Tofu has to be one of the world’s most versatile foods. When it’s fried correctly with a golden and crispy coating on the outside and a firm, satisfying texture on the inside, tofu is a tasty addition to any dish.
Chewy yet crispy tofu is a great way to add vegan protein to stir-fries, stews, grilled dishes, and more.
You can buy pre-fried tofu in many Asian markets, but there’s nothing quite like freshly fried tofu that you’ve customized to suit your tastes. You can fry tofu in advance and refrigerate it to have delicious bites on hand for quick meal prep. Fried tofu keeps for up to 5 days in the fridge.
Note: We don’t recommend you freeze crispy tofu as it picks up extra moisture in the freezer and won’t be as crisp. However, you could freeze it for up to 6 months and then pop it in the frying pan once thawed. It won’t be quite as crispy, but it will still be delicious (particularly if you serve a sauce with it).
There are two ways to fry tofu: deep frying or pan frying (shallow frying). Both methods give you delectable results, as the tofu pieces are fully exposed to the hot oil. Both are also equally easy to execute.
Let’s look at how to fry tofu to perfection.
Choose the right type of tofu
If your recipe calls for fried pieces or slices of tofu, you will want to use either firm or extra-firm tofu. These types of tofu have less moisture than soft or silken tofu, which are better suited for liquid recipes such as custards, dressings, and smoothies.
Dry your tofu first
The drier your tofu before you fry it, the better. You will want first to remove the tofu from its packaging and drain the excess moisture that’s inside.
Pressing out the excess moisture will enable your tofu to soak up more of the flavors of your marinade or breading. You’ll also have less water in the pan when frying, which will give you a crispy rather than soggy result.
To press out the moisture from your block of tofu, you can do this quickly with a Tofubud or similar tofu press. Put the tofu inside the press and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Pressing tofu in a press usually takes about 5 minutes.
If you don’t have a tofu press, wrap your tofu in a clean towel. Place the block in a colander and put a heavy weight on top (a bag of beans or rice, or anything else that’s heavy enough to exert pressure). Leave the tofu to drain in the sink for about 20 to 30 minutes.
Once your tofu is drained, you’ll want to pat it dry with clean paper towels before frying. Any lingering moisture on the outside could cause the oil to spit, and you won’t have an evenly crisp texture. Besides, breadcrumbs or other coatings won’t stick to your tofu if it’s damp.
Marinate and coat your tofu
Cut your tofu into cubes or slices, and then drizzle some soy sauce over the top (about 2 tablespoons for one 14-ounce package). Coat the tofu pieces evenly but handle them gently so that they don’t break.
Mix your dry coating using a base of cornstarch plus any spices you want to add. Try 3 tablespoons of cornstarch, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, and some freshly ground black pepper.
Alternatively, you could replace the garlic powder with curry powder, paprika, onion powder, or nutritional yeast (for a cheesy flavor).
Coat your tofu in the cornstarch coating. It’s now ready to fry.
Choose the right oil
Choose an oil for frying that has a high smoking point and is neutral in flavor. Refined peanut oil, vegetable or soybean oil, or canola oil all work well. Oils with high smoking points will add flavor to your tofu because of the smoke (think smoked tofu).
Tips for deep frying
If you are deep-frying your tofu, use the correct temperature: 360 to 375 F is ideal for quick frying. Some thermometers can clip directly onto a wok or large frying pan.
You can deep fry using a wok (saving oil), a deep skillet, or a medium saucepan.
Don’t put too many tofu pieces in the pan at once, which lowers the oil temperature too much. Aim to fry the pieces quickly since tofu can dry out if you fry it for too long.
Once you’ve fried your tofu, you’ll want to put the pieces on clean paper towels to absorb any excess oil. If you have used a deep fryer, you can let the oil cool and then strain it through a paper towel so that you can use it again. Discard the oil when it has turned dark or if it begins to smell.
Tips for pan-frying
Your tofu pieces will cook in 3 to 5 minutes over medium-high heat. As with deep frying, don’t fry the pieces for too long because they can dry out. You can tell when your tofu is done when the outside is golden brown and crispy.
Flip your tofu only once to avoid leaving the breading behind in the pan. Check with a spatula underneath to make sure your tofu is brown before turning it over to cook the other side.
Note: If you prefer your tofu extra crispy, you can try using 6 tablespoons of cornstarch.
Serving your fried tofu
You can add another layer of flavor to your crispy tofu by serving it sprinkled with sesame seeds and sliced scallions.
Crispy tofu keeps well, but it is best to serve it immediately for maximum crispiness.
Here are some suggestions for using your fried tofu:
- In a salad with shredded carrots, radishes, and mushrooms
- In place of meat in Thai or other Asian recipes (stir-fries, curries, etc.)
- Accompanied with a tasty dipping sauce
- On skewers with roasted vegetables
- Over steamed vegetables
- As part of a rice bowl, with diced fresh carrots, cabbage, sweet peppers, etc.
How to fry tofu: final thoughts
Tofu is one of the most popular meat alternatives and if you are a vegan, there’s a good chance you eat a lot of it. These tips will help you get perfectly crispy tofu every time.