Fried tofu or pan-fried tofu is crisp, tender, flavorful, and ready in just 15 minutes. It's a protein-rich add-in for salads, wraps, stews, and curries, and it's delicious as a snack.
It has a thin outer shell that is slightly crisp and packed with flavor. You can think of it as a tasty, healthy, nutritious chicken replacement.
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You can expect fried tofu cubes that are soft inside, lightly crispy outside and super flavorful thanks to the spices in the coating.
Don't worry; this is not a deep-frying recipe, and you can make it with little effort and time.
We cook it on a non-stick pan with little oil to keep this recipe relatively healthy and suitable for most people.
It's a perfect last-minute dinner saver because you can use it as your main protein and add it to salads of all kinds, wraps, grain bowls, stir-fries, curries, and even pasta.
To make the tofu tasty, we coat it in a flavorful seasoning of cornstarch mixed with spices. Of course, you can change the seasoning based on your preference, and we will show you some options in our variations chapter below.
Honestly, we make fried tofu ALL the time, and we hope you like it as much as we do.
It's become our favorite last-minute recipe to add flavor, texture, and plant-based protein to our meals. Oh, the recipe is vegan and gluten-free.
Pick a firm tofu or extra-firm tofu for this recipe.
We do not recommend using silky tofu or soft tofu unless you make a dish that specifically calls for it.
Cornstarch has three functions: it keeps the moisture inside the tofu, makes it crispy outside, and makes the seasoning stick.
We haven't tried substituting arrowroot powder for cornstarch, but some readers have and it seems to be working for them.
You CANNOT substitute all purpose flour for cornstarch.
Tofu is bland on its own, and it needs salt. You can adjust the quantities based on your dietary preferences and sodium reuirements. You can add more salt once the fried tofu is cooked.
To make pan-fried tofu that goes well with most dishes, use garlic powder, paprika, chili powder, and black pepper.
For Indian-inspired fried tofu, use curry powder, turmeric powder, and ground cumin.
Use garlic powder, Italian seasoning, and dried rosemary for Italian-inspired fried tofu.
What's essential is mixing the spices with the cornstarch first so they stick to the tofu.
We recommend using extra virgin olive oil because it adds a nice fruity flavor and is packed with polyphenols that are good for our health, and that make the oil stable at high temperatures.
You can substitute avocado oil, regular olive oil, canola oil, and sunflower oil for EVO oil.
Step 1: Make the seasoning
Add cornstarch, salt, pepper, chili powder, paprika, and garlic powder to a medium-sized dish with low edges.
Mix the ingredients with a fork till they are well distributed.
Tip: If you like a different spice mix, feel free to change it. Check out our "variations" chapter for more seasoning ideas.
Tip: a baking dish is perfect for this. Bowls are not the best for tossing the tofu in the seasoning because the tofu doesn't have enough space and will crumble as you toss it.
Step 2: Dice and toss
Take the tofu out of the package and drain its liquid.
Cut the tofu into small cubes. We like our tofu cubes relatively small. A little less than ½ an inch (1 cm). This way, they get more flavorful.
Tip: For this pan-fried tofu recipe, do not pat dry the tofu with a towel or with a paper towel. On the contrary, try to keep the tofu slightly wet outside. The coating will stick better this way.
Also, do not press the tofu with a tofu press. I know most recipes call for it, but we don't want dry, chewy, and jery-like tofu here.
We want soft, almost silky cubes that are slightly crispy on the outside, not rubbery and chewy.
Add the diced tofu to the cornstarch mix and move the dish left and right, so the tofu gets coated in the seasoning. You might need to use your hands to get all the pieces evenly coated.
Step 3: Pan-fry it
To a large non-stick skillet, add the olive oil. Let it warm up for a minute on medium heat, then add in the tofu.
Flip the cubes every couple of minutes using a fork or chopsticks. Cook for around 12 minutes or until the tofu is crisp and golden on most sides.
Tip: you could try using a well-seasoned cast iron pan, but in our experience, tofu sticks pretty badly on cast iron, and you'd have to use a lot more oil.
Your crispy pan-fried tofu is ready when golden brown, with a deep orange hue and a thin, crisp crust.
Add it to a salad. You'll love it in:
- Creamy tofu salad: developed to be made with fried tofu, you can make it all year round with seasonal veggies.
- Colorful kale salad: perfect in winter, wholesome, and packed with nutrients and flavor.
- Kale quinoa salad: an ultra-nutritious and protein-packed meal with kale, quinoa, and pan-fried tofu.
- Roasted cauliflower salad: a creamy Mediterranean-inspired salad that is a crowd-pleaser.
- Sweet potato salad: roasted sweet potatoes meet avocado and crumbled feta.
- Italian salad: a classic with olives, tomatoes, lettuce, and Italian dressing.
Add it to grain bowls and pasta. You'll love it in:
- Mediterranean farro salad: chewy, veggie-packed, and incredibly flavorful.
- Crunchy couscous salad: quick and easy, with crunchy seasonal veggies.
- Rice salad: a fan favorite. Add tofu to boost the protein content.
- Pasta aglio olio: a classic Italian pasta dish that is surprisingly delicious with this fried tofu.
