Our household doesn’t eat much meat, and tofu is an instrumental ingredient in our diet. The soy-based block—the form it’s found in the store—is so versatile, it’s hard to think of another ingredient that can be so thoroughly transformed by the way you flavor and cook it.
I make tofu scrambles, cube them for curries and stir-fries, and bake slabs with barbecue sauce. My favorite way to enjoy tofu is cubed with a crispy crust, served simply dipped in sauce, tossed in salads, or with rice.
The Best Way to Make Crispy Tofu
Start by pressing a block of firm or extra-firm tofu to remove excess water—it comes sitting in a tub of water. The inside will still stay moist, but this will allow the tofu to soak up a bit of marinade and form a dry outer crust.
While you have two basic options for crispiness—panfrying or baking—I like to bake my tofu. Baking requires less oil and is far more hands-off.
After pressing the water out, you’ll have crispy tofu in about half an hour. Cube the tofu and toss it in a simple marinade of oil, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and a pinch of sugar. Add cornstarch and breadcrumbs directly to the mixing bowl and toss to coat. A quick coating of cooking spray helps the outside crisp up without disturbing the crust.
Choosing the Right Tofu
Tofu is available in a variety of textures, from silken and soft to medium and firm. Look for extra-firm or firm tofu for this recipe. Extra-firm or firm tofu can stand up to being pressed and then tossed around in a bowl, where soft and medium tofu would fall apart. The firmness will also provide a satisfying meaty texture as well as the crisp crust.
Why Press Tofu
Press the tofu to remove excess water using pressure. This helps it keep its shape and crisp up, minimizes crumbling, and allows it to absorb the marinade.
If you make this recipe without pressing your tofu, I cannot guarantee crispy results. You should only press firm and extra firm tofu—softer varieties will crumble and break.
If you don’t own a tofu press, don’t worry. You can create a makeshift press: Lay several paper towels or a folded kitchen towel on a flat surface, like a large plate or cutting board. Place the drained tofu on top and cover it with another layer of paper towels or a folded kitchen towel. Place something flat and heavy on top to apply pressure.
Some tofu-lovers like to use a cutting board and a heavy pan or plate topped with a cookbook. As long as you have plenty of material to soak up the water and enough weight on top (but not too much weight), anything will work.
My Favorite Way to Press Tofu
For this recipe, I tuck the tofu between two loaf pans and paper towels or kitchen towels. This keeps the tofu securely in place and makes sure it doesn’t topple over, an issue I experienced when piling heavy items on top of the tofu.
Press your tofu for at least 30 minutes or up to an hour. You can do this up to a day ahead, shrinking the prep to mere minutes. Refrigerate the pressed tofu tightly wrapped with plastic wrap or in a small airtight container. When it’s time to bake, pat it with a paper towel and proceed with the recipe.
Equally Delicious Ingredient Swaps
If your diet doesn’t allow some ingredients or you don’t have something on hand, you can:
- Replace the sesame oil with more neutral oil.
- Replace the neutral oil with more sesame oil for a nuttier flavor.
- Use liquid aminos instead of soy sauce.
- Leave out the vinegar or sugar.
Make it Your Own
This crispy tofu has a simple marinade that gives the dish some light flavor while keeping it fairly neutral. It’s easy to give it your own spin:
- Creole or Cajun: Swap the sesame oil for more neutral oil and add a teaspoon of creole or Cajun seasoning to the breading.
- Spicy: Swap the vinegar for your choice of hot sauce. Add up to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper to the breading for even more heat. Serve with more hot sauce.
- Garlic: Add 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder to the breading.
- Black pepper: Add up to an extra 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper for crispy black pepper tofu.
What to Serve With Crispy Tofu
For a quick and easy dinner, I like to pop the tofu in the oven, cut up broccoli florets, toss them with oil, and spread them out on a baking sheet. The broccoli roasts at the same time for about 15 minutes. Then all I need is rice and a delicious sauce, like this one.
Here are more ideas for how to serve crispy tofu:
- Serve with a fun dipping sauce, like sweet chili, barbecue sauce, or remoulade.
- Top a stir-fry like this Mushroom Stir-Fry With Peas.
- Top a salad like this Thai Noodle Salad with Peanut Sauce.
- Add to a noodle or rice bowl.
- Add to a wrap or lettuce cup.
Recipes for Tofu Fans
Easy Crispy Tofu
- 1 (16-ounce) block extra-firm or firm tofu, drained
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon canola or vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons panko or plain breadcrumbs
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Cooking spray
Press the tofu:
Line the bottom of a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with 4 or 5 paper towels or a folded, clean kitchen towel. Place the tofu on top, centered in the pan.
Top it with another stack of paper towels or kitchen towel. Nestle in a second loaf pan so it sits right on top of the towel-covered tofu. Fill the top pan with 3 canned goods or any heavy items that’ll fit.
Let sit for 30 minutes or up to an hour. The towels should be saturated, and the tofu should feel much drier to the touch. Alternatively, use a tofu press.
Preheat the oven:
Arrange a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat and spray it generously with cooking spray.
Meanwhile, make the marinade and breading:
In a medium bowl, add the soy sauce, vegetable oil, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and sugar. Whisk together with a fork or small whisk until the sugar is dissolved, about 30 seconds.
In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch, breadcrumbs, salt, and black pepper and mix.
Set both bowls aside.
Cube the tofu:
Remove the tofu from the press and place it on a cutting board. Set the tofu up on its longest side and slice it lengthwise into 2 thin rectangles. Lay them flat on top of each other and make 3 equal cuts lengthwise followed by 2 cuts crosswise, making 24 equal cubes.
Marinate the tofu:
Add the cubed tofu into the marinade and use a rubber spatula or large wooden spoon to gently toss them to evenly coat. Be careful not to break up the tofu. It’s okay if there’s a little marinade left in in the bowl.
Bread the tofu:
Add the breading over the marinated tofu and toss gently but thoroughly, coating the cubes on all sides. You might have some crumbs stuck to the bowl; you can discard them or toast them in a small pan to serve on top of the crispy tofu.
Bake the tofu:
Scatter the tofu on the prepared baking sheet an inch or so apart from each other. Spray the tops generously with cooking spray.
Bake until the tofu is browned and crispy, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm.
Refrigerate leftovers for up to 4 days. I don’t recommend freezing crispy tofu. Reheat in a nonstick pan over medium heat with a little oil or in a 350°F oven until warmed through.
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