How to make crispiest tofu is a question that has been bugging me since the beginning of time. And by the beginning of time, I mean the last couple of years. I went through a phase at university where I became obsessed with making authentic Asian dishes. As a result, I came into regular contact with the crispy tofu puffs available at Asian supermarkets.
Eventually I must have bothered to read an ingredients label, and all was not what it seemed. Rather than eating magically crispy pressed soybeans, I was eating a cocktail of foreign ingredients (with a few soybeans thrown in.) And so began my quest to learn how to make the crispiest tofu in all the lands.
I should note here that although deep fried tofu seems to be the crispiest (according to the internet) I am not talking deep frying here today. Shallow frying is the closest I’ll get to deep frying, for my sanity, my inability to stop myself eating deep fried foods, and my distaste for food waste, and for oil waste.
If you’re feeling all inspired, try out some of the techniques discussed below. The crispy salt and pepper tofu utilises vodka to create a shatteringly crisp surface. The miso glazed tofu adds the glaze last to ensure there is an optimal ratio of crispiness to sauce and flavour.
HOW TO MAKE THE CRISPIEST TOFU: TIPS
- Drain your tofu! Moisture is the enemy of crispiness. I dry my block of tofu with a clean tea towel, before slicing it in half. I lay sheets of kitchen towel down on a plate or board, and the tofu on top. I top this with more kitchen towel, and finally with a weight. My weight of choice is a medium to large pot, filled with cans. I like to leave it for an hour, changing the paper once or twice during the process.
- On the note of drying, the most efficient way to do this is to slice your tofu beforehand. This creates more surface area, to more quickly and thoroughly drain the liquid from the tofu.
- Quick reminder: The less moisture, the crispier the tofu.
- Frying tofu creates the crispiest tofu. Sorry, oven users. HOWEVER! Finishing your tofu in the oven post fry assists in creating extra crispiness.
- There are a few oven techniques for creating reasonable oven baked tofu (if you must) and I’ve discussed a few below.
- Firm tofu. Always. As a matter of fact, look for ‘extra firm’ on the packet.
- Choose an oil with a high smoke point and a neutral flavour. My preferred oils for crispy tofu are vegetable oil or peanut oil.
- Don’t overcrowd the pan with tofu pieces. Overcrowding is the devil when trying to create the crispiest tofu!
MORE CRISPY TOFU TIPS
- Use a frypan with sloped edges, as opposed to pot style edges (straight up and down.) Horizontal pan edges keep heat and steam in the pan, resulting in a less crisp end product. NEVER use a pot for crispy tofu!
- On that note, the bigger the saucepan, the better. Spread your precious tofu out – give it space to breathe (read: get crisp)
- If you cut tiny pieces of tofu, the chances are the interior will become tough. Too large, and the flavouring won’t permeate each piece. Something to keep in mind.
- A medium high heat is best for creating crispy edges without burning the outside of the tofu. Make sure your oil is hot before adding anything – test it with a few drops of water. If it sizzles, it’s ready.
- Marinated tofu doesn’t tend to crisp up as well as unflavoured tofu. The liquid surrounding the tofu tends to make it difficult for the edges to crisp up quickly. It often also results in losing a lot of sauce to an oily pan. I recommend frying the tofu in a plain batter, before coating with sauce. You can then return the tofu to a high heat pan to cook the sauce through and add a bit of colour. Or simply serve as is, if the marinade doesn’t have any raw ingredients.
- From my research, boiling the tofu prior to draining has a positive impact on a crispy crust, particularly if the water is well salted. If The Guardian says it works, I say it works, but I’ll update this post with more after I try it.
Why does vodka help create crispy tofu?
Because vodka is more volatile than water, it evaporates in a quicker and more unpredictable manner. In doing so, it creates a shatteringly crispy crust. The alcohol content doesn’t completely evaporate, so some people choose not to use this method. It is, however, my favourite. Make sure you get certified gluten free vodka if you’re cooking for a coeliac.
Why do I need to coat the tofu in cornflour? Does the cornflour need to be gluten free?
Coating the tofu in cornflour, or a starch of any kind, helps to create firm, crispy edges for your tofu. In my opinion, it is a non negotiable in terms of creating crispy tofu. You can experiment with other starches – tapioca flour and potato flour. The cornflour only needs to be gluten free if you need it to be gluten free. Side note for my international readers: In Australia, we call corn starch cornflour. Don’t ask me why.
Will tapioca flour crisp up the same way cornflour does?
I haven’t compared to two side by side, although it should have comparable results. Maybe a comparison of all the gluten free flours is my next passion project. Serious Eats appears to have done it already, and they suggest that cornflour works best.
Do you have any tips for crispy oven baked tofu?
Why yes I do! I’m glad you asked. I have a new way of making oven baked tofu that requires very little oil, and very little active cooking time. They puff up just as a good tofu puff should, and you can find the recipe here really soon.
Have you noticed a difference between different tofu brands?
My favourite tofu brand to eat here in Australia is Blue Lotus firm tofu. It has a consistency quite unlike other tofu brands – it’s firm, but almost like it has been pressed less. I don’t use this brand for baking or frying, because despite being firm, it is quite fragile. In Australia, I have found that most firm varieties aside from this are ok for use. If in doubt, give the packet a squeeze to make sure it’s super firm, and look for the term ‘extra firm’ on the packet.
What is the science behind pressing the tofu?
Firstly, I just googled ‘the science of pressing tofu’ to answer my own question. Thought you should know. Secondly, I’m not good at science, but the basic fact is wet things will not crisp up. You can’t plonk wet tofu in a pan and expect it to magically become crunchy and delightful. If you’re on the market for super crisp tofu, you need to press the water out of it. Simple as that.
Can I speed up the process of pressing the tofu?
If you’re in a real rush, you can give the tofu a massive squeeze (gentle but firm) and blot away the excess liquid. It won’t be as crispy, but it will still be good. I am aware not everybody is home all day to diligently press out their tofu.
I’ve heard about freezing the tofu. Enlighten me pls.
Freezing the tofu is supposed to give the tofu itself a chewier texture. It is also supposed to enable the tofu to absorb marinade more efficiently. To freeze your tofu, simply remove it from the packaging, dry it off slightly, and freeze in an airtight container. The next day, remove the tofu from the fridge, lay it on some paper towel, and allow it to thaw, either in the fridge or on the bench. Once it has defrosted, begin preparation as usual, starting with the draining process.
Does salting before or after have an impact on crispiness?
Salting things draws moisture out of them, so there is something to be said for leaving salt until after frying. That way, you are more likely to come away with tofu that is moist and delicious on the inside, while being super crunchy on the outside. I find it equally as effective to sprinkle some fine salt over tofu at the end (perhaps with a light spray of oil to make it stick) but the choice is ultimately yours.
What about straight up baking the tofu? No draining, no starch?
1/10 would not recommend to a friend. If you have any experience with baking tofu, you’ve probably experienced that leathery, dry and hollowed out excuse for baked tofu. Essentially, that is what you’ll get if you throw tofu in the oven with a blatant disregard for the above tips. AT A MINIMUM, give the tofu a bit of oil, and pull it out before it’s leather. At a maximum, don’t do this. Make nice tofu instead.
What about semi-firm tofu?
No. Nope. Nah. There is too much liquid content in anything but a firm tofu. For other uses, sure, for a crispy tofu, absolutely not.