RECIPE: For faster fried tofu, just add starch

Spicy Fried Tofu. Chris Hunt for The AJC
Spicy Fried Tofu. Chris Hunt for The AJC

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Pan-fried tofu used to confound me. Most recipes require an extended period of time to press the tofu before patting it dry and putting it in hot oil. Unless you’ve magically removed all of the liquid from the tofu or have a pristine nonstick skillet for frying, the tofu will inevitably stick, crumble and make a mess. Plus, pressing tofu means you’ll end up with a very firm and dry final texture — not the tender texture I prefer.

There is a better way, and it only requires cornstarch. All you need to do is slice firm tofu into slabs (or cubes, or, really, whatever shape you prefer), pat it dry, and dredge it evenly in lightly salted starch. No pressing, no excessive drying. The cornstarch will absorb much of the excess liquid and create a very light breading that turns to a crisp outer shell in hot oil. The interior of the tofu becomes almost creamy, a delightful contrast to its exterior.

I like to serve fried tofu in a simple spicy sauce of prepared chili oil sauce, soy sauce and rice vinegar, but you can go wild here. Try it with a mix of harissa, olive oil and lemon juice; a piquant, herby Italian salsa verde; or even a flavorful barbecue sauce. One of the best parts about tofu is that, when properly prepared, it tastes good with everything.

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Spicy Fried Tofu. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Spicy Fried Tofu. (Chris Hunt for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Chris Hunt

Credit: Chris Hunt

Spicy Fried Tofu
  • 1 (14-ounce) block firm tofu
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons Sichuan black bean and chili oil sauce (see note)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Optional: Thinly sliced fresh scallions, for garnish
  • On the side: Rice and steamed spinach
  • Slice the tofu lengthwise into six slabs. Place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
  • Meanwhile, in a shallow bowl or pie plate, stir together the cornstarch and a pinch of salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the chili oil sauce, rice vinegar and soy sauce.
  • Dredge the tofu slabs in the cornstarch, turning to coat on all sides and shaking off excess. Transfer to a clean plate.
  • Heat the vegetable oil in a large (12-inch) nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the tofu and cook, undisturbed until crisp and lightly golden brown on the first side, about 5 minutes. Flip and cook until the second side is similarly browned, 3 to 5 more minutes. Transfer to a serving plate.
  • Pour most of the sauce around the tofu, then drizzle a tablespoon or two over the top. Garnish with scallions, if desired. Serve with rice and steamed spinach. Serves 2.
  • Note: Depending on where you shop, you’ll see this style of sauce in multiple forms. Three good options are Lao Gan Ma Chili Oil with Black Bean, Lahtt All-Purpose Chili Oil Sauce, and Mr. Wong’s Oriental Wok Sichuan Chili Spicy Ma La Sauce.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 534 calories (percent of calories from fat, 55), 35 grams protein, 28 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 34 grams total fat (5 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 698 milligrams sodium.
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