If I had a dollar for every time someone has told me they don’t like tofu, I could probably buy a year’s supply of raw cashews (vegan jokes…). Usually, it turns out that it’s a texture thing. If that’s the case for you, please give this filling and delicious vegan ingredient another chance! Today I’m offering some of my tricks for making tofu crispy or chewy.. anything but mushy! And I’m sharing my recipe for crispy buffalo tofu sliders.
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The (mandatory!) first step for making great tofu
By the way, my advice in this post is NOT applicable to silken tofu, which is better for different cooking purposes like soups or purees. This is about water-packed tofu, and for crispy or chewy tofu I always use extra-firm. Extra-firm tofu comes packed in water to keep it soft and fresh; this extra liquid creates steam, which creates mushy tofu. So the first step for tofu prep is to remove the excess liquid.
To accomplish this, you need to physically press the extra water out of the tofu by applying pressure to it. My old go-to method for pressing tofu is to drain it, wrap it in a clean towel, place it on a cutting board, and stack a couple of textbooks on top of it. I must not be the only one who still has textbooks lying around from my college days! Using your textbooks as a tofu press is a great way to punish them. If you have a big, heavy cast iron skillet that will also work. Look for objects that are both heavy and flat so that the pressure is applied evenly.
Once you start making tofu frequently, it’s worth investing in a tofu press for easier setup and cleanup. But the old towel method will work just fine until then! Press your tofu for 15 to 30 minutes. If you can, flip it over halfway through and tip any excess water pooling on your cutting board into the sink.
My best trick for chewy tofu
My method for making chewy tofu is very simple, but very effective! Simply preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the tofu into sticks (I’ll explain why in a moment).
Now, just place your tofu sticks on the lined baking sheet and place the baking sheet in the oven. Yes, that’s it! No oil needed. Bake for 25 minutes initially. At this point, you should easily be able to dislodge the tofu sticks from the parchment paper and flip them over. There will be a firm crust forming around the outside, but the inside will still be a bit soft. You can now continue cooking the tofu in 10 minute increments until it’s as chewy as you want it – the longer, the chewier. I usually bake mine for a total of 40 to 45 minutes.
Because of that delicious chewy crust, it’s difficult for the flavor of a sauce or stew to get into the tofu, so now cut the tofu sticks in half into cubes, exposing the middle of the tofu on one side of each cube so that the sauce can get in. This method worked perfectly in my potato and peanut curry.
Tips for crispy tofu
If you want to make crispy tofu, there are some different options that I like, depending on what sort of recipe you want to make. Note: I rarely pan-fry tofu, unless I’m pan-frying it in a huge wedge to make homemade Chipotle sofritas.
Baked crispy tofu
Simply follow my same baked tofu instructions from above, but toss the tofu pieces with a light coating of cornstarch before baking. The crust will be lighter and more crisp than if you bake it plain. This effect will disappear if you add the tofu back into a sauce, stew, etc. or store the leftovers for later.
To prepare the tofu this way, you’ll want to make sure that the surface, in particular, is very dry. After pressing the tofu, take an additional tower or paper towel and blot the surface well. Then place big wedges or cubes of tofu into hot oil and fry until golden brown. Like with the chewy tofu above, I recommend cutting the pieces in half to help flavor absorption. Well-fried tofu will retain *some* of its crispiness if sauced or stirred into a curry or stew.
Crispy breaded tofu
One last way to easily create a crispy texture is to bread the tofu. I’ll take you through how to do this with breadcrumbs in my crispy buffalo tofu sliders recipe below. You can also use cornmeal, like I did with my sweet and sour sriracha tofu nuggets, or experiment with other crunchy coatings like almonds. One of the best advantages of making crispy tofu this way is that you can recapture the crispiness again later by reheating it in the oven.
Any favorite tofu texture tips that I didn’t include here? Let me know!
- 1 - 16-oz. package House Foods Extra Firm Tofu
- ¼ cup cayenne pepper hot sauce such as this brand
- 1 tablespoon ketchup (see notes)
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- ¾ cup panko-style breadcrumbs (be sure to check the ingredients; some brands contain milk)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons tahini
- 1 teaspoon nutritional yeast
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- juice of ½ lemon
- 5 teaspoons warm water
- ¼ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
- salt, to taste
- crispy buffalo tofu (above)
- 8 slider buns, toasted if desired
- ¼ head of purple cabbage, shredded
- ranch dressing (use tahini ranch above, avocado ranch, or store-bought (I like this brand)
- (optional) chopped chives or green onions, for garnish
- Parchment paper
- Remove the tofu from its package, drain it, and press it according to the instructions in the post above, or using a tofu press.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray or grease it lightly with oil.
- In a small bowl, stir together the hot sauce, ketchup, and olive oil. In a second small bowl, stir together the breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, and paprika.
- After pressing the tofu, cut the tofu in half horizontally, then in half vertically, then in half crosswise, to make 8 slider-shaped portions. (If needed, see this page) for visuals of what those directions mean.
- Take each tofu piece and dip it into the hot sauce mixture to coat it with sauce. Then, using your other hand, dip it into the breadcrumbs mixture, flipping it to coat with breadcrumbs on all sides. Place the tofu piece on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining tofu pieces.
- Spray the tops of the tofu slider pieces with oil. Bake the tofu for 20 minutes, then gently flip it over and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until slightly browned and crisp.
- Stir together all of the ingredients until smooth. Add more water to thin if needed. Season to taste with salt and more lemon.
- Fill each slider bun with a piece of buffalo tofu, and drizzle with extra hot sauce if desired. Toss the shredded cabbage together with ranch dressing and top the tofu with it. Sprinkle with chopped chives or green onions if desired.
MAKE AHEAD/LEFTOVERS: This recipe doesn't have much prep work needed, but you could make the ranch and shred the cabbage in advance. Leftover crispy buffalo tofu can be refrigerated once completely cooled to room temperature, and then reheated by lightly spraying it with oil and heating in the oven to crisp it up again.