Tofu gets a really bad rep. A lot of people are thrown off by the texture. It’s known as the squishy protein replacement that most carnivores don’t even dare to touch. But while tofu can be served on the softer side, its actually really enjoyable when its cooked correctly in its crispy state.
Because its compacted soy-bean it can also soak in some flavor. It’s also super bland when not seasoned. But this means that you can practically marinate it with almost any flavors!
Tofu is super diverse. But if not prepared or cooked properly, this soy sponge can stick all over the pan or baking sheet. When I first dabbled with tofu I definitely had nights of being pissed off after taking so much time to prep it just for half of my cubes to be stuck to my baking sheet!
However, where I feel like most people deem tofu one of the worst foods ever and just give up, I kept trying. I was in the process of cutting back on meats and but my body needed protein and I was determined to perfect the art of tofu. I’ve been teaching myself to cook for years and I wasn’t going to be defeated.
If you’ve given up yourself or if you’re skeptical of its uncooked texture here is my advice on how to keep tofu from sticking and a few tidbits of advice on what’s going wrong in the process!
- 1. Sorry friend, but you bought the wrong kind.
- 2. Didn’t drain it well enough. Or at all!
- 3. Cut pieces too large.
- 4. Used an oil in your marinade.
- 5. Used breading for fried chicken.
- 6. Didn’t use the right pan or baking method.
- 7. Didn’t let it cook long enough.
- 8. Didn’t use enough oil when cooking.
- How I Cook My Tofu
- Sauces I Use
1. Sorry friend, but you bought the wrong kind.
If you anxiously stood in the vegan section of your local grocery store staring at the few types of tofu, don’t worry. We were all in your shoes the first time we brewed up the bravery to try tofu. In most stores, you’re staring down at the bottom shelf filled with rectangle containers labeled silken, firm and extra firm.
If you’re the poor soul that picked up silken in hopes to cook up crispy tofu cubes you hit a dead end right there. Silken is best used for smoothies, soups and sauces.
Behind door #2 is firm and this would’ve been a better choice, though I always go for extra firm. Extra firm is almost guaranteed to produce crispy non-stick tofu!
2. Didn’t drain it well enough. Or at all!
So you’ve got your firm or extra firm tofu and you’re ready to prep it. Each block of tofu is packaged in water to keep it fresh and this will need to be drained.
It’s also best to start prepping your tofu at least an hour before you’re ready to start cooking. I usually give it an hour to an hour thirty but I’ve read some recipes where before pressed it up to 4 hours! It’s totally up to you.
You can buy a tofu press or you can make your own like I do. If you’re going to DIY route here’s what you’ll need:
- Paper towels
- Dinner plate
- Cast iron or heavy pan
- About 5 cans of beans (or whatever cans you’ve got!)
After draining your tofu package, wrap your block of tofu in quite a few paper towels. Place the wrapped tofu on the dinner plate with the cast iron on top and stack the cans inside of the cast iron.
It may look silly, but trust me, it works like a charm!
About halfway through I do re wrap the tofu in new paper towels.
Draining excess water from your tofu helps to create that crispy texture during the frying or baking process. If you don’t properly drain it (or don’t drain it at all) you’re left with a lot of moisture while cooking and this is what often causes the tofu to stick.
3. Cut pieces too large.
I’ve fallen victim to this as well. There was a recipe I followed that instructed to slice the tofu block cross-wise so that you’d have four smaller rectangle blocks and though the concept was great, it ended up squishy.
I fried, baked and still couldn’t get it to crisp to my liking.
When in doubt, your tofu will cook better in smaller pieces.
4. Used an oil in your marinade.
After pressing tofu, many people like to marinate it so that it can soak up some flavor. However, if you’re using oil in your marinade it won’t really mix well considering tofu is a water based substance. Instead, try using lemon or other vinegar.
For me, I hardly use marinades. I like to fry/bake my tofu and then create a sauce to toss it in. It lets the tofu keep its’ crispy dignity while also adding in a flavorful punch with the sauce. Keep reading below and I’ll include some of my favorites!
5. Used breading for fried chicken.
Okay, so we all love breaded fried goodness from fried chicken to country fried steak and even fried corn dogs. Fried protein slaps.
Sorry to my vegan/vegetarian readers!
But tofu does not mix well with a milk, egg and breading coating in the frying pan. It’ll stick left and right and fall apart.
Instead, use corn starch or arrow root!
I slice my tofu into 1-2in. cubes and toss them in a bowl with a little drizzle of oil, salt & pepper. Sometimes soy sauce depending on the recipe.
Toss it all gently so that you don’t break your cubes but enough so that they’re all coated. Then, I sprinkle in 1-2tbsp of cornstarch.
Cornstarch or arrow root powder is a game changer for tofu and is part of the key to making sure its crispy and delicious!
