Pan-fried tofu is delicious and flavorful, but the texture can be tough, chewy, and jerky-like.
Here’s a simple cooking method that makes fried tofu taste great and feel just as good in your mouth. This recipe is ready in 15 minutes.
On this page:
Check out our best tofu recipe collection!
Or pan-fried tofu is very easy to make and perfect as a building block for salads, stir-fries, soups, or even in a wrap. It's also delicious to eat on its own, with a side of veggies, a bowl of rice, or another grain of your choice, and a drizzle of soy sauce, or even better, dipped in tahini sauce.
You can expect fried tofu cubes that are soft on the inside, lightly crispy on the outside, and really flavorful thanks to an easy but effective seasoning.
We cook it on a non-stick pan with little oil to keep this recipe quite healthy and suitable for most people.
We hope you like this pan-fried crispy tofu as much as we do. It's become our favorite last-minute recipe to add flavor, texture, and plant-based protein to our meals. The recipe is vegan and gluten-free.
Ingredients and substitutions
- Tofu: we use firm tofu for this recipe. Extra-firm tofu works too, it's really down to what you prefer. We do not recommend using silky tofu or soft tofu unless you are making a dish that specifically calls for it.
- Cornstarch: we mix the cornstarch with the spices below then we use it to coat the tofu. Cornstarch has three functions: it keeps the moisture inside the tofu, it makes it crispy on the outside, and it makes the seasoning stick.
- Salt: tofu is bland on its own and it needs salt. You can adjust the quantities based on your dietary preferences. You can also add more salt at the end, once the fried tofu is cooked.
- Garlic powder, chili powder, paprika, black pepper: we use these spices to add flavor to the pan-fried tofu. You can of course change them up and replace them with your favorite spices.
Experiment with curry, turmeric, Italian seasoning, or onion powder. What's important is that you mix the spices with the cornstarch first, so that they stick to the tofu.
- Olive oil: to pan-fry the tofu. Extra virgin olive oil is our oil of choice, but you can replace it with any other vegetable oil.
Step 1: Dice it
The first step is to take the tofu out of the package and drain its liquid. For this pan-fried tofu recipe, we do not pat dry the tofu with a towel or with a paper towel. On the contrary, try to keep the tofu slightly wet on the outside. The coating will stick better this way.
We also do not press the tofu with a tofu press. I know most recipes call for it, but we don't want a dry, chewy, and jery-like tofu here. We want soft, almost silky cubes, that are slightly crispy on the outside, not rubbery and chewy.
Put the tofu block on a cutting board and cut it into small cubes. We like our tofu cubes quite small. A little less than ½ an inch (1 cm). This way they get more flavorful.
Step 2: Season it
Next, prep the seasoning. To a medium-sized dish, add the cornstarch, salt, pepper, chili powder, paprika, and garlic powder.
Mix the ingredients with a fork till they are well distributed.
Toss in the diced tofu and move the dish left and right so that the tofu gets coated in the seasoning. You might need to use your hands to get all the pieces evenly coated.
If you like a different spice mix, feel free to change it up. Check out our "variations" chapter for more seasoning ideas.
Step 3: Pan-fry it
To a non-stick skillet or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet add the olive oil. Let it warm up for a minute on medium heat, then add in the tofu. Cook on medium heat for around 12 minutes in total. Flip it every couple of minutes or so using a fork or chopsticks.
Your crispy pan-fried tofu is ready when is golden brown, with a deep orange hue, and a thin crisp crust. Got an air fryer? Try this chewy air fryer tofu as well.
Or pan-fried tofu is very easy to make and perfect as a building block:
- As a quick lunch in salads, stir-fries, soups, and in a wrap. We love serving it with a bowl of guacamole or tzatziki with crispy lettuce.
- As an easy dinner in a veggie bowl, with a side of roasted veggies, a bowl of rice or couscous - or any other grain of your choice. Add a drizzle of soy sauce or make this chipotle dressing to drizzle on top.
- Try our tofu salad with tahini dressing, avocado, and a sprinkling of sesame seeds on top. It's easy, healthy, and delicious.
- Don't dry the tofu: the seasoning will stick much better if your tofu is a little wet on the surface.
- Don't press it: pressing the tofu makes it tough, rubbery, and jerky-like. We don't want that. Rather, we want fried tofu that is soft, almost silky on the inside, and crispy on the outside.
