Searing tofu is one of the easiest ways to add protein to virtually any dish—it’s easy to find, fast to cook and lends itself to any flavor profile. But tofu’s high water content and soft texture can make getting a crispy exterior a challenge.

The secret? To achieve a golden crust when searing or frying tofu, you must first press out as much moisture as possible.

Milk Street Street Cooking School instructor Josh Mamaclay (you may also know him from Milk Street TV), advises wrapping tofu in a clean kitchen towel and placing it on a cooling rack set in a rimmed baking sheet. Weigh down the tofu with a heavy object (a heavy skillet or another baking sheet topped with a couple of cans works well) and allow it to drain for at least 15 minutes, or up to 1 hour, Mamaclay suggests. The weight squeezes out water, leaving the tofu firmer and ready to crisp. “The longer tofu is pressed, the more water is expelled, making it easier to sear,” Mamaclay says.

If you want to try something a little different, Milk Street Food Editor Matthew Card says you also can freeze slabs of tofu to eliminate excess moisture. Defrost before use. This also gives the tofu a coarser, almost meatier texture when thawed.

Either way, when you’re ready to cook, blot dry the surface to maximize browning and minimize sticking.

This step isn’t essential when using soft tofu for soups or stews, like the classic Mapo Tofu. But in a dish like our Indonesian Fried Tofu Salad (Rujak), or in the vegan tofu adobo Mamaclay will teach in his upcoming livestream class, A Taste of the Philippines (details here), it’s a game changer.

One final tip? “To take all the guesswork out of developing that golden crust, use nonstick,” Mamaclay says.

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Photo credit: Josh Mamaclay