Want to add some serious crunch and protein to all kinds of meals? Then you need this Fried Tofu recipe in your life. It’s the answer whenever you need mind-blowing tofu to complete a dish (but don’t want to do too much work!).
Tofu cubes are lightly coated with cornstarch, salt, and pepper for just the right amount of flavor, then pan-fried in a thin layer of oil. Each piece has a satisfyingly crispy and golden crust and pillowy inside that will make you think they’ve been deep-fried.
Looking for more flavor options for your pan-fried tofu? Skip to the Variations section!
Why this recipe works
Fried tofu can be used in a million and one ways. The simple seasonings make it versatile, so you can pair it with nearly anything. Meanwhile, while the crispy texture is more than welcome in dishes like Thai green curry, vegan tacos, lettuce wraps, leafy green salads, spicy noodle dishes, and so much more.
You can even switch up the seasonings using my breaded fried tofu, Indian spiced tofu, and Chinese five spice tofu recipes in the Variations section below. These creative seasoning blends infuse loads of unique flavors and textures into each piece.
The right ingredients go a long way
The success of this recipe heavily relies on cornstarch. This light powder coats every single piece to give it a crispy and crunchy exterior while keeping the interior soft and pillowy.
Cooking oil, salt, and pepper are the simplest ingredients but they give the tofu its addictive qualities.
Neutral-flavored cooking oil helps the tofu crisp up beautifully and gives it a rich mouthfeel without a full deep fry, while kosher salt and black pepper provide the perfect amount of seasoning. It’s the best fried tofu you can use in pretty much any meal!
Weeknight-friendly (or anytime-friendly, really)
Frying tofu in a skillet is just plain quick and easy. After the tofu is briefly pressed and cubed, the process takes 15 minutes and you don’t need to babysit the pan if you’re working on a main dish at the same time.
Extra firm tofu
The star of this recipe is, of course, the tofu. It’s important to use extra firm tofu because it contains very little water and doesn’t fall apart when frying.
The tofu is also pressed before it’s coated in the cornstarch and hits the hot oil. Pressing all of that moisture out is key to frying tofu that’s perfectly meaty on the inside and golden on the outside.
Substitute: Firm tofu will work too, but the pieces will take longer to fry and will have a softer texture.
Introducing the secret to frying extra crispy tofu without deep frying! All of the tofu cubes are coated in a thin layer of cornstarch before they hit the oiled skillet. As they cook, the cornstarch seals to the exterior, forming a crackled, crispy, and golden surface.
I do NOT recommend substituting arrowroot powder for cornstarch. While I like using it in baked tofu, in pan-fried tofu, the arrowroot powder becomes gummy in the pan and results in gloopy tofu that tasted almost raw and squishy in spots.
This is my go-to salt for cooking. It’s particularly useful in this fried tofu recipe because its coarse texture sticks to the tofu better than regular table salt. It tastes better, too!
Wrap the sliced tofu slabs in a clean kitchen towel and place a few heavy cookbooks on top to drain the excess liquid. Let it drain for at least 10 minutes.
Afterward, cut each tofu slab in half, then into ½-inch cubes.
Place the tofu cubes in a bowl. Sprinkle with kosher salt, black pepper, and cornstarch. Toss gently to coat.
Next, heat the oil in a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Once it’s hot, add the coated tofu cubes in an even layer in the pan.
Fry the tofu until each piece is golden on the bottom. Flip the pieces and fry again until golden. Repeat with the other sides.
Once golden on all sides, transfer the fried tofu pieces to a paper towel-lined plate to let the oil drain. Season with a pinch of salt, then serve!
Tips for making this recipe
These tips will help you make the best fried tofu that never falls apart and always has immaculate flavors:
Press the tofu
Pressing the tofu for 10 to 15 minutes will remove excess water and help it crisp up as it fries. Sure, it takes a little bit of extra time, but water-logged tofu takes longer to fry.
So, what would you rather do: wait for the water to drain (while you can work on other things, like your main dish) or wait for the tofu to finish cooking? I’ll take the former.
How to cut tofu into cubes
- Slice the block lengthwise into 4 slabs, then press (pressing smaller pieces is more efficient than pressing the whole block).
- After pressing, slice each slab in half, lengthwise, so you’re left with 8 slabs.
- From there, cut the tofu into ½-inch (1.25 cm) cubes.
Fry in a nonstick pan
You’ll have the easiest time with this recipe when you use a nonstick frying pan. A cast iron skillet will work, but some of the tofu pieces are more likely to stick, especially if your pan is not well-seasoned.
Work in batches (if you need to)
Does your tofu look like it’s crammed into the skillet? Are some of the tofu pieces overlapping? These are signs that you need to cook the tofu in batches. If the tofu is crowded in the pan, you take the risk of them sticking together* or not fully crisping up.
* While some pieces may stick together regardless, they’re easy to pull apart with your fingers or a spatula.
Drain the excess oil
Always transfer the cooked tofu to a paper towel-lined surface to blot away any excess oil.
Make it quicker with meal prep
Did you know you can press tofu and cube it a few days ahead of time? If you do any sort of meal prep on Sundays, press your tofu and cube it, then store in an airtight container for about 5 days.
When it’s time to make your quick weeknight dinner, the fried tofu will be ready in 15 minutes or less.
I share more about this meal prep method in my 1-hour meal prep YouTube video (timestamp included).
While the base recipe is fantastic on its own and works well in virtually any dish or type of cuisine, there are so many other ways to flavor fried tofu.
