I get it—it’s hard to resist the appeal of shatteringly crisp tofu. It’s why we’ve devised so many hacks on how to achieve just that, with everything from starchy dredges to wringing out tofu like a sponge to freezing and thawing the entire block until it’s porous and fry-able. But here’s what no one wants to tell you: Unless you’re okay with lingering over the spattering mess of deep frying, it’s near impossible to replicate that restaurant-level golden-crispy tofu. While you can certainly come close with smart cooking techniques, the obsession with bringing tofu to its most crispy, crackly realm is a little limiting
When crispy isn’t the end goal, there’s a vast world of textures out there: creamy silken tofu, springy firm tofu, bouncy extra-firm tofu. Tofu comes in many forms and longs to become many things—and no, it doesn’t always need to be pressed, wrung, or beaten into submission. Turn to these four techniques for tofu that isn’t crispy, but just as deserving of the spotlight.
For custardy, spoonable tofu:
For custardy tofu that’s plush and velvety, make Japanese hiyayakko. It’s a cooling, refreshing, dead-simple side that’s all about the jiggly joys of silken tofu. It’s as easy as scrounging around your fridge and pantry for toppings like scallions, sesame paste, and roasted veggies, then piling them high over a cold block. Also, it’s endlessly customizable and a textural delight, especially when paired with crispy-crunchy garnishes like sesame seeds or fried onions.
For creamy, squishy tofu:
When delicately scooped into a pan of sizzling aromatics and veggies, silken tofu’s texture turns similar to curds of soft-scrambled eggs, like in this Ginger-Scallion Tofu Scramble With Spinach and Chili Oil. Gentle heat and gentle stirring are keys here—you’re not cooking the tofu, just warming it through, and you still want distinct pieces. A silicone spatula is a great tool to have on hand: It’s flexible and gentle enough to not overwork the tofu into a mushy mash.
For bouncy, springy tofu:
In this cozy, comforting Braised Tofu and Chiles recipe, extra-firm tofu’s texture is the main event—keeping the cubes large and hefty means that the texture stays pleasantly springy with a little bite, without veering into soggy territory, which can happen when tofu begins releases its moisture and makes for a watery sauce.
For squeaky, chewy tofu:
In salads that could use a little textural oomph, cut extra-firm tofu into thin batons and toss into the mix. Fresh tofu adds just the right amount of crumbly, sink-your-teeth-in texture, similar to fresh cheese like halloumi or paneer. Try this Celery, Green Bean, and Tofu Salad With Chile Crisp. And because tofu is a shapeshifter and takes on flavors of whatever it’s paired with, it’s versatile enough to be tossed in salads of every kind.
Seek out the good stuff:
Whatever recipe you make, high-quality tofu truly makes all the difference. The fresher the tofu, the more pronounced its nutty, mildly sweet, milky flavors are. Keep an eye out for local tofu shops and sources, but we’re also big fans of Hodo and Phoenix Bean.