Baked or fried, this is how to cook tofu so it’s crispy on the outside, pillowy on the inside, and perfect for stir frys, salad, soups, rice bowls, and more.
Bake or Fry: How to Cook Tofu
I think of tofu as the vegetarian doppelganger to chicken: Flavor neutral and happily accepting of, and sometimes begging for, other flavors to go with it and different cooking methods to make it.
I’m not a vegetarian but I am eating more plants, even as my main protein. I’ve always been a fan of tofu, often breaking open fried tofu cube packs from the Asian store to snack on like popcorn while I shop. But now it’s so easy to make at home, and tastes so much better, I don’t even bother with the store-bought stuff.
Your taste for tofu usually comes down to consistency. I like it best when it’s firm and crisp on the outside but pillowy tender on the inside. Whether it’s baked or fried, flavored or plain, this is my favorite way to cook tofu every time.
What Is Tofu?
For the uninitiated, tofu is a healthy, plant-based protein that’s a staple in most vegetarian and vegan diets. While I’m not a strict vegetarian or vegan, I do LOVE tofu, and when fried or baked will literally snack on it’s crispy bites like potato chips or candy.
Tofu is made from soy bean milk that is condensed and made into blocks similar to how milk is made into cheese. High in protein and fiber, it’s a favorite plant-based protein and available in different consistencies to be used in a wide variety of recipes from meatloaf to smoothies. It can be cut into cubes, or whizzed smooth, and mostly flavorless on it’s own so it adapts well to recipes that include spices or sauces, like this stir fry.
Depending on how much liquid is pressed out of the tofu determines it’s texture.
- Extra firm tofu contains the least liquid and is the most solid, standing up to slicing and dicing and holding it’s shape when fried or grilled. It also works well mashed and cooked as a substitute for scrambled eggs.
- Firm tofu can also be cut and sliced like extra firm tofu, but is softer, absorbs more flavor, and retains a more delicate bite after cooking. Try it in stir fries like this one, or try it baked or fried in curries or salads.
- Silken or smooth tofu contains the most water, making it soft and custard-like. It’s commonly used in soups, as an egg substitute in baking, and in dressings and smoothies.
The Best Tofu for Baking or Frying
Tofu is a favorite protein made from compressed soy curd and is sold in the refrigerator section or shelf-stable. It’s sold in a variety of consistencies for use in stir frys, soups, and even used as an alternative for scrambled eggs.
To make fried or baked tofu, choose firm or extra firm tofu for the best results and leave the silken and soft tofu for hot pots and ramen soups.
How to Drain Tofu
Organic tofu can be found in the refrigerator section stored in containers with liquid that keeps it fresh.
Before cooking, the firm and extra firm tofu needs to be drained of the liquid absorbed while waiting for you to come along and purchase it. Silken or soft tofu doesn’t require draining.
Here’s my easy trick to draining and pressing the water from tofu:
- Place a folded piece of paper towel on a plate or cutting board, top with the block of tofu, and cover with another folded paper towel.
- Place a cutting board weighed with something heavy like an extra large can of food, a book, or heavy skillet.
- Let the tofu sit and drain for about 10 minutes, swapping out for new paper towels half way through.
How to Make Crispy Tofu
Toss tofu in cornstarch or rice flour to make it crispy. I have great success cooking tofu without any extra coating and still achieving lightly crisped bites, but if you’re looking for guaranteed crispness, toss the tofu in cornstarch or rice flour before baking or frying. Both rice flour and cornstarch are gluten free.
Tossing the tofu in cornstarch or rice flour not only creates a crisp outside, but keeps the moisture inside the tofu, so each bite is soft and tender.
For maximum crispness, eat it hot. If you’re looking for crispy tofu, it’s best to eat it hot out of the pan or from the oven since tofu’s crispy bites will soften as it cools.
NOTE! If you are planning on baking tofu and refrigerating it for later, skip the starch. there’s not much need to toss in the cornstarch or flour since the outside will soften as it cools. So feel free to skip this step if that’s your end game to this cooking plan.
How to Make Baked Tofu
Baked tofu eliminates the need for oil and is ready to eat in just 20-25 minutes.
Drain the tofu before slicing. Tofu is stored in water pack containers and absorbs the water until it’s ready to use. See the method above for how to drain it the easy way.
Cut the tofu into your favorite shape. Slice the cube of tofu in half lengthwise into two slabs, then cube it, or cut it into triangles, or into thin slabs. Or, be like Carla from Bon Appetit and tear your tofu into shaggy chunks.