Variation 1: Five Spice Fried Tofu
Chinese five spice powder is a powerful spice blend that adds an iconic sweet warmth and notes of anise. It makes this fried tofu SO good. Use this tofu in rice bowls, noodles, lettuce wraps, and summer rolls.
Use the base recipe for pan-fried tofu (see recipe card below) but make the following changes:
Gently toss the tofu cubes with 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari.
In a small bowl, combine
– 1 tsp five spice powder
– ½ tsp white pepper
– ½ tsp onion powder
– ¼ tsp garlic powder
– ¼ tsp kosher salt
– 3 TBSP cornstarch
Sprinkle this over the tofu and toss gently.
Fry the tofu per the instructions in the recipe card (but 7 to 8 minutes on the first side, and about 4 minutes on the second side).
Variation 2: Indian-Spiced Pan-Fried Tofu
Seasoning the tofu with nutritional yeast and a handful of simple Indian spices gives it a warm and slightly cheesy flavor. This variation would be fantastic folded into an Indian Chickpea Stew or served on top of cooked basmati rice with Aloo Gobi or Baingan Bharta on the side. Or serve simply over brown rice with vegan raita.
Use the base recipe for pan-fried tofu (see recipe card below) but make the following changes:
In a small bowl, combine:
– 1 heaping tsp garam masala
– 1 tsp ground cumin
– ¼ tsp turmeric
– ¼ tsp Indian chili powder or cayenne pepper
– 1 heaping tsp kosher salt
– fresh pepper to taste
– 1 TBSP nutritional yeast
– 3 TBSP cornstarch
Gently toss the spice mixture with the tofu cubes.
Fry the tofu per the instructions in the recipe card (about 7 to 8 minutes on the first side, and about 4 minutes on the second side).
Variation 3: Crispy Breaded Fried Tofu
Hello, gourmet-style tofu! The crispy breaded fried tofu from my Vegan Curry with Tofu puts an exciting spin on a block of tofu. The cubes are coated in vegan buttermilk, then dredged in a savory spiced panko breadcrumb and arrowroot mix. As they pan-fry, the tofu takes on a crispy coating that will remind you of tofu nuggets.
Frequently Asked Questions
Fried tofu comes with endless uses. It’s a nice, crunchy, and flavorful plant-based protein you can top on salads and grain bowls, toss into noodle dishes, or stuff into vegetable wraps.
We love it on Vegan Chili Garlic Noodles and Gochujang Noodles, and as a substitute for the tempeh in my Vegan Sesame-Cashew Soba Noodle Salad. They also work as a topping on virtually any grain bowl or salad, like these Mediterranean Lentil and Grain Bowls.
Looking for something simple? Pair the crispy fried tofu with white or brown rice, a drizzle of sesame oil on top, and a garnish of cilantro, scallions, toasted sesame seeds, and pickled onions.
We haven’t tested this method, though it should work (though the tofu will likely have a somewhat different texture) Start by pressing and coating the tofu cubes as normal, then lay them in an even layer in the air fryer basket. Cook at 400ºF for 10 to 15 minutes, shaking the basket halfway through.
Can I omit the cornstarch?
You can, but your tofu will not get super crispy. It will still take on a subtle crispiness with a nice flavor, so it isn’t the end of the world if you don’t use it.
No! It becomes gummy and gloopy in the oiled skillet and will not give you crunchy and golden tofu. The only time arrowroot will work instead of cornstarch is if you were to bake the tofu pieces instead.
Sure. Try my Simple Baked Tofu recipe instead.
Yes, you can reduce the amount of oil to 2 tablespoons. 3 tablespoons of oil gives you super crispy tofu, but it’s still delicious with just 2 tablespoons.
For the best texture possible, eat on day 1. However, leftovers are still tasty for 3 to 4 days. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.
The leftovers can be reheated in a frying pan until they’re heated through. Don’t microwave them or else the tofu will become too soft.
More Extraordinary Tofu Recipes
- 1 (14-ounce/400g) block of extra-firm tofu
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch (DO NOT sub with arrowroot powder, or it will get gummy)
- 3 tablespoons neutral-flavored cooking oil (see Note 2)
- Drain the tofu. Slice the blocks lengthwise into 4 slabs. Press the tofu for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Slice each slab in half, lengthwise, so you have 8 slabs. From there, cut the tofu into ½” cubes.
- Add tofu cubes to a large bowl. Sprinkle tofu with 1 teaspoon kosher salt, several cracks of pepper, and add the cornstarch. Toss gently with your hands (or a silicone spatula) to avoid breaking tofu.
- Heat a large nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat with the oil. Once the oil is shimmering, carefully add the tofu. Push the tofu around in the oil to evenly coat in one layer. Fry until golden brown on the bottom, 6 to 7 minutes. Take a minute or two to carefully flip each piece with a thin spatula (an angled silicone spatula is very helpful!). Cook on the second side until golden brown on the bottom, about 5 minutes.NOTE: some pieces may stick together due to the starch, but they are easy to pull apart (and it makes flipping the tofu a bit easier).
- Transfer tofu to a paper towel lined surface to blot away excess oil. Push tofu pieces together and sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
- For flavor variations, see Variations section in the blog post.
- You can reduce the amount of oil to 2 tablespoons. 3 tablespoons of oil gives you super crispy tofu, but it’s still delicious with just 2 tablespoons. I typically use avocado oil, but any neutral-flavored oil or even olive oil works fine.
Recipe: Nisha Vora / Rainbow Plant Life | Photography: Megan Morello