How to Make Air-Fryer Tofu
Soft or crumbled tofu readily soaks up flavors, but somehow it tastes better with a fried shell. With the proper prep, air-fryer tofu can develop that crispy surface in minimal oil.
Tofu has a reputation as a plant-based, nutrient-rich source of protein—and as being boring and tasteless. Preparing and cooking tofu correctly turns it from soft and bland to crisp and flavorful. Deep frying has long been a successful way to crisp tofu’s surface, but you can get a similar effect with an air fryer. When using an air fryer, hot air quickly rushes down and around the tofu, making it turn out super crisp—much like deep-frying, but without the oil.
Key Ingredients in Air-Fryer Tofu
Three ingredients make the difference between soft and crispy tofu: oil, cornstarch and the tofu type. When choosing tofu, look for a package labeled nonsilken and firm or extra firm. Refrigerated tofu packed in water crisps better than shelf-stable tofu, even when it’s extra firm.
Tofu readily absorbs any flavor you cook with it—sometimes too readily, making it even softer than when you began. Every trick that removes moisture makes tofu crispier. Draining and pressing have the greatest effect. A little cornstarch helps absorb remaining moisture. Oil also plays a necessary role, even in the air fryer. A bit of oil keeps the sauce on tofu’s surface, where it can sizzle. But this only works with well-pressed tofu, because any remaining moisture will be locked inside.
How to Make Crispy Air-Fryer Tofu
This recipe comes from Taste of Home contributor Ralph Jones and yields 4 servings.
- 1 package (14 to 16 ounces) firm or extra-firm tofu
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- Optional: Green onions, sliced
Step 1: Prepare the tofu cubes
Drain the liquid from the tofu and then blot it dry. Cut it into approximately 3/4-inch cubes. Press the tofu by placing the cubes on a clean kitchen towel on a cutting board and covering them with another towel. Gently place another cutting board and then a large cast iron skillet on top. Let stand for at least 10 minutes.
Step 2: Mix the sauce
Preheat the air fryer to 375°F. Grease a baking tray that fits in the air-fryer basket. In a shallow dish, whisk together the soy sauce, olive oil, sesame oil, cornstarch, garlic powder, salt and pepper.
Step 3: Dress the tofu
Add the tofu to the soy mixture, turning it until coated. Place the tofu on the baking tray, leaving space around all sides of each piece, and then set the tray in the air-fryer basket. If all of the cubes won’t fit with space for air to circulate, cook them in multiple batches.
Step 4: Fry the tofu
Cook the tofu for 12 minutes without shifting it, until golden brown and crispy on all sides. Use a spatula to transfer the tofu from the tray to a serving dish; if the spatula doesn’t easily slide under a cube, let it cook for another 3 minutes. Repeat with any remaining batches. Garnish with green onions, if desired.
Tips for Making Air-Fryer Tofu
How to Make Air-Fryer Tofu Gluten-Free
Soy sauce traditionally contains fermented wheat, so you’ll want to avoid it when following a gluten-free diet. Instead, look for an aged soy sauce called tamari. Some tamari varieties contain a small amount of wheat, so choose a bottle labeled “wheat-free” or “gluten-free.” It can be substituted in the same quantity as soy sauce, even though it is usually thicker and has less sodium per tablespoon. Liquid aminos, which are also gluten-free, and coconut aminos, which lack soy, wheat and gluten and are relatively low in sodium, are other popular substitutes for soy sauce.
How to Store and Reheat Air-Fryer Tofu
Uncooked tofu keeps best in its original packaging and liquid in the refrigerator. Once opened, it can be refrigerated in water; change the water every couple of days and use it within a week. Tofu can also be frozen in its original packaging for several months but will have a chewier texture.
Once cooked, refrigerate leftover tofu in an airtight container for four to five days. Restore its crispness in the air fryer with the same temperature and tray setup, heating it for just a few minutes. Watch it closely, because it will be prone to burning. Avoid reheating tofu in the microwave, which will soften it inside and out.
How to Press Tofu
Smaller tofu pieces release more liquid more quickly than a full block. Placing the tofu between a couple of towels helps wick the moisture away. Adding weight, like a cast-iron skillet or a heavy cookbook, removes the liquid even more rapidly. If after 10 minutes a cube still releases liquid when you press it gently, let it drain for another 10 minutes or so. If you cook a lot of tofu, you may prefer a tofu press, which can remove the water from a full block of tofu in as little as 30 minutes.
What to Serve with Air-Fryer Tofu
Crispy tofu can replace meat atop a green salad, cooked vegetables, noodles or hot grains. It’s a natural addition to a vegetable stir-fry, particularly because the vegetables will cook best on their own with the precooked tofu tossed in at the end. Try it in a Southeast Asian dish like Vegetable Pad Thai or simply serve it on rice with a side of steamed vegetables for an easy weeknight meal.
Best Tofu to Use for This Recipe
Choose extra-firm or firm nonsilken tofu for frying. The firmer the tofu, the less moisture in the block and the easier it will be to press out the remaining liquid yet retain the tofu’s cubed shape. Nonsilken or block tofu has a cottony texture that crumbles like feta when broken apart. Silken tofu has a custardy texture, like the center of a wheel of brie, even when it’s labeled “firm.” Soft and silken tofu will fall apart while cooking and works best in creamy soups and as an egg or dairy substitute in baked goods.