Toss in cornstarch or rice flour. Use a light hand when tossing the tofu so it doesn’t break apart. Some suggest tossing the tofu in oil first, but I find this step unnecessary. Be sure to keep the coating light so it doesn’t get clumpy from the tofu’s internal moisture.
Spread ’em and bake ’em. Place the tofu on parchment lined baking sheets equal distance apart. Keeping space between the tofu pieces ensures each side will crisp to the best of its ability.
Flip ’em if you wanna. Depending on my patience level and how my oven is operating on any given day is the determining factor on whether these tofu bites get flipped or not. The longer tofu bakes the chewier it will become. Since I like mine softer, I look for a golden glow with a pleasantly browning aroma and usually pull them from the oven before there’s time to flip them.
Give them a spritz of oil if you want. To encourage a golden glow, I often give the tofu cubes a quick spritz of canola oil spray before putting in the oven.
How to Cook Tofu In a Pan
Frying tofu in the pan guarantees a crisp bite, and the extra oil really ends up being negligible in the end because they’re just so dang good!
First off: Oil is not the bad guy. Due to the fear of extra calories and fat, most cooks have become conditioned to the theory that cooking in oil is bad. But the scant amount this recipe calls for to achieve crisped tofu flavor isn’t much more than what is typically used in a stir fry recipe.
Use an oil with high smoke point. Skip the olive oil and use canola oil or grapeseed oil for neutral flavor. Or, go for more flavor by cooking with coconut oil to lend a light sweetness.
Drain, cut, toss. Follow the prep steps for baked tofu above. Cut your tofu in square blocks for more of a softer centered bite or thinner slabs for more crispy surface area.
Fry the tofu. Starting with a hot wok or a large skillet and a bit of oil, heat the oil until it glistens and ripples, about 350°F.
Cook the tofu over medium high heat in the shimmering oil, undisturbed, for about 4 minutes on both sides, or until golden brown. If using a wok instead of a larger skillet, you’ll need to cook the tofu in batches, but no extra oil should be needed.
Season after frying. Just like any hot food, adding a sprinkling of salt adds flavor and absorbs and adheres best when the food is hot. l
Add to stir frys, salads, or soups. Transfer the tofu to a plate topped with a paper towel and add when ready.
Tofu Marinade Ideas
Tofu takes on the flavors of the seasonings and sauces it’s married to. Marinating tofu in sauces won’t get you as crispy a bite as a toss in spices or seasoning will. To give the tofu extra flavor, marinate the tofu for at least 30 minutes up to overnight.
Here are a few ideas to amp up your tofu flavor game:
- Asian Marinade Master Sauce
- BBQ Dry Spice rub or barbecue sauce thinned with water
- Homemade Authentic Enchilada Sauce thinned with water
- Pesto Sauce thinned with water
- Chimichurri Sauce thinned with water
Recipe Ideas to Make With Tofu
- Buddah Bowls
- Teriyaki Tofu And Broccoli Stir Fry
- How To Make An Easy Asian Hot Pot
- Sub in tofu for the chicken in this Slow Cooker Thai Soup
- Add baked or fried tofu to Sesame Soba Noodles to make a meal
- Add crispy tofu to this Thai Quinoa Salad
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a rating on this recipe below and leave a comment, take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
How to Cook the Best Crispy Tofu
- 1 14-ounce block firm tofu
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch or rice flour
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Start with draining the tofu: Place a folded paper towel on a plate under the tofu, then place another folded paper towel on top of the tofu. Place another plate on top of the tofu and weigh it down with a bowl filled with something heavy to express the liquid from the tofu. Let sit for 10 minutes, replacing the paper towels midway through draining. Slice the tofu into bite size pieces and add to a bowl and set aside.
- If marinating, do so now.
- When ready to cook, gently toss the cornstarch or rice powder with the tofu, lightly coating it on all sides.
For the Crispy Fried Tofu
- Heat a wok or non-stick skillet over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of canola oil to the wok. When the oil ripples, add the tofu. In batches, cook the tofu undisturbed for 3-4 minutes until it’s crisp and golden underneath then carefully turn with tongs or chopsticks to brown the other side. Transfer the cooked tofu to a plate lined with paper towels and season with kosher salt. Eat immediately or refrigerate for up to 4 days.
For the Baked Tofu
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Tap any extra cornstarch or rice powder from the tofu and place on the baking sheet in one layer, evenly spaced apart. Bake for 20-30 minutes, flipping half way through if you like. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with salt. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 4 days.
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