Crispy and flavorful, this Panko Tofu is incredibly easy, quick, and versatile. Add it to your favorite bowl, pasta, or salad for a satisfying main or dip it in your favorite sauce for a great snack or appetizer.
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Hey Internet, I love dreaming up new ways to make tofu. This panko tofu is incredible.
I keep growing my list--I mean, I already have a huge list of tofu recipes but I’m still not done. It’s a cheap, versatile vegan protein and I love it.
Panko breaded tofu is one of the easiest, honestly, and depending on how you cook it, it can be pretty quick (and fairly hands off!).
My easy method using super firm tofu (the vacuum sealed kind) means you won’t have to press it. No marinating, either!
But this super crispy panko tofu is also great with pasta, on a salad, with a stir fry or some fried rice, or in any number of other dishes.
Why This Recipe Works
Tofu gets a bad rap, but it’s a super versatile protein that’s delicious when you know how to prepare it.
There are all these types of different tofus (firm, soft, silken, etc.), but for today’s recipe, for panko crusted tofu, we’re really looking for one type: super firm tofu.
Super firm tofu comes vacuum sealed, not packed in a tub of water. This is like getting a giant brick of pre-pressed tofu. This is perfect for our panko tofu today.
If you cannot find this, that’s OK. Buy firm or extra firm tofu that is packed in water, drain the package, and press the tofu. You can do this conveniently using a tofu press or you can use two cutting boards or plates and a heavy weight like a cast iron skillet or some big books.
So once you’ve got your tofu, you can cut it any shape you like (slabs, cubes, triangles, etc.), and then all we have to do is dip it in a wet mixture and then a dry mixture.
And the wet mixture is simple. Vegan buttermilk (non-dairy milk + lemon juice or vinegar) + chickpea flour.
Regular flour, cornstarch, or arrowroot powder are good substitutes, but the chickpea flour (also known as garbanzo flour or besan/gram flour) is a little thicker, higher in protein, and helps provide that really nice crust.
The dry mixture is mostly panko bread crumbs, but I’ve added some seasonings to give it a nice flavorful crust. You can skip these if you’re going to be throwing your panko tofu into some kind of sauce or other very flavorful dish (like a curry).
And then you just cook it. I have three methods of cooking it: air frying, baking, or pan frying.
Can you guess which is my favorite?
Baking or pan frying your panko tofu also works though, and I’ll give you instructions for all three methods.
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Super firm tofu: For this panko tofu recipe, the best tofu is the kind that is sold in vacuum-sealed plastic, not a tub of water. I can usually find it in my local supermarket, Trader Joe’s, Asian market, and even Costco. If you can only find firm or extra firm tofu (that comes in water), you can still make this dish. You’ll want to press it for 20-30 minutes. Otherwise it may turn out soggy.
- Non-dairy milk: The type of non-dairy milk (soy, almond, etc.) does not matter. Just make sure you get non-dairy milk that is labeled unsweetened and original flavor, not vanilla or something like that. Personally, I use soy milk whenever possible.
- Lemon juice or vinegar: This is important for making the vegan buttermilk. It’s not absolutely imperative to the recipe, but I preferred the recipe with it when I tested it both ways. Fresh squeezed lemon juice is better, but a vinegar like apple cider vinegar or white vinegar is fine. If using vinegar, use 1 tablespoon instead of 2-3.
- Chickpea flour / garbanzo bean flour: Regular flour, cornstarch or arrowroot powder will work, but I greatly prefer chickpea flour for breading tofu. It is a great gluten-free substitute option, but it also really amps up the protein and the texture of the breading in my opinion. A good trick for finding some if it isn’t in your regular grocery store (but check the baking section AND the gluten-free or natural section if there is one) or health food store, if you have an Indo-pak or Indian store nearby this flour is also known as “besan” or “gram flour.” You can also easily find it online. If you’d like to use regular all purpose flour instead, that will work. You may not need all of the non-dairy milk indicated in the recipe, so add and stir as needed. You’re looking for a thicker (but still drippy) pancake batter type consistency.
- Panko breadcrumbs: Since this IS a recipe for panko tofu, you’ll need panko breadcrumbs. Use gluten-free panko if needed, but check the label because sometimes gluten-free products contain egg.
- Nutritional yeast: I love the flavor this adds to the breading, but if you don’t like nutritional yeast or don’t have it handy, feel free to skip this.
- Spices: I used granulated onion, granulated garlic, sea salt, and fresh cracked black pepper to season the breading mixture. The spices help it taste savory and delicious. Feel free to use the spices you enjoy. If you are adding your tofu straight to a sauce, you might not need to season the breading at all.
