Take the 2-minute tour ×
Seasoned Advice is a question and answer site for professional and amateur chefs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I love fried tofu, but I don't want to have a deep fryer in my home (I'll use it too much!).

I've tried a few different techniques for pan-frying tofu, but it always comes out unsatisfying - too dry, too thin, too wet; I'll admit, I'm not a genius when it comes to tofu, but I'd imagine there is some way to prepare it that will give me decent results consistently.

Note: I do have a large wok, but I generally fry my tofu in a frying pan. I've had poor results in my wok.

share|improve this question
8  
For best results, fry it in a generous amount of bacon grease! –  Shog9 Jul 21 '10 at 17:27
5  
@Knives, lol, even as a vegetarian, I think I must vote your comment up on principle alone :) –  unforgiven3 Jul 21 '10 at 17:59
2  
@Gnoupi: I would sincerely hope that a comment recommending bacon grease on a question tagged, "vegetarian" would be immediately recognizable as tongue-in-cheek. But as with the other sites, offended readers need only click the "flag" icon to make it go away... –  Shog9 Jul 28 '10 at 17:38
4  
The site would just be too... Dry, without these comments. :) –  Arafangion Oct 6 '10 at 12:46
1  
@Knives: +1 — another vegetarian here who loves being teased with bacon comments :-P –  PLL Feb 5 '11 at 21:14
show 3 more comments

7 Answers 7

up vote 14 down vote accepted

For pan frying you probably want to start with a firm tofu. It's a good idea to press the tofu to remove excess water: wrap the tofu in a cloth and place it between two cutting boards, weighting the top cutting board with a heavy book or other similar object. Wait at least twenty minutes (you can prepare the rest of the vegetables/onions for the stir fry at this point.

Once the tofu has been pressed, cut it into the desired pieces. It's a good idea to fry it at medium-high heat in only oil first, then add sauces (soy sauce, vinegar, whatever) only after the tofu begins to brown slightly.

Note: the above won't simulate deep-fried tofu. For deep fried tofu, you may want to use a softer tofu, still press it before using, and coat the cubes in corn starch before frying. Of course you probably know you can deep-fry at home with just a large pot of oil.

For a different texture you can freeze the tofu before frying.

Although not fried, I would also recommend that you try baked (marinaded) tofu to see if you like that texture/flavor better. You would still want to press the tofu, then slice it rather thinly. You can reapply the marinade during baking for more flavor.

share|improve this answer
    
What is your approach for flipping the tofu during the frying? For me, it browns a lot more on one side and I always miss a few sides on a few pieces. –  unforgiven3 Jul 21 '10 at 17:29
3  
@unforgiven3: If you keep the oil hot and use a good cast iron pan, you shouldn't get much sticking, in which case you can just flip the tofu continuously with a thin, flat spatula while they brown, or just pan-flip them. You will never get them all exactly the same on all sides, but I haven't found this to be an issue. Once you add the sauces/seasonings (after the initial oil-fry), the appearance and flavor becomes uniform. –  kevins Jul 21 '10 at 17:40
    
Interesting. Sounds like I need to find a good cast iron pan. Thanks! –  unforgiven3 Jul 21 '10 at 17:56
2  
@unforgiven3: Absolutely! A good cast iron pan is indispensable; you will not regret the purchase. –  kevins Jul 21 '10 at 17:59
add comment

Having pan-fried about a zillion pounds of tofu in my life, I can help you out here. Kevin is on the right track with getting the water out, but you don't need to get it out of the whole thickness of the bean curd, just the surface, so that it will brown and get crisp. Here's how I do it, works every time:

(1) Cut the tofu into the desired shape - cubes, slabs, rectangles, triangles... the best thickness is about 3/8". (2) Preheat a big cast iron skillet to scorching hot. (4) Just before you are ready to fry, pat the tofu dry with paper towels. (5) Pour a pretty generous amount of a purified oil in the skillet (one with a high smoke point), say 3-4 tablespoons. (6) Carefully add the tofu in a single layer. (7) Fry for a couple minutes until well browned on one side, then flip and cook the other side.

This works way better than dumping in a double-layer of tofu and stirring, hoping it will brown. If you are making a stir-fry, you may need to cook 2 or more batches of tofu, reserve it to the side, then put it back in after the vegetables are cooked.

share|improve this answer
add comment

A cast iron pot and a good thermometer should serve you fine for deep frying the tofu. Unlike a dedicated deep fryer you will have to monitor the temperature of the oil more.

share|improve this answer
add comment

There are two methods to prevent the either too dry or too mushy issue.

  • Use a batter with a fair amount of oil (1 quarter inch or deeper). Cornstarch will create a nice batter and prevent the tofu from having a 'wet/moist texture'. It will still be wet on the inside, as mentioned do drain it well.

or

  • Use very, very little oil (mere drops) and focus on searing it. This will give the outside a nice texture. This is a saute, low oil, high heat and keep it moving by flipping the pan (don't use a utensil).

The texture is an important part of taste and having a firmness on the outside of tofu is quite important when nomming. Yet it should be mushy on the inside.

What makes this task so tricky is that while cooking tofu, it is constantly bleeding moisture (the steam is forced out and collects on the outside). Unfortunately this moisture evaporation is a very powerful coolant and can prevent a seared texture from developing. In fact it will remain mushy as though it were never cooked for awhile. Once it looses enough moisture, the heat is no longer buffered into the moisture and/or the evaporation is no longer cooling the tofu. At this point, it begins to very rapidly burn and hardened completely leaving it inedible.

share|improve this answer
    
pan-frying is indeed so tricky that I often cheat by oven-roasting instead! tofu pieces/slices then can be held at low oven temp til rest of ingredients are cooked and just added in at the last moment -often layered on top (pad Thai for instance) so as not to go soggy –  Pat Sommer Mar 21 '12 at 4:33
add comment

When I make Pad Thai, I usually crack an egg into the wok while frying the tofu, creating a nice tasty coating for the tofu. It interacts nicely with the rest of the dish, actually making some people think it's chicken. It's not vegan, but it's good..

share|improve this answer
add comment

I've tried some of the methods mentioned in other answers - and perhaps will again as it may just take practice - but the one and only way I've ever gotten tofu to come out palatable is to truly stir-fry it in a large wok. That is, put in some oil (sesame oil, preferably), crank up the heat to at least medium-high, and stir your heart out. Do that for 5-7 minutes with plenty of wrist action and it should turn out well - as long as you have extra firm, quality tofu that can take all that action!

share|improve this answer
add comment

Bacon grease makes almost anything it is cooked in taste delicious, but most won't eat it because it is bad for the heart or they don't eat meat. I roll the tofu in corn starch, then fry it in olive oil using seasoned salt on the tofu. Sometimes I use Dash because I can't eat a lot of salt and dash has a variety of seasonings to choose from.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.