- Mix the cornstarch with the spices: make seasoning with cornstarch and plenty of spices and some salt to coat the tofu. Kind of like KFC style. We kept it simple with garlic powder, chili, and paprika, so anyone can do it, but you can freestyle and add your favorite spices.
It's best to eat the fried tofu straight after you cooked it. This is because the tofu is crispier that way. If you keep it out in the air, the crust will absorb moisture, and the tofu will get less crispy.
If you want to prepare it in advance you can certainly do it and we often do this, especially when we do meal prep for a few days.
The trick is to reheat the fried tofu on a nonstick pan with a little oil, on medium-high heat, for a couple of minutes. This way the tofu will be warm and crispy as if you just made it.
No. You don't have to press the tofu before pan-frying. On the contrary, pressing the tofu will make it dry, chewy, and jerky-like. In most cases, we do not recommend pressing tofu before cooking.
Learn more about this topic here, it's a super interesting Reddit conversation about Cultural differences in preparing tofu.
It depends. Pan-frying can be unhealthy if you use low-quality oil, if you heat up the oil too much so that it burns, or if you use a lot of oil.
We have three tips to make pan-fried tofu healthier:
1) Use good quality extra virgin olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil has more antioxidants than most oils. Antioxidants protect the oil while it cooks making it healthier for you.
2) Use lower heat. High heat will damage the oil, making it unhealthy. If the oil smokes it means it's been damaged by the heat. Keep the heat to medium for healthier pan-fried tofu.
3) You don't need a lot of oil. You really don't. Oil is 100% fat, which at 9 calories per gram makes it one of the most caloric foods in the world. But oil also makes the food taste great. So try to use less oil, a tablespoon is more than enough for pan-fried tofu.
Pan-fried tofu preserves more moisture, gets crispier on the outside, and it stays softer and silkier on the inside. It also takes less time. We find it also has more flavor.
Oven-baked tofu tends to get chewier, dryer, and jerky-like. We prefer pan-fried tofu.
Fry tofu for 12 minutes, flipping it every couple of minutes. Use a non-stick pan with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.
Yes. You can fry tofu without pressing it. In fact, we recommend not pressing the tofu before cooking. We think it's better to not press the tofu to keep it moist, soft and silky on the inside, and crispy on the outside. Pressed tofu can be dry, chewy, and rubbery.
Curry Fried Tofu: try adding a teaspoon of curry to the cornstarch to get a more Indian-flavored fried tofu. We love to eat this with our lentil curry with coconut and some freshly chopped green onions on top. So, so delicious
Turmeric-Black Pepper Fried Tofu: do you want an antioxidant boost for your meals? Try adding a teaspoon of turmeric powder and a few twists of black pepper to the cornstarch. This is so tasty and healthy. We love serving this with our one-pot chickpea stew.
Italian Seasoning Fried Tofu: add dried oregano, thyme, and dried rosemary to the cornstarch to get pan-fried tofu that tastes like Italy. We love this one with our couscous with vegetables or with our Italian bean stew.
If you like this fried tofu recipe, check out our other easy tofu recipes:
- Pan-fried lemon tofu
- Pizzaiola tofu
- Tofu cacciatore
- Baked & steamed tofu
- Tofu and spinach cutlets
- Quick tofu pesto with spinach
- Tofu soup
- Vegan egg salad
What are your go-to tofu recipes? We would love to hear, let us know in the comments below.
Pan-fried tofu is best eaten shortly after cooking it, especially if you like it crispy. You can store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Reheat on a nonstick or cast iron pan with a little oil, on medium-high heat, for a couple of minutes. This way the tofu will be warm and crispy as if you just made it.
For many more tofu ideas, check out our tofu category page.
- 10 ounces tofu firm or extra firm
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ⅛ teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 twists black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil extra virgin
- Drain the tofu then cut it into small dice, about ½ inch or 1 cm thick. Set aside.Tip: don't pat dry and don't press the tofu.
- To a medium-sized dish, add the cornstarch, garlic powder, chili powder, paprika, salt and pepper. Mix with a fork till the ingredients are well combined.
- Toss the tofu cubes into the dish with the seasoning. Shake the dish left and right till the tofu is fully coated in the seasoning. Tip: you might need to use your hands to fully coat the tofu in the seasoning.
- Warm up the olive oil on medium heat in a nonstick pan. Add the tofu onto the pan and fry for about 12 minutes on medium heat.Flip the tofu around with a fork every 2 to 3 minutes.
- Your fried tofu is ready when it's cripsy and golden-brown on the outside.