For Perfect, Crispy Tofu, Stop Making These 5 Mistakes

updated Jan 22, 2020
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There’s something deeply satisfying about biting into a piece of golden, crispy tofu. If a restaurant has good, crispy tofu on the menu, it can be worth a number of other inconveniences (distance, expense) to eat there, especially if you’ve found it surprisingly tricky to get good crispy tofu at home.

But I’m here to tell you that perfect, crispy tofu at home isn’t beyond your skill level. In fact, you’re probably make one (or more!) of these common mistakes cooks tend to make when cooking tofu. Fix these, and you’ll be on your way to eating golden, crispy tofu at home, any night you like.

1. You’re using a soft or silken tofu.

Silken and soft tofus have a lot more moisture and a delicate texture, making them ideal for using in soups or thickening smoothies. Attempt to crisp these varieties in a pan, however, and you’ll most likely end up with scrambled tofu!

Do this instead: Buy firm or extra firm tofu. Both these varieties are well suited to crisping (and even grilling) thanks to their denser, drier textures.

Need more info? Here’s our handy tofu-buying guide.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

2. You’re not pressing out excess moisture.

Before frying, tofu should be pressed to eliminate any excess water. Sometimes, in a hurry to get dinner done, I skip this step. But I always regret it. The still-sort-of-wet tofu never gets as golden brown or as crisp.

How to properly press tofu: After draining the excess liquid from the package, set the tofu on several layers of paper towels. Layer several more paper towels on top, followed by something heavy — I like to use a heavy plate or Dutch oven lid — and press for 15 to 20 minutes. If you’re in a real hurry, sandwich the tofu between several layers of paper towels and then press down on it gently, but firmly for at least 30 seconds.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

3. You’re not coating the tofu.

When you get crispy tofu at restaurant, it may not seem like it has a coating (and it certainly doesn’t have breading) but it is often coated with something to keep the surface dry. If you’re skipping that coating at home, the moisture on the surface of the tofu could prevent it from browning properly.

How to coat tofu: Move the pressed-and-cubed-tofu to a zip-top bag and add a little cornstarch, all-purpose flour, or fine rice flour. Then seal the bag and shake it up to coat the cubes. For a pound of tofu, you’ll only need about 3 tablespoons of cornstarch or flour, and notice immediately notice a better browning and a more crisp exterior.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

4. You’re deep frying your tofu.

Deep frying makes everything more crispy, right? Not when the item in question is essentially a small sponge, like tofu. The problem with deep frying tofu, besides the considerable mess, is that the tofu will soak up a lot of the oil, making the inside a greasy, spongy mess.

Try one of these methods instead: Pan frying with just a little bit of oil, or stir-frying at a high temperature will give you crispy tofu with less fuss. Baking tofu to crispness in a hot oven also works well — but takes a bit longer than the stovetop methods.

5. You’re keeping the heat too low.

When browning any food — meat or tofu or vegetables — using low heat will cause the food to stick to the pan and ultimately give you pale, limp food — the very opposite of crisp crunchiness.

Do this instead: Don’t fear a higher temperature for pan frying and make sure you give your pan plenty of time to warm up before adding the oil and then tofu. For baked crispy tofu, try preheating the baking pan before adding the oil and tofu for extra brown crispiness.