Published May 11, 2023
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If you’re wondering how to cook tofu, this simple stovetop method is the perfect place to start. Crispy tofu takes under 20 minutes to make. You’ll want to eat these flavorful cubes straight out of the pan.
I cook a lot of tofu. After nearly a decade as the Chief Recipe Developer at Cook Smarts and even longer writing recipes on the pages of this site, I’ve tried every tofu-cooking method out there. And I can confidently say that the best way to cook this versatile plant-based protein is to keep it simple. This method for cooking tofu has no pressing, no marinating, requires only 3 ingredients, and is ready in 20 minutes.
Best of all, this tofu is so delicious that even if you’re new to cooking it, you’ll find it hard to resist. Add it to a bowl of noodles like Sesame Noodle Salad, Ginger Scallion Noodles, or Pad See Ew and dinner is done.
If you’ve been following me on Instagram, you’ve seen me prepare tofu this way many times, and I got so many questions about it, that I decided it was time to put it all together in one place. So here we go!
Tips for the Best Crispy Tofu
- Use firm or extra firm. These will hold up best as they cook. This method will not work with silken tofu.
- Don’t press it. There’s no need to press the tofu if you’re going to cook it in a skillet. Just pat it dry using a clean dish towel and start cooking. See below for more on this tip!
- Skip the marinade. Your tofu will crisp up more easily if it’s dry when it hits the hot pan.
- Don’t skimp on oil. You’ll need a decent amount of oil to help it to crisp up.
- Don’t rush it. Be patient. Let the tofu cook for a long time on each side. You’ll know it’s ready to turn when it is deep golden brown and releases relatively easily from the pan.
- Add seasoning last. Tofu is dense and full of water when it’s at cold or at room temperature. It will not easily absorb anything in this state (which is another good reason to skip the marinade).
Don’t Press Your Tofu
It’s a controversial recommendation to skip the pressing step when cooking tofu, but if you’re going to sear it in a skillet, there’s really no need. Most of the moisture inside the tofu cubes will evaporate as it cooks but some moisture inside the cubes will help it to maintain a soft center while the outside gets nice and crisp. My kids all say the texture is like “marshmallows” when I skip pressing because the cubes do have a fluffy interior.
There are plenty of cooking methods for tofu where pressing is useful, but you just skip it and jump right in if you’re going to sear it on the stovetop.
For more details, check out this deep dive from theKitchn that rated this method in the top three and also noted that it’s not necessary to press the tofu.
How to Make Crispy Tofu on the Stovetop
- Drain your tofu and pat it dry.
- Heat 3 tablespoons of cooking oil in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat.
- Add the tofu to the heated oil and sear on all sides. (Let the tofu cook for 3 to 5 minutes on each side until it gets a really nice golden sear. If the tofu resists releasing from the pan, it’s not quite ready to turn.)
- Continue cooking on all sides until deep golden brown, giving it a good few minutes on each side.
- Move the pan off the heat and add soy sauce or tamari. The hot tofu will quickly soak up the liquids, adding flavor.
- Move the pan back over the heat, and continue cooking the tofu, turning often, until all of the liquids are absorbed and the tofu crisps back up.
Adding Sauce and Spices
Once you’ve cooked your tofu in this way, it’s easy to add any sauce or seasoning that you would like. If adding sauce, you can pour it directly over the tofu in the pan and just simmer until the sauce is thickened to your liking. If adding dry spices, it’s best to move the pan off the heat, sprinkle the spices over the tofu and gently stir everything together.
However, the soy sauce or tamari will add enough flavor to your tofu cubes, that it’s great served simply without any additional seasoning at all!
Why Cook Your Tofu on the Stovetop
The primary reason is that it’s so fast! I love a good oven-baked tofu, but if you’re in a rush, you can’t beat the 20 minutes it takes to make it on the stovetop. Searing it on the stovetop also produces the crispiest results. With this method, you get to make sure that each side of the tofu cubes come in contact with the hot pan and gets super golden and crisp.
Why Season at the End
Cold or room temperature tofu simply does not absorb flavors well. Tofu is dense and full of water before it’s cooked which does not make an ideal situation for absorbing marinades. If you’ve ever tried marinating tofu, you know that the flavors rarely soak in further than the surface of the tofu. Heating tofu, however, helps some of that moisture to cook off and creates more space in the interior of the tofu to absorb flavor.
When you make this skillet tofu, watch how quickly it soaks up the soy sauce or tamari!
Freezing tofu before you cook it produces a more chewy texture and helps it to absorb more flavor as it cooks. Fortunately, if you’re cooking it on the stovetop, it will already have a great crispy-tender texture and will easily absorb flavor once it’s hot, so there’s no need to freeze it for this cooking method.
Soft or silken tofu won’t get crispy. They’re not a great choice for crispy tofu. Use firm or extra-firm. Serious Eats has a great guide to types of tofu and ideas on how to use them.
More Vegetarian Recipes
- Vegetarian Tater Tot Casserole
- Bean and Cheese Tostadas
- Easy Vegetarian Sushi
- Vegetarian Baked Ziti with Cauliflower
- Miso Vegetable Soup
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- Non-Stick Skillet
- 14 ounces firm or extra-firm tofu (I also like “sprouted” tofu which I find at Trader’ Joe’s)
- 3 Tablespoons cooking oil (use a high heat oil like avocado, vegetable, or grapeseed)
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons Tamari or soy sauce
- Drain all of the water off the tofu.
- Slice the tofu into bite-sized pieces (I like small cubes or strips). Leave the tofu on the cutting board and use a clean dish towel or paper towels to blot the tofu cubes dry, removing any surface moisture.
- Heat a large nonstick pan over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons of oil, tipping the pan to coat it well. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the tofu in a single layer. (It’s okay if the pan is full, but make sure that all of the tofu is touching the bottom of the pan.)
- Let the tofu cook, without stirring it, until deep golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes (you’ll know it’s ready when it releases easily from the pan). Flip the tofu over so that the other side is in contact with the hot pan. Cook again on the other side until deep golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes more. Continue gently turning the tofu every few minutes until it is golden brown on all sides.
- Move the pan off the heat and let it cool for about 30 seconds. Pour the Tamari or soy sauce evenly over the tofu (be careful because it will steam and sizzle if the pan is still hot) and fold it in so that all of the tofu comes in contact with the liquid.
- Move the pan back over the heat and cooking the tofu, turning often, until all of the liquids are absorbed and the tofu crisps up again, 2 to 3 minutes more.
- Transfer the tofu to a paper towel-lined plate.
- Serve warm or let it cool slightly before serving.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.