Tofu for Stir Fry: Everything You Need to Know!

Tofu is a delicious plant-based food high in protein and easy to prepare in hundreds of different ways.

However, when using tofu for stir fry dishes, many people are disappointed by the tofu falling apart, having a mushy texture, or a bland flavor.

This guide has everything you need to know if you want tofu stir fry that is delicious, with a firm, meaty, or crispy texture.

tofu for stir fry

What Tofu Is Best for Stir Fry?

The best tofu for stir fry is extra firm tofu, packed in a vacuum package instead of water.

Tofu is essentially a cheese made from soy milk, where the curds are formed into a block shape.

Tofu is sold based on how dense the curd is, from milky silken, to soft, firm, extra firm, and occasionally super firm.

The firmness of tofu is created by pressing out more of the liquid when it is being made, so the firmer the tofu is, the dryer it is, allowing it to crisp better when frying.

If you can find extra or super firm tofu, those are best for stir fry. If you can’t find an extra firm, choose firm tofu instead. 

How To Marinate Tofu for Stir Fry

Tofu naturally has a mild flavor that many people find bland. However, it readily absorbs flavors when marinated.

There’s a vast range of tofu marinades, so you can make spicy tofu, zesty tofu, sweet and sour tofu, and tofu that beautifully compliments your favorite stir fry.

To marinate tofu for stir fry, follow the steps below.

1. Press the Tofu to Remove All the Water

As mentioned above, water prevents browning and crisping in tofu.

Unless you have purchased super firm tofu that is not packed in water, it should be pressed to absorb more of the flavorful liquid. To press tofu:

The easiest way to press tofu is to use a tofu press. If you don’t have a tofu press, follow these steps:

  1. Cut your tofu into cubes or slices
  2. Spread a thick layer of paper towels (or a clean tea towel) on a sheet pan or cookie sheet
  3. Place the tofu on the towels, and cover with more paper towels or another tea towel
  4. Place a heavy object like a cast-iron skillet on the tofu, pressing it into the towels. If you don’t have a cast-iron skillet, use a second sheet pan and place cans of food on top of it to create weight.
  5. Press the tofu for 15 minutes while you prepare your marinade.

2. Make Your Tofu Marinade

In a casserole dish (or similar large, shallow dish), combine:

  • Soy sauce
  • Rice vinegar
  • Maple syrup
  • Sesame oil
  • Minced garlic
  • Freshly grated ginger
  • A neutral oil

When the tofu is pressed, and the excess liquid removed, transfer it to the dish with the marinade. Stir or baste to coat the tofu with the marinade on all sides.

Allow the tofu to marinate for at least one hour or overnight.

After you are done marinating the tofu, do not discard the marinade. Instead, add it to the pan at the end of your stir fry to create a delicious sauce.

How To Cook Tofu for Stir Fry

There are a few special tricks to cooking tofu for stir fry to have a meaty, crisp texture. Here is the secret for how to cook tofu for stir fry:

Step 1. First, add a couple tablespoons of neutral oil like canola or grapeseed to a pan.

Step 2. Heat the oil over medium-high until it is hot but not smoking.

Step 3. Add marinated tofu cubes to the pan in a single layer. If you have more tofu than can fit in a single layer, cook your tofu in batches to ensure it crisps nicely.

Step 4. Allow the tofu to lightly fry without moving or stirring it.

Step 5. For the first 3-4 minutes, the tofu will seem “stuck” to the pan. Do not try to turn the tofu until it has naturally formed a crust and released from the bottom of the pan. After 3-4 minutes, shake the pan to see if the tofu has released.

Step 6. When the tofu has been released, use tongs or a spatula to gently turn the tofu and brown it on the other side.

Step 7. Cook the tofu for 2-4 minutes on each side, about 10-12 minutes total, until it is golden brown on all sides.

Step 8. After the tofu is cooked and crisp, begin adding the rest of your stir-fry ingredients to the pan.

Tofu for Stir Fry FAQ

How Do I Get Crispy Tofu for Stir Fry?

The best way to make tofu crispy is to cook it at medium-high heat by itself in a pan, crisping and browning on all sides.

Then, when the tofu is crispy, you can begin adding the rest of your stir fry ingredients.

An alternative method of making crispy tofu for stir fry is using an air fryer to crisp your marinated tofu and then adding it to the stir fry toward the end of cooking.

Air frying makes tofu firm and crisp without added fat and without dirtying another pan.

To air-fry tofu, place the cubes in a single layer in an air fryer, and cook at 400°F for 10-15 minutes, flipping halfway through.

How Do You Make Tofu Stir Fry Without it Falling Apart?

To make tofu for stir fry without it falling apart, make sure you choose extra firm tofu and press it before marinating or cooking.

Tofu that is not firm enough or has too much water will fall apart when cooked with the rapid and repeated stirring.

In Summary

Tofu is an excellent ingredient in stir fry, and marinades add flavor and complexity to the tofu and the whole dish.

Pressing the tofu before marinating and then frying it on all sides before making the rest of your stir fry, ensure that it will be firm, crispy, and delicious every time.