Cooking tips and tricks and a delicious plant-based recipe for crispy tofu baked in a flavorful maple garlic soy sauce.
Tofu sometimes gets a bad rap in the culinary world, but it truly is one of my most loved ingredients. First and foremost, tofu is versatile. What some call bland, I deem a blank canvas. Tofu can take on pretty much any flavor you want—ideal for fridge foraging. You can make it taste good in miso soup, tacos, curry…even sweeter smoothies and dessert. The possibilities are endless.
Unfortunately, there are many myths about the health effects of soy, too. Whether or not soy should be eaten was hands down the most common question I was asked when I worked as a clinical dietitian in oncology. Spoiler alert: eating tofu doesn’t cause breast cancer (or man boobs).
The thing I love most about tofu, though, is its meaty texture. If you think I’m joking, you could be making one of the common cooking mistakes outlined below.
Common Tofu Cooking Mistakes
- Purchasing the wrong type of tofu (silken, soft, firm, extra firm) for your recipe
- Not draining or pressing the tofu to remove as much excess liquid as possible (in recipes where you want the tofu to hold its shape)
- Forgetting to add flavor with herbs, spices, oil, vinegar, and other pantry staples
- Not cooking tofu long enough (or at high enough heat)
- Missing out on color from herbs and seasonal produce
Prep: How to Press Tofu
I always look for extra firm tofu when I want it to hold its shape and get crispy on the edges. You’ll need to press out the liquid tofu is packed in to get this result.
How to drain and press tofu to make it crispier:
First, I use kitchen scissors to slice open and remove the plastic film on top of the tofu package. Then, while I’m standing over the sink, I hold one hand on each side and then flip the carton over to remove the tofu block and drain out the liquid.
To press, wrap the drained tofu in a clean towel (cotton or paper) and place it on a cutting board or large dish. Place a heavy object (I use a cast iron skillet) on top. The weight works to press out what’s left of the liquid inside the tofu block. Pressing tofu improves its texture and helps it get crispier when it’s cooked.
When I’m really on top of things, I like to press tofu overnight. In this case, I wrap the tofu and put it on a plate in the fridge with a smaller cast iron skillet on top. Plan to keep tofu in the fridge if you’re going to press longer than an hour or two.
How to Make Tofu More Flavorful
Tofu is a blank canvas. Anything goes, but you’ll need to add major flavor with your supporting ingredients. You’re not going to get much salt, acid, or heat from tofu on its own. This is why every piece of crispy tofu needs a good sauce.
When I make sauces at home, I try to include each of the following flavor components.
Homemade Sauce Formula:
- Fat: olive oil, grapeseed oil, sesame oil, avocado, nut butter, tahini
- Acidity: vinegar (cider, rice, red wine, balsamic), lemon, lime, tomato paste
- Salt: kosher, soy sauce, miso
- Sweetness: maple syrup, agave, honey, sugar, dates, fruit juice
- Spices: crushed red pepper, cayenne, black pepper, garlic, ginger
- Herbs: basil, oregano, mint, thyme, parsley, cilantro
The sauce in my recipe below is a quick emulsion of grapeseed oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, maple syrup, garlic powder, and black pepper. I also add fresh herbs as a garnish at the end. You could marinate tofu in this sauce for hours, but I chose the quick route and just brushed it onto the tofu pieces right before they went in the oven.
Option 1: How to Make Crispy Tofu in the Oven
The key to cooking crispy tofu in the oven is high heat. I usually set the oven to 450F. You also need time. About 30 minutes in the oven to really get to the level of crispiness we’re looking for.
Once the block of tofu is pressed, sliced into pieces, and coated in a flavorful sauce, it’s ready for baking. Spread the tofu squares on a baking sheet, leaving at least an inch or so in between each piece. If the tofu is too close together, it won’t have the space it needs to get crispy.
While the tofu needs a full half hour to cook, you’ll need to flip or stir every 10 minutes. I like to set a timer in 10-minute increments so I can do other things without forgetting.
Here’s what you need to do:
Bake on the center rack for 10 minutes. Remove the baking sheet, flip tofu pieces with a spatula (the bottoms should be starting to turn golden brown) and bake 10 additional minutes. Remove the baking sheet again, stir the pieces, and bake 10 additional minutes, or until the edges are crispy and golden brown.
I like to serve with fresh herbs and the remaining sauce. Put it in a bowl with rice and veggies for an easy dinner. Crispy tofu also makes the best plant-based taco filler.
Option 2: How to Make Crispy Tofu on the Stovetop
Another trick for making tofu crispy is cornstarch. I used this method to make Pumpkin Curry on the stovetop.
Preheat a large skillet or Dutch oven over high heat.
Gently stir a block of cubed tofu, a tablespoon of cornstarch, and salt and pepper in large bowl. You can add more spices, too, if you want.
Spread the tofu pieces on the hot pan (just like the baked version, each piece needs space to get crispy). Cook 5 minutes, or until the bottom of tofu is brown and begins to easily separate from the pan without sticking. Use tongs to flip the tofu, and repeat until each side is cooked.
If your tofu is sticking to the bottom of your pan, it needs more time to cook. This requires a little trust the first couple times you make it but I promise in about five minutes, the pieces will begin to effortlessly separate from the pan. This is your signal that it’s time to flip. No sooner!
Once each side is cooked, I like to transfer the pieces to a wire rack so they can cool and crispen. You can serve this tofu the same way you’d eat the baked tofu above. Both are incredibly versatile!
Need some inspiration?
Tofu Recipe Ideas
- Sheet Pan Tofu Bowls
- Pumpkin Curry with Crispy Tofu and Broccoli
- Greek Roasted Chickpeas with Tofu Feta and Freekeh
- Smoky and Spicy Chipotle Tofu Jerky
- Grilled Tofu Taco Salad with Peach Mango Salsa
- Wild Blueberry Blood Orange Ginger Smoothie (with silken tofu)
- Spiralized Sweet Potato Spring Rolls with Sesame Soy Sauce
- Dry Fried Tofu with Broccolini and Thai-Inspired Peanut Sauce
- 1 block extra firm tofu, drained (14 ounces)
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
- 2 teaspoons rice vinegar or vinegar of choice
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce or gluten-free tamari or liquid aminos
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup or sweetener of choice
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- Black pepper
- Fresh herbs for garnish (optional)
Press the tofu: Wrap drained tofu block in a clean towel and place on a cutting board. Place a heavy object (such as a cast iron skillet) on top to press out remaining liquid. Wait at least 30 minutes before removing the heavy object and unwrapping the tofu. Store in the refrigerator if you plan to press tofu overnight or longer than 2 hours.
Slice pressed tofu into square pieces.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Whisk grapeseed oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, maple syrup, garlic powder, and black pepper. Brush onto tofu pieces, reserving some sauce for serving if desired.
Spread tofu pieces on a baking sheet, leaving at least an inch in between the pieces so they have space to get crispy. Place baking sheet on the center rack of the oven and bake 10 minutes. Flip tofu pieces and bake 10 additional minutes. Stir and bake 10 additional minutes, or until edges are crispy and golden brown. (30 minutes total cooking time.)
- Transfer cooked tofu to a serving dish and garnish with fresh herbs and remaining sauce if desired.
Gluten-free variation: use gluten-free tamari or liquid aminos instead of soy sauce.
Cover and refrigerate cooked tofu up to five days.