Pan-Fried Tofu, Two Ways

May 18, 2022
18 Ratings
Photo by Bobbi Lin. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop stylist: Alya Hameedi
  • Prep time 3 hours 15 minutes
  • Cook time 15 minutes
  • Serves 2
Author Notes

My friends are obsessed with the seared tofu dish at Congee Village that I never really thought twice about. It’s soft/silken tofu that’s seared golden brown and doused in a red onion/scallion soy sauce. It’s simple, it’s served hot and photographs well, but the magic is in the golden crust on the outside and the improbably tender inside.

I see this recipe as an answer to the age-old adage of tofu being a meat substitute; I’m specifically referring to firm tofu, pressed between kitchen towels, marinated with soy sauce, and pan-fried to look like chicken. I think that approach fails to acknowledge the textural wonder that is this product.

To do this, we'll approach tofu with two traditional techniques: The first is just to fry silken tofu, which when done patiently, creates a delicate texture that is surprisingly hard to break up in a sauce. The second is to freeze firm tofu, which helps extract the moisture of tofu without having to go through the process of pressing the tofu. —Lucas Sin

What You'll Need
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Pan-Fried Tofu, Two Ways
  • 1 packet (16 ounces) firm tofu OR silken tofu, drained
  • Kosher salt
  • Neutral oil
  • 1 shallot, sliced thinly cross-wise
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly length-wise
  • 1/2 Thai red chile or similar, sliced thinly
  • 2 scallions, cut into 2-inch segments, making sure white and green parts are separated
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons abalone sauce
  • 1 teaspoon rice wine (Mijiu or Shaoxing wine)
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon MSG or mushroom powder
  • 1 tablespoon potato starch
  1. If working with FIRM TOFU: Remove the firm tofu from the packaging and drain well. Place tofu in a sealed container or on a tray wrapped with plastic and freeze for at least 3 hours and up to 6 months. When fully frozen, the tofu will turn a darker shade of yellow/brown and become slightly translucent.

    When ready to cook, fully thaw the tofu, at least 3 hours at room temperature or 8 hours in the fridge. Gently squeeze the tofu between your palms to express as much water as possible without damaging it. Cut tofu into 10 equally sized pieces.
  2. If working with SILKEN TOFU: Remove the silken tofu from the packaging and drain well. Cut tofu into 10 equally sized pieces and lay the pieces flat side down on a tray. Season the tofu with ½ teaspoon salt and let sit for at least 15 minutes to extract some of the water.

    When ready to cook, drain well.
  3. To cook either kind of tofu: Heat a flat-bottomed non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of neutral oil and heat until barely smoking. Carefully slide drained pieces of tofu into the pan, one by one. Turn the heat down to medium-low. Using a spatula, gently press on each piece of tofu to ensure even searing. Let the tofu sear until a golden crust is formed, about 3 min. Using a fish spatula or a thin rubber spatula, carefully flip each piece of tofu over so both sides are seared well. Remove and set aside.
  4. In a small bowl, combine the light soy sauce, abalone sauce, rice wine, white sugar, MSG, and 1/4 cup water to form a sauce. Stir until the white sugar and msg are dissolved.
  5. Prepare a starch slurry by combining potato starch and 1 tablespoon water in another small bowl and stirring well to dissolve.
  6. In the same pan you used to sear the tofu, add another 2 teaspoons of neutral oil and heat at high heat until barely smoking. Add shallots, garlic, chiles, and scallion whites. Stir fry until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Return the tofu to the pan. Pour over the combined sauce. Mix the ingredients together by swirling the pan. Simmer until the flavors have melded, about 3 minutes. Add more water if the sauce is drying up. Carefully remove the tofu from the pan and plate. Thicken the remaining sauce with the potato starch if necessary until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, sugar, and MSG. Pour the finished sauce over the tofu and serve warm with rice.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

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    Colleen Paquet
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    Babette's sous chef
  • Debbie Turney
    Debbie Turney
  • Denise

8 Reviews

Colleen P. May 12, 2024
This dish made with the soft tofu is amazing. So far my favorite recipe from Lucas Sin. I’ve got this one on repeat. I like saucy and salty food, so I double or triple the sauce which means I have more sauce to spoon over rice. I can’t get enough!
Melissa M. February 4, 2024
This is such a delicious dish - Lucas Sin is my tofu hero. I double or triple the aromatics and sauce and then toss in small pieces of various veggies. The aromatics + sauce combination is delicious and really would pair well with just about anything you want to throw in it.
Genghis9 July 25, 2023
I made the firm tofu. Hands down the best tofu dish I've made. The sauce is very balanced and delicious. Definitely ignore the last step of taking the tofu out while the sauce thickens. I did it all together and it turned out perfectly. Written directions are slightly different than the video. Follow the video!
Babette's S. May 13, 2023
Lucas Sin is terrific! One of best Food52 videos I've seen in a long time. This guy is excellent. Wish he'd get a PBS cooking show. Excellent & most informative presentation!
vermagic April 17, 2023
This is my go to tofu dish - I love making it - it's super easy and super tasty. Slight difference between the video and printed instructions- printed instructions forget to mention when you add the green part of the scallions (at the very end but give them a chance to wilt before plating). Also the printed instructions call for plating the tofu and then thickening the sauce and pouring it over the tofu. I thought this was "off" so re-watched the video and Lucas thickens the sauce while the tofu is in the pan, then just plates the dish. This is easier as you want to handle the tofu as little as possible - especially the more delicate silken tofu. This dish is DELICIOUS and definitely restaurant quality. Make it today. Thanks Lucas - I love your style.
Debbie T. September 19, 2022
I've yet to try this , but this is the best explanation I have seen yet and I've been researching for two years on working with tofu ,we buy the ready made products but I want to break away and cook fresh .
Denise June 18, 2022
I make tofu stir fry at least once a week. I tried the freezing and braising technique and I agree, the tofu soaks up much more flavor. I used oyster sauce because that's all I had but definitely will try it with abalone sauce next time.
Axlll June 17, 2022
Amazing taste, the texture of my tofu was a bit off but that was probably an error on my part. Will definitely cook again