How to Cook Tofu that Doesn't Suck
- Prep Time 5 minutes
- Cook Time 10 minutes
- Estimated Cost $2.50
- 204 Comments
When you're making a stir-fry, noodle dish, or salad, you want tofu that is firm and meaty, with a crispy exterior.
Tofu is a healthy, inexpensive, protein-rich food. It's easy to find, lasts a long time in the fridge, and has lots of good belly benefits, thanks to the fermentation process required to make it. What's more, it's both an alternative to meat, and delicious in its own right.
Well, it's delicious if you cook it well. And sadly, many cooks do not.
Soft, creamy silken tofu is a wonderful thing, maybe slicked with chili oil, floating in savory miso soup, or in dessert form with fresh fruit. But when you're making a stir-fry, noodle dish, or salad, you want tofu that is firm and meaty, with a crispy exterior. Still, so much tofu is often overly oily or just poorly cooked, rendering it limp, floppy, and incredibly boring. Of course, deep-frying the tofu solves this problem, but that can be messy and a lot of work (not to mention a lot of oil). But don't worry, there's a better solution.
I first learned this tofu cooking method when my college roommate Emily gave me Didi Emmons' wonderful book Entertaining for a Veggie Planet for my twenty-first birthday. Didi dries the tofu before dicing it into cubes, salting it, and pan-frying it. She calls the resulting crispy cubes "tofu croutons," as they resemble the toasted bread cubes you might toss into a salad (and are excellent in salads).
In my version, I follow Didi's instructions almost exactly, except I always use sprouted extra-firm tofu which doesn't retain much liquid. I love this kind from Wildwood, which comes in convenient 2-packs.
I gently pat its outside dry, cut it into 1/2-inch cubes.
I cook the tofu in 2 tablespoons of oil (I like to use coconut, but vegetable oil or grapeseed oil also work well) over medium-high heat, and salt it.
The tofu cooks in a single layer for 4-5 minutes, undisturbed (this is how it gets its lovely, crispy crust). Once one side has cooked, I give the pan a stir and let at least one more side get crispy.
Once it's crispy, I drain the tofu on paper towels or napkins and it's ready to go. There is usually a bit of oil left in the pan, which I usually use to fry onions or garlic for whatever I'm cooking.
Now the tofu is ready to use. Here it is on top of my favorite shirataki noodle salad.
The cooked tofu will keep at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 4 hours, so it's a great-do ahead task if you want to use it later in the day. It's perfect to toss into stir-fries, salads, noodle dishes, burritos, tacos, or even eaten straight, maybe with some homemade peanut sauce.
- 1 16-ounce package of extra-firm tofu, preferably sprouted $2.50
- 2 tablespoons coconut, vegetable, canola, or grapeseed oil Pantry
- a few pinches of salt Pantry
Recipe Serves 4
- Wrap the tofu block in a clean dish towel and gently pat dry.
- Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch pieces.
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.
- Add the tofu to the pan, salt it well, and let cook, undisturbed, for 4-5 minutes (check after 4 to make sure it's not burning), until a thick, golden-brown crust develops.
- Use a spatula or wooden spoon to flip the tofu as well as you can, to cook at least one other side untiul it is also golden-brown and crispy.
- Drain on a paper towels or napkins to remove any excess oil.
- Use immediately, or within 4 hours.