Easy Chinese battered tofu recipe for a quick and easy weeknight meal - better than your favorite Chinese takeout. Served with everyone's favorite sweet and sour sauce.
Tofu is one of those foods that you either love or hate. Personally, I love tofu! It can be prepared in many ways, resulting in different textures and flavors. For example, you can steam tofu, so it remains soft and custard-like, boil it in a stew to absorb the flavors around it, or my favorite method - deep frying it to make the outside super crispy while the inside stays nice and soft.
Chinese battered tofu is quite bland on its own, so I like to pair it with a delicious sweet-and-sour sauce that packs a ton of flavor and helps cut through the added savoriness from frying it.
Note that this crispy tofu recipe is heavily based on J Kenji Lopez-Alt's crispy vegan recipe on Serious Eats.
🥗 What are the different types of tofu?
There are two main types of tofu: block tofu and silken tofu. Each type is categorized by different levels of firmness: soft, medium, medium-firm, firm, or extra-firm.
Block tofu is made by curdling soy milk, straining the curds, and pressing the curds into blocks. The level of firmness is determined by how long the curds are pressed.
Silken tofu is made similarly, but the soymilk is coagulated directly inside its package, so the curds remain intact, resulting in a more delicate and custard-like texture.
🍟 Which tofu is best for frying?
The best tofu for frying is medium or medium-firm. Firm or extra-firm tofu is too dry and doesn't provide a satisfying contrast with the crispy batter.
On the other hand, soft or silken tofu is too delicate and ends up breaking apart during the battering process.
For the batter:
- Flour - use all-purpose flour
- Cornstarch - we replace some of the flour with cornstarch to lower the gluten content, resulting in a crust that gets lighter and crispier.
- Vodka (optional, can substitute with more water) - has a lower boiling point than water which causes a more explosive reaction when fried.
- Baking powder - creates tiny bubbles in our batter, which expand when heated, creating a bubbly, crispy crust.
- Water - essential for the batter
For the sweet and sour sauce:
- Ketchup - gives the signature red color and tomato flavor.
- White vinegar - the primary acidity; neutral flavor profile.
- Apple cider vinegar - along with the pineapple juice, adds a fruity flavor profile to the sauce.
- Brown sugar - provides the sweetness. I prefer brown sugar over white sugar as it has more depth of flavor.
- Canned pineapple juice - adds fruitiness but is yellow, giving the sauce an orange hue. If you care about the red color, you can substitute it with lychee juice.
- Salt - just a little bit to enhance all the flavors
Step 1. Slice and dry tofu
Slice tofu into 1-inch slabs and lay them on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Place another set of paper towels on top and let the tofu rest for 15 minutes.
Step 2. Prepare batter
Combine rice flour, all-purpose flour, and baking powder in a bowl. Pour in cold water and vodka, and mix until just combined.
Be careful not to overmix, as overmixing will overdevelop the gluten networks, giving it a chewier texture.
Step 3. Fry battered tofu
Heat 1 inch of oil to 350°F (175°C) in a dutch oven, wok, or high-walled pot.
Working one at a time, dip a piece of tofu into the batter, then drop it in the hot oil. Fry about 6-8 pieces of tofu at a time for 2-3 minutes until they become lightly golden.
Transfer the fried tofu to a baking sheet lined with paper towels while you cook the rest of the tofu. Once all the tofu is fried, refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.
If the weather is cold, you can leave them outside to air dry. During this time, the crust will absorb the moisture from the tofu but don't worry - we will double-fry them to re-crisp them.
Step 4. Make the sweet and sour sauce
In a small bowl, combine the ketchup, white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, salt, cornstarch, and pineapple juice.
Heat oil in a nonstick pan until shimmering. Add onions and saute for 1-2 minutes until translucent. Add the sauce mixture and cook until it begins to boil. Immediately remove from the heat and transfer to a serving bowl.
Step 5. Double-fry battered tofu
The final step is to double-fry the Chinese battered tofu to give it an extremely crispy crust. Reheat oil to 400°F (200°C) and fry for 1 minute until golden brown and crispy.
Transfer the tofu slices to a baking sheet lined with paper towels, and serve immediately with sweet and sour sauce. Enjoy!
💭 Top Tips
- Dry the tofu properly. Use lots of paper towels if you have to. The less moisture in the tofu, the crispier the crust will be.
- Double frying is essential to make the tofu crispy. After the first fry, moisture will migrate from the tofu into the crust. The double fry will drive off this moisture and make the crust extra crispy.
- Refrain from overcrowding the pot when frying! Overcrowding the pot will drastically lower the oil temperature, causing the crust to become soggy instead of crispy.
- Bell peppers - when making the sweet and sour sauce, add ½ cup of diced bell peppers after frying the onions. Saute for an additional minute to soften them.
- Lychee juice - replace the pineapple juice with lychee juice. Some people don't like the yellow color of the pineapple juice, which turns the sauce orange, but lychee juice will keep the sauce red.
🥡 Storage & Leftovers
Storing: Store Chinese battered tofu in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Leftover tofu can be reheated in an oven or fryer.
Reheating: To reheat in the oven, preheat the oven to 375°F (187°C). Place the leftover tofu on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes or until heated through. To reheat in the fryer, preheat the oil to 400°F (200°C). Fry the leftover tofu for 1 minute until the crust becomes crispy.
📖 Recipe FAQs
Extra-firm tofu is generally the best choice for making battered tofu because it has less water than other types of tofu. This means less moisture will be absorbed into the crust, resulting in a dryer, crispier crust. But I prefer using medium-firm tofu since it provides a better contrast to the crispy crust.
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Chinese battered tofu w/ Sweet and sour sauce
- 1 deep fryer, dutch oven, wok, or high-walled pot
- 1 pound medium-firm tofu
- 70 g all-purpose flour
- 70 g cornstarch
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- 75 mL cold water
- 75 mL vodka (or cold water)
- Slice tofu into 1-inch slabs and lay them on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Place another set of paper towels on top and rest for 15 minutes.
- Mix cornstarch, all-purpose flour, and baking powder in a medium-sized bowl. Pour in cold water and vodka, and mix until just combined.
- Heat 1 inch of oil to 350°F (175°C) in a dutch oven, wok, or high-walled pot.
- Working one at a time, dip a piece of tofu into the batter, then drop it in the hot oil. Fry about 6-8 pieces of tofu at a time for 2-3 minutes until they become lightly golden.
- Transfer fried tofu to a baking sheet lined with paper towels and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.
Sweet and sour sauce
- In a small bowl, combine ketchup, sugar, vinegars, salt, cornstarch, and pineapple and mix well.
- Heat oil in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions and cook for 1-2 minutes until slightly golden.
- Add the sauce mixture to the pan and heat until boiling. Immediately remove from the heat and pour into a serving bowl.
- Reheat oil to 400°F (200°C) and fry the tofu slices for 1 minute until they become golden brown and crispy. Transfer the tofu slices to a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Serve immediately with sweet and sour sauce, and enjoy!