Recipe Review

How Do I Make Crispy, Custardy Tofu at Home?

updated May 1, 2019
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Q: I recently traveled to China and had several meals that featured tofu. I’d never really enjoyed tofu before, but what I ate in China was a revelation: crispy outside, creamy and custardy inside, and sometimes served in broth or with a sauce. How can I recreate this amazing texture at home?

I’m a pretty skilled cook, but have never cooked with tofu before so I don’t even know where to begin.

Sent by Marcella

Editor: I’m with you. Good tofu is a revelation — especially if you’re accustomed to the bland, rubbery stuff that’s most often dished up. This is no exaggeration, but I spent a whole summer endeavoring to make tofu that is just as you described: crisp and golden on the outside, and creamy and custardy on the inside. I’m happy to report that I learned quite a bit during those months and did manage to make a tofu that delivered on all my asks. Here’s what I learned:

  1. Your tofu isn’t dry enough yet: Water is the enemy of a crispy exterior. Whether you’re making a roast chicken, searing a filet of salmon, of cooking tofu, any amount of water on the surface will lead to a soggier final product. Yes, you should press your tofu, but if you’re just letting it go for an hour or so, that’s not enough. I usually press a block of tofu for days in the fridge. The weight, along with the cool, circulating air, helps to further dry out tofu.
  2. A little fat + a lot of heat = tofu perfection: In other words … stir-fry. The heat of stir-frying helps the tofu develop the golden crust, and the quick movement prevents it from drying out. Deep-frying works too, but that can be a bit of a production. Stir-frying produces a similar product in less time with less fat. We’ve got a step-by-step on how to stir-fry tofu that will walk you through this process.
  3. Helpful, but not necessary: After pressing the tofu, you can cut it into your desired shape and freeze it. When you cook it, it will begin to cook from the outside in, causing the outside to crisp up far faster than the interior. This isn’t a necessary step, but it help to ensure the inside is particularly creamy in contrast to an ultra-crispy exterior. You can also dust the dried, pressed tofu with cornstarch, but I’ve found that while it does help the tofu crisp up, that doesn’t make a discernible difference as long as you’re starting off with super-dry tofu, hot oil, and a crazy-hot pan.