I linked to some kitchen tools I use often when I fry tofu. Those links are affiliate links.
I used to dislike tofu, but I’ve become the woman who bought 8 pounds of tofu to fry for this post. I make crispy pan fried tofu almost weekly. When I post a picture on Instagram or Facebook, everyone asks for the recipe. Well, here it is. Don’t say I never fried 8 pounds of tofu for you.
My mother loved freshly made tofu. She’d gleefully unwrap the hunk of fresh tofu from the Vietnamese market. If she came on the right day, it might even be warm, just delivered from a Vietnamese grandmother’s kitchen. (Yes, you can make your own tofu. It’s on my bucket list.) She would either eat slices plain or dip them into some soy sauce. Only looking back now did I realize what simple pleasure fresh tofu was for my mother.
I didn’t fall in love with tofu at first. I basically stalked all of its various forms until my palate caught up with tofu’s light nutty flavor and creamy texture. Now, I eat tofu in soups, stir fry, and just with plain rice. They soak up everything–sauces, broths, condiments–around them beautifully. Plus, tofu is inexpensive (even organic, non-gmo) especially if you have an Asian grocer near you.
I learned that each type of tofu has a cooking method that highlights its best features. Silken is great for soups. Extra firm and smoked are amazing in stir fry. Crispy fried tofu is our family favorite. I used to buy it from the Asian market, but freshly fried tofu is heavenly. My kids jump for joy when they see me making it.
Crispy pan fried tofu is crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. It’s easier to pan fry tofu than you think. I prefer pan frying to deep frying–less work, less mess.
Are you ready to take these greyish white slabs of tofu:
and turn them into these beautiful, golden cubes of happiness? (Yes, I know they’re different shapes. I’ll explain later.)
I thought you might say yes. Below are the step-by-step instructions with photos, but you can scroll down to the bottom for a printable (picture-less) recipe.
Prepare the Tofu
Type of tofu: Like I said earlier, the type of tofu you use makes a difference. You need a firmer tofu to stand up to the frying process. I opt for firm tofu or extra-firm tofu. They’re usually sold in 16 oz or 14 oz (extra firm) tubs. The blocks of tofu are placed in water to keep them from drying out. Open the containers and drain the water.
Press the tofu. Do not skip this step. Because the tofu has be happily soaking in water while it patiently waited for you to take it home, it’s soggy. No one likes soggy tofu. Pressing tofu removes the water. Water will hinder the frying process.
I know there are fancy tofu presses available, but you can do it with things you already own. Place a non-terrycloth kitchen towel on a cutting board and place the uncut block of tofu on it. Place another non-terrycloth towel on top. (You can use paper towels too, but I’m being green.) Here’s the hardest part: finding what item to weigh down the tofu. I use the plastic tubs the tofu came in and place on top of second towel. Then place something that weighs around one pound inside it. In this picture, I used a jar of peanut butter and our canister of decaf coffee grounds. Sometimes I use canned beans and a bottle of salad dressing. Whatever is handy.
Let it sit this way for at least 30 minutes. I normally set this up and then go work or play games on Facebook.
Set up frying area
When you’re ready to fry the tofu: Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat. Pour just enough canola or vegetable oil into the skillet until the bottom is coated. Now add a little bit more. I didn’t give a measurement because everyone’s skillet is a different size. The one here is a 12-inch skillet with probably 1/3 cup of oil.
How to tell if the oil is hot enough: The worse thing you can do is start cooking before the oil is hot enough. This gives your tofu a chance to soak up more oil before the crispy wall forms. To test the oil, place the tip of the dry wooden chopstick or wooden skewer into the oil. If the oil bubbles around the chopstick or skewer, it’s hot enough.
What about the actual temperature? I bought an deep fry thermometer so I could tell you the temperature but I forgot to write down the number. Oops. Seriously, I use the wood chopstick method for almost all pan frying I do. My favorite kind are these plain, uncoated bamboo chopsticks.
While the oil is heating up, cut the tofu: There’s no correct way to slice the tofu. I prefer to cut my tofu at least 1.5″ thick and 1.5″ wide so it doesn’t become dried out when I fry it. Some people prefer sticks (like in 3rd photo above) and some like cubes. I made both. The stick shape works really well in Vietnamese summer rolls. Cubes are great in soups.
Before you fry, set up your frying station. Set a cooling rack inside a sheet pan (see photo below) next to your frying pan. This is where you’ll place your tofu to drain any excess oil and the rack will keep the bottom crust you fried from becoming soggy. Other important tools: a splatter screen and a good set of tongs or long wooden chopsticks. Wooden ones are best as plastic can melt in the oil and metal chopsticks will get too hot. I also highly recommend wearing an apron so you don’t ruin your shirt with popping oil–I learned that the hard way.
Frying the tofu
Slowly slide the tofu into the hot oil. Do not overcrowd your skillet. My 12-inch skillet holds 5-6 1.5″ squares of tofu at a time. If you cut yours into sticks, you can get away with more.
Fry the first side until it is golden brown. You might be tempted to pick up the tofu before it’s ready. Don’t. If you look at the sides, you’ll see it the browning creep up on the sides of your tofu. That’s a good time to check. This takes about 3-5 minutes.
Carefully turn them over–the oil is hot–and fry the other side, another 3-5 minutes. If your tofu is extra thick, you might need to give the sides some time in the oil to brown. Using your tongs or chopsticks, remove the tofu over to the cooling rack.
Repeat the frying process until you’ve fried all of your tofu. If you’re frying a lot–like my 8 pounds–you’ll need to replenish the oil halfway through. Add the oil between batches, when there’s no tofu in the pan. Adding new oil will cool down the hot oil significantly. Allow it to become hot again before adding tofu. See chopstick test above.
Eat your crispy pan fried tofu
Now you can enjoy your hard work! I like crispy pan fried tofu with a hot bowl of rice and ginger soy dipping sauce. To make the ginger soy sauce, just add freshly grated ginger into soy sauce. I like ginger so I add 1 Tablespoon to 1/4 cup of soy plus a giant spoon of Sriracha paste. Make it to your taste.
To freeze: If you have extra, the tofu freezes very well. Reheat in an oven at 350F to crispy it back up.
How do you like to eat your tofu? Drain water from tofu package and press tofu to remove excess water. To press: place tofu blocks on a non-terrycloth towel or paper towels. Add another layer of towels on top and weigh it down with something heavy, such as a cutting board, a plate, etc. Allow to press for at least 30 minutes. Cut tofu into either squares or strips, making sure pieces are at least 1.5" wide/thick. Over medium high heat in a large skillet, add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Oil is hot enough when an insert wooden chopstick or skewer causes oil to bubble. Add tofu to oil, careful not to overcrowd skillet. Fry on each side for approximate 3-5 minutes or until golden. Remove to cooling rack inserted in sheet pan to drain oil. Repeat until all tofu has been fried.
Drain water from tofu package and press tofu to remove excess water. To press: place tofu blocks on a non-terrycloth towel or paper towels. Add another layer of towels on top and weigh it down with something heavy, such as a cutting board, a plate, etc. Allow to press for at least 30 minutes.
Cut tofu into either squares or strips, making sure pieces are at least 1.5" wide/thick.
Over medium high heat in a large skillet, add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Oil is hot enough when an insert wooden chopstick or skewer causes oil to bubble.
Add tofu to oil, careful not to overcrowd skillet. Fry on each side for approximate 3-5 minutes or until golden. Remove to cooling rack inserted in sheet pan to drain oil. Repeat until all tofu has been fried.