Here’s how to make the best pan fried tofu: fast and easy, no pressing required! It has irresistible flavor and cooks in 15 minutes.
Are you a tofu fan? I’ll confess that Alex and I haven’t been until recently. But this plant-based protein has started to win our hearts! Why? Well, it’s great for weeknight meals, which is where this recipe comes in. And guess what? Tofu can be majorly delicious, when it’s prepared correctly. Douse it in a little smoked sauce sauce and sesame oil and pan fry it until golden brown, and it’s positively irresistible! This perfect pan fried tofu is our go-to for easy plant-based dinners (along with this Tofu Scramble, also a favorite). Here’s how to make it!
Reading: how to stir fry tofu in a sautee pan
What you need for this pan fried tofu
Tofu is soy milk that’s turned into curds (like in cheesemaking!) and pressed into blocks. It was invented in China and is used in many Asian cuisines from Chinese to Thai. On its own, it has no flavor at all (ew!). But combine it with a few simple flavorings and pow! It tastes savory and meaty all at once. Here’s what we’ve used for this pan fried tofu:
- Tofu, firm or extra firm: This is important! Do not, we repeat, do not buy soft or silken tofu. It will not work in this recipe.
- Olive oil
- Toasted sesame oil: Make sure it’s toasted! Regular sesame oil is neutral and intended for cooking; toasted has a nutty flavor and is intended for cooking.
- Smoked soy sauce or soy sauce: Smoked shoyu is becoming widely available; if you can find it’s 100% worth it! Keep reading for more.
Wait: you don’t have to press it?
Nope, this tofu recipe works without pressing it! If you’ve made tofu before, you might notice that many recipes call for wrapping the tofu in a towel and placing a heavy object on top for 30 minutes. Who has 30 minutes for that?
This pan fried tofu recipe is perfect for weeknight dinners because you don’t have to spend the time pressing it! Simply dry it off with a towel and you’re good to go. Score!
How to make pan fried tofu (basic steps)
Let’s clarify before we start: this is not crispy tofu! This pan fried tofu results in golden brown pieces that are crisped at the edges. It’s not ultra crispy, but it has a lovely texture that we like even better. Sometimes crispy tofu can get too crunchy. Here are the basic steps for how to make pan fried tofu (or jump right to the recipe):
- Cut it: Slice the tofu into large cubes. Dry it off with a towel.
- Cook side 1: Here’s where it gets a little interesting. Place the tofu in cold oil. Then bring it up to medium heat and cook 5 to 6 minutes until one side is golden brown.
- Flip! Here’s the only hard part! Remove the pan from the heat to reduce spitting. Then flip the tofu: using chopsticks is easiest!
- Cook side 2: Return to the heat. Cook another 5 to 6 minutes.
- Season & cook a little more: Add toasted sesame oil and soy sauce. Cook another 2 minutes on each side. Done!
Use smoked soy sauce (shoyu) if you can find it!
Smoked soy sauce (or shoyu, the Japanese word for soy sauce) is popping up at mainstream grocery stores these days. Alex and I could not be happier! Years ago we found a bottle of smoked shoyu at a Japanese restaurant in Santa Fe and became obsessed. The intensely savory, smoky flavor is incredible for using in vegan recipes.
Because smoked shoyu was hard to find, we never called for it in our recipes: until now! If you can find it, a drizzle adds the perfect garnish. You can also order it online! Here’s the type we use: order Smoked Soy Sauce (Shoyu) online.
Is tofu healthy?
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We get this question a lot, because there have been some tofu rumors out there in the rumor mill. Here’s our two-cents: Tofu is part of a healthy diet. According to the Harvard TH Chan School of Nutrition, soy is a nutrient-dense source of protein that can safely be consumed several times a week. It’s likely to provide health benefits—especially when eaten as an alternative to red and processed meat. (For more details, go to Straight Talk About Soy.)
So, you can feel good adding this pan fried tofu recipe to your weekly meal calendar! Speaking of…
How to serve pan fried tofu
Here’s the fun part! Alex and I love whipping up this pan fried tofu. It was actually inspired by a method Alex made up one weeknight and we loved it so much, we wrote down how to do it! It’s so easy to throw into a bowl with some veggies for an easy vegan dinner. Here’s how we’d serve it:
- With soba. Add our Quick Soba Noodles and serve it in a bowl! Or try in our Easy Soba Noodle Bowl, more like a stir fry.
- With rice. Add white rice, eat with our Veggie Fried Rice.
- Add a veggie. Serve with Roasted Broccoli or Simple Sauteed Broccoli.
- Top with zingy sauce. You must try Spicy Mayo or Best Yum Yum Sauce.
- With a stir fry. Add to our Easy Stir Fry Vegetables to make it a meal!
This pan fried tofu recipe is…
Vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, dairy-free, and gluten-free.
More tofu recipes
If you’re a tofu fan, here are some more tofu recipes you might enjoy:
- Easy Tofu Scramble This easy scramble has the same texture as scrambled eggs, but it’s 100% plant based! It’s a vegan breakfast idea you’ll want to make again and again.
- Coconut Tofu Curry A family favorite! Coconut milk and red curry paste pack a punch in this fast and healthy dinner idea.
- Go-To Tofu Stir Fry This tasty stir fry is our go-to for healthy plant based dinners! It’s got the best stir fry sauce, and you can use any veggies.
- Easy Marinated Tofu This one doesn’t even need to be cooked! Flavored with soy, sesame oil and ginger, this easy tofu recipe will be your new favorite. (It’s ours.)
- Tofu Ramen Features crispy pan-fried tofu and a slurpable miso broth! It’s a delicious plant based dinner recipe.