Beginner’s Guide to How to Cook Tofu: Baked, Air Fryer, or Sautè
Learn how to make crispy tofu with 3 different easy methods: baked, air fried, and sautéed! No cornstarch needed!
Table of contents
- How to cook crispy tofu:
- What is tofu and what are the different types of tofu?
- How to prep tofu for cooking:
- The key ingredient for crispy tofu:
- Base step: Marinating the tofu:
- Overview: Step by Step How to Cook Tofu:
- Which method is best?
- How to store cooked tofu:
- Recipes to use this tofu in:
How to cook crispy tofu:
One of the main barriers to entry with adopting a plant based diet (or going fully vegan, like I am!) is learning how to properly prepare tofu.
Well, let this be your ultimate guide to how to cook the most flavorful, crispy and delicious tofu that will quickly turn you into a tofu-obsessed vegan.
Tofu is such a versatile plant-based protein (with nearly 22 gram of protein in a serving!), and it’s really no different than cooking any other type of protein (though if you were like me, who was meat-averse even as a child, then you probably never learned how to prepare meat either!).
But if I can learn how to properly cook tofu, then you can too- it’s so easy, and honestly, your culinary world opens up to endless possibilities for how to enjoy this vegan ingredient staple.
Let’s go over what is tofu, the different types, followed by my simple and straight forward method for preparing the crispiest tofu that you’re going to be *obsessed* with making.
What is tofu and what are the different types of tofu?
If you’re new to vegan and vegetarian cooking, then let me introduce you to your new best friend: tofu! Tofu is a wonderful plant-based protein that’s made from soy milk. It’s also naturally gluten free, like beans (whereas tempeh is not).
Actually, my process for making vegan cream cheese is quite similar to making tofu, because tofu is the same process as the cheese making process.
You cook the soy milk with an acid to curdle the proteins. Then strain the excess liquid and squeeze the tofu together to form a block.
There are a few different types of tofu too: silken tofu (super soft, and great for vegan cheesecakes or vegan tofu scramble), firm tofu, and extra firm tofu.
For cooking purposes, I like to use firm tofu or extra firm tofu.
How to prep tofu for cooking:
One thing about tofu that makes it a bit different than other proteins that we prepare is that you must drain and press the tofu before cooking (at least if you want the most flavor!).
I just use a clean kitchen towel and a stack of plates or books placed on top of the tofu. For extra firm tofu, you really only need 15-20 minutes of it being pressed to get as much moisture out of the tofu as you can.
You can use a paper towel, but I find it’s so much waste for just soaking the moisture out of tofu, that I prefer to use the kitchen towel.
Personally, I don’t see the need for a tofu press- I make tofu several times a week, and pressing it simply with a towel is enough for me! But it’s also an excellent tool if you just want some more ease in your cooking process.
The key ingredient for crispy tofu:
Many cooks love using cornstarch as the way to crisp up your tofu, but for those with corn allergies, I use arrowroot starch or tapioca starch. Either works here, and my husband prefers the arrowroot.
They’re both very similar in properties to cornstarch, and will essentially help those crispy edges form on the tofu. Tapioca can leave a gloopier feel (think like tapioca pudding), so if you want to prevent that, stick with arrowroot starch.
You’ll be happily surprised!
We’ll simply toss our tofu lightly in a coating of arrowroot starch after it’s been removed from any excess marinade. Save that marinade, though, for topping or cooking later on in the process!
Base step: Marinating the tofu:
This is key to how to make tofu taste good…but also ensure a really lovely, tender texture. Like any type of protein, even vegan protein, marinating is not just about flavor- it’s about the tenderness that’s achieved with a vinegar soaking through it.
We’re using a really simple marinade with seasonings here:
- Soy sauce (or coconut aminos)
- Rice vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
- Avocado oil (great for high heat cooking)
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
You can also swap in different flavors too, like using balsamic vinegar and sea salt instead of rice vinegar and soy sauce. Or add in ground cumin or paprika for more variety!
You can cube the tofu or tear it into pieces- my friend, Catherine, from Plant Based RD, says that tofu gets the most flavor torn into pieces, but I do like cubed tofu! I still need to give the torn tofu a try, because it does sound good!
I recommend marinating your squeezed tofu for at least 30 minutes, but you can prep this in the morning, and let it marinate throughout the day. Then we’re ready to move onto our cooking!
Right before cooking, however, we’re going to lightly coat our tofu in our arrowroot starch or tapioca starch. Coating the tofu in the tapioca starch right after marinating instead of mixed in with the marinade will really help crisp up the tofu!
Overview: Step by Step How to Cook Tofu:
So we have three cooking methods for preparing the crispiest tofu. I’m going to go over each, and then give you my personal preferred method (though I don’t think it’s everyone’s!).