6. Didn’t use the right pan or baking method.
If you’re working with a stainless steel pan to try and fry your tofu that’s almost a guaranteed answer for why its sticking. Stainless steel and tofu do not work well together. When I fry tofu I use a well seasoned cast iron. And I mean well seasoned to the point where its almost non-stick. If you don’t have a cast iron, or aren’t comfortable trying the method, then just use a non-stick pan!
Some people get nervous about “frying tofu” in a non-stick pan because they aren’t meant to withstand super high heat but in my experience you’re not really deep frying the tofu. You really only need enough oil to swirl around so that the pan is coated.
Another tip to keep it from sticking to your pan if you’ve followed every other step up to this point is to let it sit in the oil. A lot of people try to flip it too early before the bottom can get nice and golden-brown. I leave my tofu on each side for about 5-7 minutes and as the oil gets hotter I lessen it based off of watching it.
Now for baking, if your tofu is sticking to your pan there’s really only one explanation. Use parchment paper. It’s a life saver and saves your tofu as well. I always cooked with foil but your tofu will stick to it and you’ll lose the crispy bottom to the foil.
So save your frustration and stick with parchment paper!
7. Didn’t let it cook long enough.
If you want to cook with tofu you need to have a little patience. Not only for the prep and drain process but also with the cooking. Like I said for pan frying, it usually takes 5-7 minutes for each side and I cook every single side. For baking, I usually let mine cook for 20-25 minutes and flip them in between.
There’s no such thing as quick tofu.
8. Didn’t use enough oil when cooking.
Lastly, if its sticking to the pan you may not have used enough oil. You don’t need to deep fry it, but you do at least need to coat the bottom of the pan. If you only use a tsp of oil or if you forget to put oil all together your tofu will be sad and squish.
How I Cook My Tofu
Once you’ve gone through the process of elimination on what not to do tofu really is simple and delicious! Whether you’re at your wits end or if you’re just getting acquainted with tofu let me save you some time and here’s how I create the perfect crispy tofu at home!
If you skipped over No. 2 and 5 here’s how I prep.
- Grab paper towels, a cast iron or heavy pan, a dinner plate and a few canned goods.
- Drain the tofu from its package and wrap it heavily in paper towels.
- Place it on the dinner plate and put the cast iron (or heavy pan) on top to press.
- Then place your canned goods in the pan. I usually use about 5 cans.
- Let this sit for at least 45min-1hour to get it good and drained.
- About halfway through you may want to replace the paper towels if they’re drenched.
I choose not to marinate my tofu because I don’t want to add too much moisture back in before cooking, but I do season it!
- Grab corn starch (or arrow root powder), salt & pepper and olive oil.
- Once your tofu is not and pressed, remove the pan and paper towels and place it on a cutting board.
- I slice my tofu in half long ways, then in half short ways, then into cubes.
- Place your tofu in a medium bowl and drizzle with about 1-2tbsp of olive oil and sprinkle with S&P.
- Toss gently until coated.
- Then sprinkle in 1-2tbsp of corn starch and toss gently again.
Ways to Cook:
First I’ll list how I pan fry it and then I’ll list how I bake it!
- If your pan frying, make sure you have a pan big enough so that you don’t overcrowd the tofu cubes. If you don’t have a large pan fry them in batches!
- Drizzle 1-2tbsp of olive oil in the pan and swirl it around until the bottom of the pan is coated. You don’t want a pool, just coated.
- Heat the stove to medium-high heat. You’ll know the oil is hot enough when you see little ripples in it.
- Carefully place your tofu in the pan. I like to use tongs.
- Let your tofu chill for 5-7 minutes. If you try to turn it too early this could cause sticking!
- Repeat the 5-7 minutes for each side until its golden-brown to your liking.
- Preheat your oven to 400F (200C).
- Grab a baking sheet that can fit all of your tofu while leaving enough space.
- Place a sheet of parchment paper.
- Once oven is preheated, in goes your tofu and set your timer for 20-25 minutes.
- Toss/flip tofu about halfway.
And it’s that simple! A little patience is all you need!
Sauces I Use
When I’m cooking tofu I typically go for an Asian inspired sauce to toss it in. Here are a few of my favorites!
- 1/4c of mayo
- 1tbsp spicy chili paste
- 1tbsp rice vinegar
- 1tbsp sesame oil
- Toss and top with sesame seeds and green onion
- 2tbsp sesame oil
- 2tbsp honey
- 1tbsp rice vinegar
- 1tsp chili paste
- 1/3c soy sauce
- 2 cloves minced garlic
And lastly, I love to do BBQ sauce! Whatever kind you like. I typically do Sweet Baby Ray’s with caramelized onions over rice.
Are you a fan of tofu? If not, are you willing to try it out now? Let me know in the comments!
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Remember to be brave in trying new things and always cook with a dash of love!
Until next time,
Haley | Creator of Haley’s Kitchen