slices too thin. That will lead to the tofu overcooking and becoming hard and brittle rather than moist and crispy. See Tips to Make the Perfect Tofu Dish for more pointers.

Marinate the tofu using  spice blends and dry rubs, especially when you want to make crispy tofu. Anything you coat the tofu in becomes a crust that adds another layer of crispiness, even plain spices, and salt. For a really crispy tofu, coat it in seasoned flour, arrowroot powder or cornstarch.

To do this: make sure the tofu is patted dry. Put the tofu into a large bowl or a plastic storage bag. Sprinkle a few spoons of flour or starch over it. This is also your chance to season the tofu. Which spice blends depends on the recipe but a go-to blend includes kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder, paprika and onion powder.

Besides seasoned flour, you can make tofu crispy by breading it or coating it with batter. Tofu can be breaded in bread crumbs, Panko, corn flake crumbs or even finely chopped nuts or ground lentils like this Ayurvedic Lentil-Crusted Tofu. Whichever you choose, the goal is to have the breading stick to the tofu and get crispy. The typical dredging and breading procedure has 3 steps: flour, “egg,” and breadcrumbs. Set up 3 shallow bowls or trays: one will have the seasoned flour, one will have your liquid coating and the third will have the seasoned breadcrumbs. The liquid coating can be vegan buttermilk (simply mix a bit of vinegar into any non-dairy milk and let it curdle), non-dairy milk mixed with some flaxseed or a spoon of vegan mayo. Dip the food into the flour and coat both sides lightly, shake off any excess flour and dip the food into the liquid coating. Shake off any excess liquid and finally, coat the food with the breadcrumbs. Place the breaded food on a cooling rack and let it rest while you continue to bread the remaining food. This gives the breading time to set before you fry it.

The batter is a combination of flour and milk or water that coats the food. Before dipping the tofu with the batter, make sure it is patted dry. Then dust the tofu with seasoned flour or starch before dipping it into the batter. Shake off any excess batter before putting the tofu in the pan.

Frying should lead to crispy tofu but there are common errors made in frying that can lead to a sad, soggy mess. It isn’t necessary to deep-fry food to make it crispy. Pan-frying with just an inch of oil works perfectly. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and then heat about one inch of oil in the pan. When the oil begins to ripple, it’s ready. Carefully add the tofu to the pan. Don’t crowd the pan. Be patient and let it cook. Don’t touch it. When you can see that the bottoms are getting brown, flip it. Then let it cook and keep flipping it until all the tofu is golden brown on all sides. Let it get very crispy. Make sure to transfer the tofu to a paper towel-lined bowl so the excess oil gets absorbed.

If you would rather cook your tofu in the oven but still want a crispy coating, it is totally possible. By making oven-fried tofu, you can get all the crisp and crunch without having to fry it in oil. It’s also easier because you don’t have to stand at the stove to make it. While it’s baking, you can make the rest of the meal. When you cook tofu in the oven, bread it the way you would for pan-frying. Place the breaded tofu in a baking dish that has been sprayed with oil or lined with parchment paper. Bake the tofu at 400 degrees until browned and crisp, about 30 minutes, flipping halfway through.

The key to oven-fried crispiness is to not use too much oil or liquid so you can spray the tofu with cooking oil if you want but don’t pour oil over it or it will turn out soggy.

Here are five common mistakes made with tofu and how to avoid them. 

1. Not Using the Right Tofu for the Recipe

The first possible mistake with tofu happens while you are still in the store. Firstly, always buy tofu made from organic/non-GMO soybeans. Not that we have that part cleared up, there are still several kinds of organic tofu you can buy: silken, soft, medium, firm, and extra-firm. Which one do you buy? It depends on what you want to make. You don’t want to try slicing soft tofu and then have it break apart in your hands. Silken tofu is best used for sauces, creams, batters and in baking. It’s perfect for tofu omelets and mousses. Soft tofu is great for tofu scrambles. Unless you’re making a sauce, buy the extra-firm type for most of your recipes.

2. Not Pressing the Water Out of the Tofu

Not pressing the water out of the tofu is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Open the package and drain the water. Then you have to press the tofu.

Here’s how to press tofu: Take a plate and line it with paper towels. Place the tofu block on the paper towels and put another layer of on top of the tofu. Put another plate or a cutting board on top of the paper towels and then weigh it down with heavy books or cans. Every half-hour or so, drain the water that has been pressed out of the tofu. If you don’t want to use paper towels, you can just use the plates but drain the pressed water more often. Or you can buy a tofu press and save lots of trouble. Whichever way, you will end up with a smaller, firmer block of tofu. If you are planning to cut the tofu into slices, you can do that first and then press the slices.

If you want the tofu to have an even denser, firmer and chewier texture, try freezing it first. Just remove the tofu from its package, put it in a food storage bag or wrap it in plastic wrap and stick it in the freezer for a few hours. When you want to use it, thaw it out in the refrigerator and then press it. This is an especially good technique to use if you need the tofu to be really firm and allow you to handle it without it breaking.

3. Not Cutting the Tofu Correctly

If you want your tofu to have maximum flavor and texture, it is best cut into smaller pieces.

Thin slices are good for making cutlet-type dishes or for sandwiches. Simply cut the block of tofu in half width-wise, and then cut each half into 3 or 4 rectangles for a total of 6-8 thin slices. Those slices can further be cut into squares or triangles depending on the presentation you want for your dish.

Cut the tofu into cubes for stir-fries and salads. Just cut the tofu into 5 even slices width-wise and then 4 slices horizontally. Those 20 pieces can be further cut in half to make smaller cubes if desired. Cut cubes for this Thai Basil Stir-Fry with Tofu and Eggplant and my Pineapple Island Tofu Kabobs. For kids, use cookie cutters to cut tofu into nuggets shaped like hearts or other fun shapes.

4.   Not Seasoning the Tofu

Not seasoning the tofu is one of the biggest mistakes you can make with it. Delicious tofu is all about texture and flavor. Without seasoning, it will be bland and tasteless. No one wants that.

After the tofu has all the water pressed out of it, fill it back up with flavor by marinating it and/or seasoning it. A marinade can be as simple as tamari mixed with water. Most people come up with a recipe for a basic marinade that they use in the majority of their tofu dishes. Usually, it’s a combination of tamari, broth or water, oil and a few herbs and spices such as garlic, oregano or paprika. In ethnic recipes like Tandoori Tofu, the marinade is essential to the flavor of the dish. Be sure to pat the tofu dry before cooking it to ensure crispness.

Whether you marinate the tofu or not, a dry rub of seasoning will help add flavor and a crusty texture when you cook it. Choose a few of your favorite herbs and spices, mix them together in a small bowl and rub them over the surface of the tofu. When you pan-fry the tofu, that rub will become a delicious crust.

5.   Not Cooking the Tofu Properly

After all the effort of draining, pressing, cutting, marinating and seasoning, be sure to cook the tofu well. Whether you are baking it, frying it, breading it, or battering it, be patient and cook it until it’s as browned or crispy as you want it. It could take as long as 5 minutes per side depending on the size of the pieces. If you are making Chinese food, toss the tofu cubes in some seasoned arrowroot powder or cornstarch before frying it. This will make it super-crispy especially if you are going to cover it with a hot sauce which can make the tofu soggy.


Categorized: General

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