How to bake tofu:
First up, we have using our ovens! This is quite simple. We’ll simply preheat the oven to 425F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place the tofu (minus the excess marinade) that’s been coated in our starch onto the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Then flip the tofu to another side, so that all sides crisp up and bake for another 10 minutes.
The tofu should look golden brown around the edges, and be quite crispy! For even crispier tofu.
How to air fry tofu:
Next up, we have the air fryer. The method is similar to above, and can work in both a traditional air fryer or a toaster oven with air fryer setting (what I have!). Simply cook the tofu for 10-15 minutes in your air fryer basket.
The tofu will be golden brown and ready to be enjoyed immediately! To enhance the flavor, save the marinade, and top the crispy air fried tofu with the excess marinade when you’re serving the tofu at the end!
It’s definitely a quicker method.
How to sauté or pan fry tofu:
Finally, we have sautéing our tofu. You’ll need a skillet and a touch of oil (I love using sesame oil to go with the umami of the soy sauce, but olive oil or coconut oil also work!).
Saute on medium heat for 10-15 minutes, flipping every so often to another side so that all sides of the tofu crisp. After about 5 minutes, I like to add in the remaining excess marinade so that the tofu gets really flavorful and tender.
Similarly, you can also stir-fry or pan-fry the tofu, which just means you’ll cook it faster at a higher heat (I’d go with medium-high heat), and not use any extra oil.
Garnish with sesame seeds or some black pepper to finish, and you’re ready to serve!
Which method is best?
Personally, I love sautéing the tofu best in a skillet (or a cast iron skillet if you want really crispy tofu!). I find it’s most flavorful, because you get to utilize the extra marinade as it cooks, and that extra bit of oil helps lock in flavor.
Then, I like the oven-method next because for some reason, while I like air-frying, it’s just not my favorite (I don’t think I caught on with the trend!). It’s great in a pinch, but that lower and slow heat really does help to cook the tofu a bit more evenly than the air fryer.
How to store cooked tofu:
If you’re making crispy tofu for meal prep or have any leftovers, you can store the leftover tofu in an airtight container and in the fridge for up to 5 days.
To reheat, simply heat the oven to 300F, and bake on a baking sheet for 5-10 minutes. Alternatively, you can also reheat the tofu in a skillet as well!
Recipes to use this tofu in:
Here are a few ways I love enjoying this crispy tofu recipe:
- As a protein added into salads
- In my Marry Me Tofu recipe
- Use in my teriyaki tofu recipe!
- Torn up into pieces and mixed into this stuffed butternut squash recipe for a “ground beef” texture!
- Served with a side of roasted red cabbage and crispy sweet potatoes, along with this dairy free yogurt dill sauce!
- As a protein alongside an easy pasta dish, like my vegan gnocchi or penne vodka!
- Tossed in this maple lime cold noodle salad
- Dipped in my vegan queso cheese!
Want to save this recipe for later? Add it to your favorite recipe board on Pinterest!
If you make this recipe, please be sure to leave a comment and a rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ below. This helps others to find the recipes! As always, I absolutely love to see your beautiful creations on Instagram and Pinterest, so be sure to tag me there as well!Print
Learn how to make crispy tofu with 3 different easy methods: baked, airy fried, and sautéed! No cornstarch needed!
- 1 16-ounce block extra firm tofu
- 1/4 cup cup (60 mL) soy sauce
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 2 tsp avocado oil
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- Black pepper to taste
- 1 tbsp arrowroot starch
- Cooking oil, as needed.
- Prep: First, make sure that the tofu is drained. Begin this process at least 30 minutes prior to baking the tofu. You’ll drain the package of tofu, then wrap the tofu tightly in paper towel. Place the tofu on a plate, followed by another heavy plate or a cookbook on top. Leave the tofu to be pressed for 30 minutes.
- Slice: Preheat the oven to 415F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice the tofu in half lengthwise then into 1 inch cubes.
- Toss: In a bowl, toss the tofu with the soy sauce, rice vinegar, avocado oil, garlic powder, onion powder, optional ginger powder, and black pepper if desired. Marinate for 30 minutes.
- Toss in the arrowroot starch: Spread the tofu onto the baking sheet, and toss in the arrowroot starch.
- Bake: Bake the tofu for 20-25 minutes, or until crispy, flipping the pieces of tofu about halfway through the cooking time. Remove from the oven once baked. For air-frying and sautéing, see blog post for instructions!
- Serve: Place the tofu into a serving bowl, or use in a recipe as desired. Serve warm. Enjoy!
Gluten free: Ensure that you’re using tamari soy sauce or coconut aminos for gluten free tofu.
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