Let’s talk about tofu. Even as a vegetarian, I don’t eat a ton of it. When I do, however, I want it crispy, and crispy tofu is an elusive beast. I’ve shared this method here and here, but I’ve perfected it for the book and gotten such fantastic feedback that I wanted to highlight it. Even tofu skeptics love this tofu. Try it, and you will see.
There are a few keys to making irresistible, crispy tofu. First of all, you want to choose the right kind of tofu. Extra-firm tofu is the only way to go, and I’ve found that the Trader Joe’s brand is the most firm of them all (plus, it’s only two dollars). It’s organic, too, which is important when you’re buying tofu because soy is conventionally treated with fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides. Look for tofu in the refrigerated section by the produce.
Once you have your extra-firm tofu, the next step is to squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Water-logged tofu never gets super crispy. The key here is to slice the tofu into pieces before pressing it. Have you ever tried pressing a whole block, or even two halves? They just sit in soggy puddles. Slice them into smaller pieces to maximize the surface area. Press those, and you’ll extract more moisture—faster, too.
Some people swear by cooking their tofu in a skillet, but it never turns out well in my cast iron skillets. It sticks, and the crispy bits end up sticking to the pan, which is a tofu tragedy. Plus, it requires more oil, and you don’t need to use a lot of oil to get crispy tofu.
The key is to toss it in a little oil (just 1 tablespoon for the full batch), tamari or soy sauce (for some flavor) and arrowroot starch or cornstarch. The starch makes the edges extra crispy and irresistible (I got this idea from The Kitchn). Then, just spread them in an even layer and bake for 25 minutes. Boom! Perfect tofu.
Last but not least, if you want to infuse your tofu with more flavor, I recommend adding sauce after it’s baked, rather than marinating it. Why? Water-logged tofu isn’t actually very good at absorbing flavor (something that I always suspected, which was confirmed by Deborah Madison, via Serious Eats).
Dry tofu out in the oven to crispy perfection, and then cook it in sauce, or drizzle sauce on top. This tofu is perfect for tossing into any recipe with Asian flavors, or any recipe that could benefit from some hearty vegetarian protein. It would be great in my Thai red curry or green curry. You could replace the eggs in my kale coconut stir fry and Thai pineapple stir fry with this tofu. It is amazing with peanut sauce drizzled on top, in any form.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper to prevent the tofu from sticking.
- To prepare the tofu: Drain the tofu and use your palms to gently squeeze out some of the water. Slice the tofu into thirds lengthwise so you have 3 even slabs. Stack the slabs on top of each other and slice through them lengthwise to make 3 even columns, then slice across to make 5 even rows (see photos).
- Line a cutting board with a lint-free tea towel or paper towels, then arrange the tofu in an even layer on the towel(s). Fold the towel(s) over the cubed tofu, then place something heavy on top (like another cutting board, topped with a cast iron pan or large cans of tomatoes) to help the tofu drain. Let the tofu rest for at least 10 minutes (preferably more like 30 minutes, if you have the time).
- Transfer the pressed tofu to a medium mixing bowl and drizzle with the olive oil and tamari. Toss to combine. Sprinkle the arrowroot starch over the tofu, and toss the tofu until the starch is evenly coated, so there are no powdery spots remaining.
- Tip the bowl of tofu over onto your prepared baking sheet and arrange the tofu in an even layer. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing the tofu halfway, until the tofu is deeply golden on the edges.
*Make it gluten free: This dish is gluten free as long as you use gluten-free tamari, which is a variety of soy sauce that is usually (but not always, check the label) gluten free. I always use tamari instead of soy sauce because I prefer the flavor of it! Look for tamari next to the soy sauce in the Asian aisle of the grocery store.