If you’re in the mood for an easy weeknight dinner, this pan-fried sticky & crispy sesame tofu is for you! This tofu is coated in cornstarch, pan-fried, and then tossed in a thick, sticky, sweet yet savory, sesame sauce. The end result is a crispy, sticky, salty, and savory tofu dish that’s super filling and packed with protein.
Originally Published: January 4th, 2022 | Post Updated: August 9th, 2023
Why You’ll Love This Sticky & Crispy Sesame Tofu Recipe
This sesame tofu recipe is by far one of my most used recipes over the years. This dish is based on the Americanized-Chinese take-out dish: sesame chicken.
This vegetarian and vegan-friendly adaptation is made with just a few fresh ingredients and is so dang good you’ll want to whip it up nearly every night (just like my crispy Szechuan tofu recipe!). Below are just a few of the many reasons we love this tofu recipe and you will too!
- Easy Recipe: This recipe is super quick and easy to make. It’s perfect if it’s your first time making tofu.
- Pan-fried to Perfection: Cornstarch helps give the tofu a crispy texture when panfried in oil and the sesame sauce is thick and sticky. A perfect combo!
- Versatile Serving Options: I love serving it with white rice, sesame seeds, green onion, cilantro, and some chopped toasted cashews on top. But you could make it into a stir fry with veggies like bok choy or broccoli.
why this recipe works
This recipe calls for extra or super firm tofu, which when pressed, coated in cornstarch and shallow fried becomes so crispy.
The crispy exterior really helps the sesame sauce adhere to the tofu when everything gets tossed together. Sesame oil, garlic, and ginger act as a few key flavoring ingredients in the sauce, helping create a savory taste.
Cornstarch and brown sugar work together in the sauce to create a slightly sweet, sticky, caramelized exterior for the tofu.
The Sticky Sesame Tofu Ingredients
This sticky sesame tofu is vegan and vegetarian friendly but will be a favorite among omnivores as well! It’s full of salty, sweet, and spicy flavors that are inspired by Asian-American cuisine. This tofu is also gluten-free which is always a plus!
The Sticky Sesame Sauce
A bulk of the ingredients for this recipe actually go into the sauce. It can be made with one small saucepan and in less than 15 minutes.
To make the sesame tofu sauce you only need a few easy-to-find ingredients. They are:
- Soy Sauce: If gluten free- make sure you’re using gluten free soy sauce;
- Sesame Oil : This is what gives the sesame sauce it’s sesame flavor. Use toasted sesame oil for the best results.
- Brown Sugar: This helps create a balanced flavor and adds a touch of caramelization to the sauce when cooked.
- Garlic: An aromatic that adds tons of flavor.
- Ginger: Another aromatic- use fresh garlic for the best flavor.
- Veggie Stock: This adds flavor and helps add volume to the sauce.
- Rice Vinegar: A touch of acidity to balance the savory sauce.
- Cornstarch: To thicken everything.
- Sambal Oelek: For heat!
- Extra Firm Tofu: Opt for extra firm over soft tofu for a crispy texture.
- Green Onions, Cilantro, White Sesame Seeds: These are for garnishing the tofu once cooked.
TIP: This recipe calls for extra-firm or super firm tofu. You don’t want to use silken tofu for this recipe since it contains too much liquid. Extra-firm tofu is tofu that has extra liquid removed. The texture is more ‘meat-like’ because there is less liquid in it and subsequently, the tofu gets crispier when cooked. It’s important to drain and press the block of tofu prior to tossing it in cornstarch.
I’ve put together a complete guide to tofu, if you’d like to learn more about the different types of tofu and how to cook them!
- Soy Sauce: You can use coconut aminos instead if you are gluten-free.
- Brown Sugar: Feel free to use another sweetener like maple syrup, agave nectar, or even coconut sugar.
- Cornstarch: If you don’t have cornstarch, you can use potato starch or arrowroot powder for similar results.
- Sambal Oelek: Feel free to use another chili sauce like Sriracha or even a touch of chili oil.
- Tofu Press or Paper Towels: this is to press the tofu and remove excess water
- Large Skillet or Wok: to pan fry the tofu until crispy
Step By Step Instructions
How to Make the Sesame Sauce
The sesame sauce takes less than 15 minutes to make and after simmering and adding the cornstarch, it becomes super thick and sticky.
STEP 1: Mix all of the sauce ingredients together except the cornstarch in a small pot. Bring to a simmer and heat on medium for 10 minutes.
STEP 2: The sauce should reduce down in volume. Transfer 4-5 tbsp of the sauce to a small bowl and whisk in the cornstarch to form a slurry.
STEP 3: Whisk the cornstarch slurry into the sauce and heat for 1-2 more minutes.
STEP 4: The sauce should thicken immediately. Remove from heat and set aside.
How to Prepare the Tofu
This tofu comes together in a few easy steps and takes less than 30 minutes to make from start to finish.
STEP 5: Press the tofu to remove excess liquid. You can use a tea towel, a tofu press or paper towels to do this. Cut the block of tofu into ½” cubes.
STEP 6: Mix the cornstarch, salt & pepper together in a shallow bowl. Add the tofu in and gently toss them to coat in the starch.
STEP 7: Heat a large nonstick skillet or wok with 1-2 tsp of vegetable oil (or olive oil) on medium heat. Once the pan has been heated add the tofu and stir fry the cubes until golden brown and crispy on all sides.