Add it to soups, on top, as if it were croutons:
- Potato leek soup: a creamy soup to warm you up on the coldest winter days.
- Broccoli soup: you'll love this one; it has a beautiful green color and a pleasant broccoli taste.
- Butternut squash soup: so easy and tasty you'll want to make it every day.
- Eggplant soup: light and aromatic; the fried tofu adds a nice protein kick to this one.
Curry Fried Tofu
Not sure if you noticed by looking at our curry selection, but we adore Indian food.
Mix the cornstarch with 1 teaspoon of curry powder, 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder, ¼ teaspoon of black pepper, and ½ teaspoon of ground cumin.
Turmeric-Black Pepper Fried Tofu
Do you want an antioxidant boost for your meals? Add two teaspoons 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 Fried Tofu
Believe it or not, tofu is delicious with an Italian spin. Add dried oregano, thyme, and rosemary to the cornstarch to get pan-fried tofu that tastes like Italy.
Air fryer tofu
Got an air fryer? Try this chewy air fryer tofu; it's an easy, hands-off recipe you can make in less than 15 minutes with simple ingredients. You can expect tasty, chewy, and crispy tofu bites.
- 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 dry and rubbery and ruins its texture. We don't want that. Instead, 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. Kind of like KFC style. We kept it simple with garlic powder, chili, and paprika so that anyone can do it, but you can freestyle and add your favorite spices.
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. So, 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, overheat it, so it burns, or use a lot of fat.
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, but you do need some. Start with 1.5 - 2 tablespoons and add more if you think the pan is too dry or want tastier fried tofu.
Pan-fried tofu preserves more moisture, gets crispier on the outside, and stays softer inside. It also takes less time, and we find it has more flavor.
Oven-baked tofu tends to get chewier, dryer, and jerky-like, so it really depends on your taste.
Fry tofu for 12 minutes, flipping it every couple of minutes. Use a non-stick pan with a tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil.
Yes. You can fry tofu without pressing it, and we recommend not pressing it before cooking.
We think it's better not to press the tofu to keep it moist, soft, and silky inside and crispy on the outside. Pressed tofu can be dry, chewy, and rubbery.
Make ahead & Storage
Make ahead: this is not the best recipe to make ahead because the tofu loses its outer crispiness.
However, if you'd like to make it in advance, you can certainly do so, and we often do this, especially when we do meal prep for a few days. The tofu is still tasty, just not as crisp. A trick that helps is to reheat it on a non-stick pan with a bit of oil for a couple of minutes.
Refrigerator: store pan-fried tofu leftovers in a bowl, covered with a plate, or in an airtight container, for up to 3 days. Remember that the coating absorbs moisture as it sits in the fridge and will lose its crispness.
Freezer: we don't recommend freezing fried tofu because the coating won't thaw and reheat well.
Reheat: you can warm leftovers in the microwave for 2 minutes or on a non-stick skillet or cast iron pan with a tablespoon of olive oil on medium-high heat for 4 to 5 minutes.
More Tofu Recipes
If you like this fried tofu recipe, check out our other easy tofu recipes:
- Pan-fried lemon: a great alternative to lemon chicken and is ready in just 15 minutes.
- Tofu curry with a fragrant Indian-inspired spice mix and a dreamy creamy curry sauce.
- Tofu cacciatore: baked tofu in a rich and rustic sauce, a great Sunday dinner idea.
- Tofu soup: with seasonal veggies and an Asian-inspired broth, ready in just 20 minutes.
- Vegan egg salad with vegan mayo and tofu, a creamy salad idea for sandwiches!
- Marinated tofu: cubed and perfectly roasted, a chewy and jerky topping for rice and salad!
More Easy Pan-Fried Recipes
Get more stovetop recipe ideas from these wholesome and easy veggie favorites:
- Pan-fried artichokes: perfectly tender and great for pasta, pesto, and as a side dish.
- Easy sautéed kale: get your leafy greens in 10 minutes with this quick method!
- Sautéed eggplant: in a rich tomato sauce, the easiest way to cook the eggplant on a pan.
- 10-minute sauteed zucchini: a spring-friendly side dish or topping for pasta.
- Easy sauteed mushrooms: perfectly juicy, and a great pairing with grain bowls and salads.
For many more tofu ideas, check out our tofu category page.
- 14 - 16 ounces tofu firm or extra firm
- 4 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1¼ teaspoon salt or more to taste
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon chili powder or more to taste
- 1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- To an oven dish, add cornstarch, garlic powder, chili powder, paprika, salt, and pepper. Mix until well combined and set aside.
- Drain tofu block and cut it into ½ inch or 1 cm dice. Don't pat dry and don't press the tofu.
- Toss tofu cubes with seasoning. Shake the dish left and right till the tofu is fully coated.Tip: you might need to use your hands to fully coat the tofu.
- Warm the olive oil on medium heat in a large nonstick pan. Add tofu cubes and fry for about 12 minutes.Flip tofu with a fork every 2 to 3 minutes.
- Your fried tofu is ready when it's crisp and golden-brown on most sides.
- Serve as an add-in for salads, soups, curries, wraps, pasta dishes, and much more. See our "serving suggestions" chapter above.