This recipe for the crispiest pan fried tofu is one of those handy recipes recipes that you can use to jazz up any number of tofu dishes. A FODMAP friendly chilli oil tofu, a miso glazed tofu or just a quick salad topper, this crispy tofu has your back.
It is FODMAP friendly, vegan and gluten free, and there are a number of different substitution options to cater to different dietaries.
Crispiest pan fried tofu recipe
This recipe for the crispiest pan fried tofu has a few components. They are:
- Choosing firm tofu
- Optional: boiling the tofu block in salted water (seriously!)
- Draining the tofu and removing excess liquid
- Dipping the tofu in a vodka, baking powder and starch batter
- Pan frying the tofu in a high smoke point oil
How does vodka make tofu crispy?
Vodka, I hear you say? Yes, vodka. Vodka is a more volatile ingredient than water. This means that it evaporates in a quicker and more unpredictable manner. It dries out the batter faster and in a more volatile manner, leaving bubbles a shatteringly crispy crust.
Vodka combined with a starchy coating = shatteringly crispy tofu without the need for a deep frier and with relative ease. The basic recipe is FODMAP friendly, gluten and grain free (make sure the vodka is certified) and vegan.
If you’re feeling 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.
- As discussed below, this crispy tofu can be made without vodka. It won’t quite be as crispy but it will still be really great. Just substitute the vodka with water.
- There are a number of different options for the starch component. If you have issues with corn, I recommend potato starch.
Boiling tofu for the crispiest tofu
Now that I have had the opportunity to test this method out, I’m here to tell you: it slaps. You know how the crispy tofu at restaurants is bouncy, chewy, airy and moist? I think this is how they do it. I HIGHLY recommend boiling your tofu – it creates such a nice inside texture that has bite and bounce.
To boil firm tofu:
- Place your block of firm tofu in salted water for about 10-20 minutes until it has expanded and looks puffy.
- Remove it from the water and place onto an absorbent clean tea towel. Gently press it to remove some of the liquid.
- Press the tofu as you would with any firm tofu, then continue on with the recipe.
Crispiest pan fried tofu tips and tricks
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.The less moisture, the crispier the tofu.
It is critical to use firm tofu in this recipe. Anything less has a higher liquid content and will not dry enough to pan fry.
Choose an oil with a high smoke point and a neutral flavour. My preferred oils for crispy tofu are vegetable oil or peanut oil.
More crispy pan fried 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 vodka? It’s flavourless and colourless and a fairly basic liquor. It doesn’t add anything other than the volatile ethanol liquid combination.
Can I make this crispy tofu without vodka?
Absolutely! If you’d prefer, you can use water in place of vodka. It won’t be quite as crispy, but it does work in a pinch.
Why do I need to coat the tofu in cornflour?
Coating the tofu in cornflour, or a starch of any kind, helps to create firm, crispy edges for your tofu. According to Serious Eats: ‘More starch means greater water absorption and enhanced gelatinization of starches; frying drives off water, leaving a porous, brittle network that we perceive as crunchy or crispy when we bite into it. So the more of a starch network we build, the crispier the end product.’
And, if want more explanation from Cooks Illustrated: ‘First, the starch granules in the coating absorb water, whether from the wet surface of the food itself or because they are combined with a liquid to make a slurry before coating the food. The hydrated granules swell when they are initially heated in the oil, allowing the starch molecules to move about and separate from one another. As water is driven away during the frying process, these starch molecules lock into place, forming a rigid, brittle network with a porous, open structure.
Furthermore, the two types of starch molecules (amylose and amylopectin) form some cross-links with one another at high frying temperatures, further reinforcing the coating’s structure. Thus, the molecules in this porous network have room to compress and fracture, providing the sensation of crispiness. Interestingly, cornstarch contains 25 to 28 percent amylose, which is higher than the amount in wheat or potato starch (which are 20 to 22 percent amylose), and this is why cornstarch works the best for making crispy coatings on fried foods.’
Can I make crispy tofu without cornstarch?
You don’t have to use cornstarch – I find potato starch works just as well.
Do you have any tips for crispy oven baked tofu?
Why yes I do! I’m glad you asked. I have a way of making oven baked tofu that requires very little oil, and very little active cooking time. Follow the directions in this recipe, omitting the white pepper if you don’t want salt and pepper tofu.
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 before pan frying?
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. You can also just freeze it in the packaging, if convenience is your thing. 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. I have a killer recipe for vegan bolognese using this technique.
More FODMAP friendly tofu recipes
- This Vietnamese Coleslaw with tofu
- Sweet and sticky ginger tofu
- Vegetarian Caesar salad with salt and pepper tofu ‘croutons’
- Vegan bangers and mash (tofu is the MAGIC ingredient in the homemade vegan sausages)
- The gluten free and vegan sausage rolls from my cookbook, Intolerance Friendly Kitchen
Cripiest pan fried tofu recipe
- 400-500g firm tofu (packet sizes vary)
- 1/3 cup (45g) potato starch or cornstarch (not all cornstarch is gluten free)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder (check it's gluten free if it needs to be)
- 2 tablespoons (40ml) water
- 2 tablespoons (40ml) vodka (ensure it's gluten free if it needs to be) or sub water unflavoured
- Vegetable oil, for shallow frying
- Firmly press and dry your tofu.
- Mix together the potato starch, salt and baking powder, then add the water and vodka.
- Preheat a large skillet over a medium high heat with the vegetable oil.
- Tear or cut the tofu into bite sized chunks. Dip each piece of tofu into the batter, allow it to drip off slightly and then place it into the hot oil. Space the pieces of tofu evenly in the pan and cook in batches
- Cook for 1-2 minutes each side until the tofu is golden brown. If pieces of tofu are sticking, turn the heat right up.
- Repeat with the remaining tofu until all the pieces are cooked. Drizzle with the sauce of your choice before serving or keep plain.