STEP 8: Reduce the heat to low and add the sesame sauce. Stir the tofu well until all the cubes are coated. The sauce will bubble up a lot if the pan is too hot. Cook everything for a few minutes to caramelize the exterior.
Serve immediately for the best texture with green onions, cilantro, and rice.
Other tofu cooking methods
In this recipe, I’m pan-frying the tofu since it is the fastest method.
The key to pan-frying the tofu is to be sure your pan is hot enough, that you’re using enough oil (enough to coat the bottom of the pan), and to be patient. You’ll want each side of the tofu to get golden brown before flipping it.
This tofu can also be made by air frying. I recommend air frying it at 400F for about 10-15 minutes, making sure to flip it halfway through.
Once you air fry the tofu, transfer it to a non-stick skillet or wok to coat it in the sesame sauce.
To bake the tofu, I recommend cooking it at 425F for about 25 minutes on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper, making sure to flip it halfway through.
Once you bake the tofu, transfer it to a non-stick skillet or wok to coat it in the sesame sauce.
If you’d like super crispy tofu, you can also deep fry it!
Heat a few inches of vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat (about 375F if using a thermometer). Fry the tofu in batches to help keep the oil temperature from dropping.
It should take about 4 minutes to fry the tofu until it is golden brown.
This sticky and crispy sesame tofu is super versatile and can be served with so many different grains and vegetables. Below are a few ideas.
- Broccoli: Lightly steamed or stir-fried, broccoli’s fresh crunch complements the texture of the tofu.
- Red Bell Pepper: Sliced or diced, these peppers add a splash of color and a touch of sweetness.
- Bok Choy: Either baby or mature bok choy can be quickly stir-fried with some garlic and soy sauce for a classic pairing.
- Snow Peas: These add a delightful snap to each bite and work well when quickly sautéed.
- Carrots: Julienned or sliced thin, carrots bring a touch of earthiness and a vibrant color contrast.
Grains or Noodles:
- Brown Rice: A healthy choice, brown rice has a nutty flavor and hearty texture, making it a great base.
- Quinoa: A protein-packed grain that is both fluffy and a little crunchy, perfect for those wanting an extra protein boost.
- Soba Noodles: These Japanese buckwheat noodles bring a rustic touch and are perfect for those preferring a noodle base.
- Jasmine Rice: Fragrant and light, jasmine rice offers a delicate touch to the robust flavors of the sesame tofu.
- Udon Noodles: Thick and chewy, udon noodles can soak up that lovely sesame sauce.
- Coconut Lime Rice: Serve this flavorful tofu with flavorful rice to take everything to the next level.
This crispy sesame tofu is best enjoyed fresh, but if you happen to have leftovers you can store them. Just note, the tofu won’t be crispy after storing in the fridge.
- Refrigeration: Store the tofu in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2-3 days.
- Reheating: For the best texture, reheat in a skillet over medium heat until warmed through. If you’re in a hurry, microwaving works, but you might lose some of that desired crispiness.
- Freezing: It’s preferable not to freeze the tofu after it’s been cooked as it may alter the texture. If you must freeze, store in an airtight container and consume within a month. When ready to eat, thaw in the refrigerator overnight before reheating.
Helpful Tips for Crispy Pan-Fried Sesame Tofu
Getting that perfect crispy exterior while maintaining a tender interior in tofu can be a bit tricky. Here are some tried-and-true tips to ensure you get that delectable crunch every time:
- Press the Tofu: Before anything else, remember to press the tofu to get rid of excess moisture. The drier the tofu, the crispier the result! Wrap the tofu in a clean kitchen towel or paper towels, place a heavy object on top, and let it sit for at least 20-30 minutes.
- Single Layer Rule: When placing tofu cubes in the pan, ensure that they are in a single layer with some space between each piece. Overcrowding can cause the tofu to steam rather than fry, which can hinder that desired crispiness.
- The Oil Factor: Ensure your pan has enough oil to evenly coat the bottom. A shallow fry, with the oil coming up about halfway on the tofu pieces, will offer the best results.
- Patience is Key: Let each side of the tofu get adequately browned before flipping. Being hasty can lead to uneven cooking and less-than-crispy results. A golden brown hue is what you’re aiming for.
- Cornstarch Coating: For an extra layer of crunch, consider lightly tossing your tofu cubes in cornstarch before frying. It acts as a barrier, creating a crispy crust as it comes into contact with the hot oil. Just ensure the tofu is well-coated, and shake off any excess to prevent clumping.
The cornstarch is absolutely necessary for the sesame sauce. Without it, the sauce will not be thick or sticky.
To make this a sesame tofu stir fry, I recommend adding bell peppers, broccoli, edamame, or even cauliflower. You can serve this tofu alongside white rice (I prefer Jasmine) or with rice noodles.
Yes! This sticky sesame tofu can also be made in the air fryer. I recommend air frying it at 400F for about 10-15 minutes, making sure to flip it halfway through. Once you air fry the tofu, transfer it to a non-stick skillet or wok to coat it in the sauce.
more tofu recipes to try
- CRISPY AIR FRIED TOFU NUGGETS
- YELLOW TOFU SUSHI BOWL
- FLAVORFUL BAKED TOFU
- ORANGE TOFU
- MONGOLIAN TOFU AND BROCCOLI
- CRISPY TOFU EGG ROLLS
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