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When I fry cornstarch-coated tofu in a heavy-based metal pan, it sticks badly: the cornstarch ends up crusted onto the pan with almost none attached to the tofu.

I am pressing the tofu and patting the surface dry before coating in cornstarch, pre-heating the pan until water beads, and shallow-frying in rapeseed oil. I don't want to deep-fry.

Keeping the tofu moving in the pan doesn't seem to help with the sticking. If I leave the tofu until the cornstarch browns and releases on one side before flipping, the cornstarch on that side ends up overcooked, and after flipping the other sides get stuck anyway.

Is there a good way to avoid the cornstarch sticking in a metal pan when shallow-frying?

(A teflon pan produces good results, but I want to use the metal pan. The metal pan makes e.g. excellent omelettes without sticking. It has a heavy magnetic base and the cooking surface is non-magnetic, possibly aluminium.)

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  • Can you clarify what type of metal pan? stainless steel? cast iron (seasoned?)? aluminium? copper?
    – bob1
    Commented Jul 2 at 10:08
  • Do your omelettes not stick, or stick a little then release in time that it's no trouble? I suspect the latter
    – Chris H
    Commented Jul 2 at 10:20
  • @bob1 it seems to have a magnetic heavy base and a non-magnetic cooking surface. Maybe it's aluminium on the top cooking surface? Definitely not cast iron or copper.
    – mxybi
    Commented Jul 2 at 11:16
  • @ChrisH: yes, I think you're right!
    – mxybi
    Commented Jul 2 at 11:17
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    @mxybi Probably stainless steel, not all types are magnetic. Aluminium would be dull grey with bright shiny underneath the grey layer and would be light compared to steel.
    – bob1
    Commented Jul 2 at 20:16

2 Answers 2

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I would recommend a few things:

  1. Shake off as much cornstarch after coating it. You typically just want a thin layer. You may also want to let it sit for a few minutes before adding (so it can better fuse to the food), then shake it off again before adding to the pan.
  2. Make sure the pan (and whatever oil) is well heated before you drop any food in. Most oils will start to shimmer when they’re hot. This is the ideal time to put the food in.
  3. Touch a corner of the food into the pan before you place it in… if you don’t hear a sizzle, the pan is too cool, and you should wait longer. (This shouldn’t be an issue if you wait for the shimmer)
  4. Beware of ‘overcrowding’ the pan. You want a bit of space between each food item. If they’re too closely packed together, you’ll have a less than ideal result, as the food steams and loosens the coating.

It’s also possible that your tofu is TOO dry before coating. There needs to be a little bit of moisture for the starch to stick to it.

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You can actually season a metal pan, although it won't be as nonstick as a nonstick pan it will help. Smear the lightest coating of LOW smoke point oil (the kind you should NOT cook with) and heat the pan until it starts smoking. Use a paper towel to apply. Let it smoke for a minute or so. Repeat a couple of times. This creates a coating on the pan.

Regardless of coating, you want the pan at the right temperature before placing food in it. Now use a HIGH smoke point oil (canola or avocado for instance) and an often cited test where you flick a few drops of water into the pan. If the water droplets completely bead up and roll around you are at an optimal temperature - if it instantly evaporates it is too hot and if it just sizzles but does not bead and roll around, you are too low.

Now try adding the cornstarch battered tofu. Still may not work, but that is optimal.

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