Crispy tofu with Napa cabbage slaw is tried and true family favorite. Dredging the tofu in cornmeal and cornstarch, before lightly pan frying, creates a crunchy exterior with a soft, pillowy texture inside. This is not my recipe, it’s from Cook’s Illustrated magazine. I have adapted this recipe a little over the years, but it’s a winner either way. (Note: Unfortunately, at this time, there is no online link to the original recipe).
What is Tofu?
Tofu is made by curdling fresh soy milk, pressing it into a solid block and then cooling it, in much the same way that traditional dairy cheese is made by curdling and solidifying milk. It is naturally gluten-free and low in calories. Another bonus, tofu has no cholesterol and is an excellent source of both iron and calcium.
I have always been a big tofu fan, as have my boys. Tofu was a favorite of their bento-style lunches I packed for them in grade school. What I love most about tofu is its versatility, from sweet to savory, it is a wonderful ingredient to work with. A good, flavorful marinade or sauce is what any great tofu dish needs to make it delicious. Asian flavors such as sesame oil and oyster sauce tie the crispy tofu and the raw cabbage together brilliantly in this flavorful dish.
Do You Have To Press Your Tofu?
Many crispy tofu recipes, including this one, don’t require formal tofu pressing. But depending on the size of the tofu, or method of cooking, it may actually help. Pressing is often the best way to remove excess moisture. And pressing can help create firmer tofu that better holds it shape during cooking. Instead of pressing, I drain the tofu. First, in block form, for about 20 minutes. And second, sliced on paper towel lined baking sheets prior to cooking it. This is a great prep-ahead technique. I drain and slice the tofu in the morning or early afternoon and refrigerate it. Later, when I’m ready to cook it, the tofu has drain naturally and is ready to go.
How to Prevent Sticking
Stainless steel and tofu do not work well together and often cause sticking. When making this crispy tofu I use a large, well seasoned cast iron. Alternatively, people get nervous about pan frying in a non-stick pan and get concerned about the pan withstanding high heat. But the truth is, a non-stick pan can take it, so this works just as well as a cast iron pan.
The real trick when you pan-fry something is only using enough oil to swirl around and coat the pan. Deep frying would mean you need to completely submerge the tofu in oil and you are not doing that here. Also important to prevent sticking–don’t flip it too soon! Let the tofu sit and sear to get crispy. People often flip food before it’s ready. It takes longer than one expects to get food crispy.
So, if your a tofu lover already this crispy tofu dish is probably a no-brainer and thanks to the cabbage slaw, it actually falls into the healthy-ish and quick meal categories which is a double bonus. And if you’re new to tofu, I hope you give this simple little recipe a whirl, you may just fall in love.
Crispy Tofu With Napa Cabbage
- For the Tofu:
- Two packages medium-firm tofu sliced into 2x1-inch-pieces
- 1 cup cornstarch
- 1/3 cup cornmeal
- Salt and ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- For the Cabbage:
- 1 medium head Napa cabbage, shredded
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
- 4 scallions, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
- For the Dressing:
- 3 Tablespoons sesame oil
- 1 medium garlic clove, grated
- 5 Tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons oyster sauce
- Step 1 Before slicing the tofu wrap it in paper towel and allow to drain for about 20 minutes. Next, slice the tofu and lay the tofu on several layers of paper towels to drain further. I like to do this for at least 20 minutes, but often I prep the tofu to this point, wrap it and refrigerate it until ready to cook it.
- Step 2 Once the tofu has drained, adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat to 200 degrees F. Place a wire rack over a paper towel lined baking sheet and set near your work station. Toss the cornstarch and cornmeal together in a shallow dish. Season the tofu generously with salt and pepper. Working with a few pieces of tofu at a time, coat them thoroughly with the cornstarch mixture, pressing on the coating to adhere. Transfer the coated tofu to the wire rack.
- Step 3 Heat the oil in a 12-inch cast iron or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Carefully lay half of the tofu in the skillet and cook, turning the pieces occasionally with a spatula, until crisp and lightly golden on all sides, about 4 minutes. Using a spatula, gently lift the tofu from the oil, and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining tofu. Remove the paper towel from the baking sheet and place the pan of tofu in the oven to keep warm.
- Step 4 For the cabbage: In a large mixing bowl add the cabbage, carrot, scallions and cilantro, set aside.
- Step 5 For the dressing: Add the oil to the skillet and return to medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Whisk in the vinegar, oyster sauce, sugar, and chili sauce, and bring to a brief simmer, about 15 seconds. Off the heat, measure out and reserve 2 tablespoons of the dressing. Pour the remaining dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss to combine. Divide the cabbage between four plates and arrange the warm tofu over the top. Spoon the reserved dressing over the tofu before serving.