Why You Should Air Fry Tofu Before Marinating

Marinated tofu is great, but getting tofu to actually absorb marinades is harder than it sounds. If you want the flavor to fully penetrate, you have to harness the heat in some way, whether it be in the form of dipping in boiling salt water , pan frying, baking, or my new favorite pre-marinade technique: Air frying.

Cold, uncooked tofu does not accept marinades due to its high water content and low porosity. Over time, it will absorb the marinade, but mostly on the surface, and only after a long, long time (I think a couple of days). Steaming speeds up the process by removing some of that water, leaving more room for seasoning. For proof, look no further than Superiority Burger’s Crispy Fried Tofu Sandwich , which uses initial frying to get the tofu patties to soak up the marinade made from brine, hot sauce, and Dijon mustard. I’ve used this technique to great effect for years, but I must say that air frying is both easier and better: it’s non-contact, very effective, and really lets you play with texture.

There is no single ideal way to air fry tofu ; the specific technique you use depends on what kind of texture experience you need. Want something very thin and crispy, almost like bacon? Slice the firm tofu into thin 1/4″ thick slices, toss with plenty of oil, and air fry at 450F for 3-5 minutes per side. Or, for something on the opposite end of the texture spectrum, dice soft (or even silky) tofu, add no oil, and air fry at 350F for 20-30 minutes until firm and completely dry on the surface. It will be almost like a paneer or queso fresco in texture, ready to soak up the lemon juice and salt for the perfect vegan saag paneer .

These are just two of the many directions you can go with air-fried tofu. Ultimately, if you are intentional about your technique, you can use this method to cook any kind of tofu, cut it into any size, and get exactly the result you want. Just remember: to make the surface crispy, butter the tofu and use a high heat; for a drier surface without a real crunch, skip the oil and lower the heat; for anything in between, play around with the amount of oil and temperature until you get exactly what you want. Even if you don’t succeed the first time, you’re still guaranteed a firmer, firmer piece of tofu, ready to soak up whatever flavors you like.

The final stage of preparation is, of course, the marinade. Regardless of which recipe you choose, for the best absorption, I highly recommend bringing the marinade to a boil and pouring it over the tofu as soon as it comes out of the fryer. (Hot tofu plus hot marinade provides maximum absorption in minimum time.) Then let it cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate. Whether you pan-fry it, toss it on the grill, or deep-fry it, you’ll have the most flavorful tofu of your life.


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