Thursday, March 27, 2014

How to Make Crispy Pan-Fried Tofu like a CHAMP

Hold the chips. I'll have this, please:

SO WHAT if I snack on crispy, pillowy little tofu cubes. So freaking what if I'm obsessed with the crunchy outside, and soft, silky inside. (Especially when dunked in sweet thai chili sauce, or with a few drops of my new favorite gluten free soy sauce. Hubba Hubba.)

To be fair, these little guys also make their way into vegetable stir fry quite often. (Exhibit A, of many Exhibits.)

My tofu-searing was pretty hit-or-miss for a while, until I read this article on The Kitchn that recommended coating the tofu with cornstarch. AAHH of course there's a secret! And let me tell you, it's pretty foolproof. As long as your pan is hot and you've got a little oil action going on, there will. be. crust. 

Only thing is, I'd kinda rather not flip 24 individual tofu cubes in a screaming hot pan. Instead, I cut the whole block in half, pan-fry each half of the tofu block (which is just TWO pieces to flip - go math), then slice it into cubes. No, all 8 sides of each tofu cube are not crispy. But I never miss it. Besides, I'm usually inhaling them too fast for my mouth to notice.

Really hoping you give this method a shot. If you don't already enjoy tofu, maybe it will even make you a convert? Hey, I'm not trying to sell miracles here. Just some crispaaaaay tofu nuggets. You oughta know.

Recipe: Crispy Pan-Fried Tofu Cubes 
(with Scallions and Sesame Seeds)

- Instead of cutting the tofu into cubes, you can leave each slab whole and serve it as a main protein. Or, try slicing each slab into strips (like tofu fries)!
- The crispy cubes can be eaten alone (I think they'd make a great appetizer with a cool dipping sauce), or tossed into stir fries, salads, etc. 
- I think a really sharp, serrated knife is important for slicing the crispy tofu without damaging the crust. (I've been using this one for years and it's still SO sharp. Also works magic on tomatoes!)

1 16-oz. block firm tofu
Canola oil 
Sliced scallions (optional)
Toasted sesame seeds (optional)
Gluten free dipping sauce, like S&F Sweet Thai Chili Sauce (optional)

Slice open tofu container and drain out all of the liquid. Pat the block of tofu dry with a paper towel.

Rest the tofu on one of the shorter sides, and slice down the middle with a serrated knife to cut it into two equal slabs. (Slabs? Sure, we'll run with that. See pictures for reference.)

To press some of the liquid out of the tofu, stack three folded-in-half paper towels on a cutting board. Place the two tofu slabs on top, and cover the tofu with three more folded-in-half paper towels. Place a heavy skillet (cast iron, if you have it) and a few cans/jars on top of everything to weigh it down. Leave the tofu to drain for at least 5 minutes. 

Discard the paper towels (which should have soaked up a good amount of liquid). Dust the two largest surfaces of each tofu slab with cornstarch, spreading it out and pressing it in with your fingers. You can optionally coat the sides as well if you want to crisp those too.

Place a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and add enough canola oil to lightly coat the bottom. (I used about 1.5 teaspoons.) Once the oil is really hot, place the two pieces of tofu in the pan, cut side down. 

Cook for 7 minutes (or until the bottom is very golden and has formed a crust). Flip the tofu, and cook for an additional 7 minutes. (You may need to add another splash of oil after you flip.)

At this point, if you cornstarch-ed the sides of the tofu, you can use tongs to sear all 4 of the sides for 1-2 minutes each. (Sometimes I skip this step.) 

Move the tofu to a cutting board and allow it to cool for a few minutes. Use a serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to slice each slab of tofu into 12 cubes - cutting lengthwise into thirds, then crosswise into fourths (see photos). You'll want to use a really sharp knife, and be gentle so that the crust doesn't tear off.

Now your crispy tofu cubes are ready to be added to stir fries, salads, or eaten alone! If eating them alone, I top them with a handful of sliced scallions and a few big pinches of toasted sesame seeds. They're extra delicious dunked in a sauce like this one.


  1. Searing it in a big block and cutting it afterwards is pretty inspired. I hate trying to get every side of all those cubes crispy and often end up getting lazy and just sacrificing the crisp factor in order to be able to eat. Your shortcut would probably net more crisp in the end than I usually get. :)

    1. Totally one of those 'aha' moments. Accompanied by a facepalm for not having thought of it sooner.

      Hope you try it out - let me know how it goes! Will be sending crispy vibes your way. :)


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