Let’s talk tofu. If you’ve been scared to try tofu, this Crispy Tofu recipe will be your gateway. If you’ve tried tofu and thought it tasted like a floppy, flavorless blob, this crispy tofu will redeem your experience. If you LOVE the deep fried tofu you’ve eaten at restaurants and want an easier, healthier version you can make at home (no frying required), this crispy tofu is about to become your most bookmarked recipe.
Before I reveal the two tricks you need to know to make restaurant-quality tofu at home—we’re talking crispy, meaty (yes meaty) cubes of tasty perfection that are ideal for adding to any stir fry, salad, or even pasta—I want you to know that I understand why tofu has its skeptics.
Uncooked (or poorly cooked) tofu has the texture and flavor of a limp, overused kitchen sponge. Ewwwwww.
Properly cooked tofu, however, is positively PACKED with flavor. Its texture is lightly crispy and satisfying. Tofu is a cheap, lean source of protein, and it’s worth trying. Here’s how to make crispy tofu that actually tastes great!
Tofu has two major challenges: FLAVOR and TEXTURE. Let’s start with texture.
Right out of the package, tofu is mushy, and if you toss it directly into a stir fry, it will stay that way. Most restaurants get around the mushy-factor by deep-frying it, which (while delicious), negates tofu’s clean health benefits. It would also make my kitchen smell like a KFC for three days.
Other crisy tofu cooking methods call for pressing the tofu between layers of kitchen towels, draining, then repeating. It’s somewhat effective, but as you know if you’ve tried it, it’s messy and time consuming. I have dishes to wash, nails to paint, and a grandmother to call. This crispy tofu method is instant, no pressing required!
Here’s my hack to make the best-ever crispy tofu: Freeze the tofu, then boil it.
About This Crispy Tofu Recipe
I owe Mark Bittman for this life changing crispy-tofu hack. Freezing the tofu causes the water pockets within it expand, which helps it to cook more evenly and makes space for the tofu to absorb extra flavor. Simmering the tofu firms and plumps it.
To finish the tofu, lightly sauté it in a small amount of oil. Very little oil is needed for the sauté, since the tofu pieces are already nice and firm.
When the tofu is in the pan, add any flavors you’d like in your final dish. If I’m making a stir fry, I like to add garlic, ginger, and soy sauce; if I’m adding the tofu to a dish that is already saucy (like this Chicken Stir Fry with Thai Peanut Sauce or this Tofu Stir Fry), I’ll simply toss the tofu with a bit of the sauce while the tofu is still warm.
Critical tofu tip: make sure that you add something to season the tofu. Alone, the tofu doesn’t have much flavor, but this is a good thing. Because tofu is essentially a thirsty little sponge, it will eagerly drink up anything you place in the pan with it, making it a tasty vehicle for all of your favorite spices and sauces.
Recipes to Use This Crispy Tofu
- Tofu Stir Fry
- General Tso’s Tofu
- Chicken Stir Fry with Thai Peanut Sauce (swap chicken for tofu)
- Honey Lime Tofu Stir Fry
- Healthy Fried Rice (add the tofu for extra protein)
- Hot and Sour Peanut Noodle Stir Fry (swap tofu for chicken)
- Three Pea Ginger Tofu Stir Fry
- Or any of these!
Tools Used to Make This Recipe
- Saucepan. Perfect for boiling the tofu.
- Wok. While not required, a wok is a great tool for making this recipe.
If you’ve been burned by bad tofu or have been hesitant to try it, I am begging you to give this crispy tofu a chance. It’s healthy, satisfying, and converted even my meat-loving husband into a believer.
- 1 block extra firm tofu (15 ounces), do not use firm or silken
- 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil or grapeseed oil
- Place tofu in the freezer for at least 3 hours or up to 3 months. No need to unwrap—just pop the package right into the freezer.
- When ready to cook, remove the tofu from freezer and unwrap. Discard any frost or ice that's formed on the outside, but do not tear the tofu. If the ice seems to be really stuck, leave as is.
- Bring a pot of water large enough to completely submerge the tofu to a boil (a medium/large saucepan works best). Gently slip the frozen tofu block into the water. Return the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Continue simmering the tofu for 15 minutes, flipping once half way through. Carefully and immediately remove the tofu and set it aside on a paper towel-lined plate. Once cool enough to handle, cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch-cubes.
- In a large wok or skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add tofu pieces in a single layer. Let cook for 5 minutes on one side, then with a heat-proof spatula, flip the tofu pieces so that all sides brown, cooking for a few minutes on each remaining side. Once tofu is lightly browned and crispy (about 10-12 minutes total), remove from the pan. Use in your favorite stir fry, dip in peanut sauce, or add to soups or stews.
- This recipe is more of a METHOD of cooking the tofu. Don't forget to flavor it! If using the tofu in stir fry, you can cook the tofu with garlic, ginger, and soy sauce for a basic stir fry (add the garlic at the very end so it doesn't burn) or toss it with a stir fry sauce afterwards while it is still warm. For salads, onions are great (give them a bit of a head start to soften in the pan with oil), as is garlic (again, add it towards the end to prevent burning). You can also toss the cooked tofu with a bit of salad dressing to coat and flavor it.
- I don't recommend using olive oil to cook the tofu, as it tends to burn at a higher temperature. Canola or grapeseed oil work best.
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