- Oil, optional: If you are making panko FRIED tofu, you’ll need a high heat oil. I recommend sunflower, vegetable, corn, peanut, or canola oil for this. Avocado and grapeseed oil are also good options. If you are airfrying it, you don’t need to use any oil.
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How to Make Panko Tofu
- Make the vegan buttermilk first so it has time to set up. In a small measuring cup or bowl, simply add 2-3 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice OR 1 tablespoon of vinegar to ⅔ cup unsweetened original flavor (not vanilla) non-dairy milk. Stir and set aside.
- Prep your super firm tofu by removing the packaging and blotting gently with a paper towel. Cut the tofu however you like--we did triangles but cubes or rectangular slabs also work! If you did not buy super firm tofu (the kind that comes vacuum sealed), drain out all the water and press the block of tofu in either a tofu press or between two plates/cutting boards with a heavy weight on them for 20-30 minutes. Waterlogged tofu will not get very crispy.
- If baking, prep oven: If you are baking the panko breaded tofu, preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (218 degrees Celsius) and line a baking tray with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
- Set up your breading station first. You want two wide and shallow bowls for dredging the large pieces of tofu. Whisk the chickpea flour into the vegan buttermilk (which may have separated slightly, that’s OK). Put the non-dairy milk and chickpea flour / garbanzo bean flour (the wet mixture) into one of the bowls. In the other bowl, mix the panko breadcrumbs, nutritional yeast, and spices. Finally, place a plate or tray (or your air-fryer basket!) at the end where you can put the breaded tofu.
- If frying, prep pan and oil: If you are choosing to make panko fried tofu, start heating the oil in the pan as soon as your breading station is set up. Heat the largest skillet you have over high heat with a decent amount of oil--I’d say about a half inch.
- Start the breading process. I find using my hands is the easiest way to do this. Tongs or forks may break the pieces of tofu. You can use food prep gloves if you prefer not to get the mixture on your hands. Keep in mind that you will want to cook the tofu pieces as soon as they are breaded otherwise they will not be as crispy. Place a piece of tofu in the wet mixture, turning it a few times. Let the excess drip off. Then place the tofu in the dry breading mixture. You can use your fingers to push or sprinkle the breading onto the top half so you can flip it without making too much of a mess. Make sure all sides including the edges get coated. Place the coated panko tofu on the plate/tray/in your air fryer basket and repeat with the other pieces. Cook immediately.
- Air frying method: Carefully place each breaded piece of tofu in your air fryer, letting each one have at least ½-inch breathing room from the other pieces. Cook for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 degrees Celsius), CAREFULLY flipping the panko tofu once halfway through (note that if your breading is sticking to the air fryer tray, it isn’t cooked enough to flip. Air fry 2 more minutes and check it again). The tofu is done when it is medium golden brown on all sides and crispy to the touch.
- Pan frying method: Once the oil is heated you can add the tofu. The oil should be about 350 degrees Fahrenheit (or 177 degrees Celsius)--hot, but not so hot that it smokes or splatters. You can use a meat or candy thermometer to test this, or you can drop a single bread crumb into the pan of oil. If lots of little bubbles start forming around it, the pan is ready. Very carefully add the tofu to the pan. For a 12” skillet, I would cook 6-8 pieces at a time, depending on how big each piece is. If you have a much smaller skillet, you may only want to cook one at a time. It’s important not to crowd the pan, otherwise the tofu may cook unevenly, the breading can be rubbed off, etc. Cook each piece for about 3-5 minutes on each side. Flip very carefully. You can cook until light-medium browned or a little bit more done if you prefer crispier tofu. Place each fully cooked tofu on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Repeat with remaining tofu.
- Oven method: Similar to the air fryer method, lay your breaded tofu on a lined baking tray. Leave an inch of space around each piece so they can crisp up better. Optionally spray each with a little avocado oil (or similar, don’t use olive or coconut oil), but it’s not a necessity. The panko is still great without oil. Bake for 15-25 minutes, flipping halfway through and removing when both sides are the level of doneness you prefer. The panko tofu is done when both sides are at least medium browned in color and crispy to the touch.
- Serve immediately with your favorite dipping sauce like vegan bbq sauce, vegan ranch, vegan mayo mixed with sriracha, ketchup, etc. Or put it in any other dish!
- Panko crusted tofu is really best on the first night, but if you have leftovers, you can store them for about 3 days. I recommend wrapping the leftovers in aluminum foil or parchment paper (so they aren’t touching, which can rub off the breading when it gets moist from the condensation) and then placing them in a container in the refrigerator. Reheat in a pan, an air fryer, or an oven for a crispy texture. The microwave just kind of leaves the breading a bit soggy.
Frequently Asked Questions
We both love dipping this panko crusted tofu into various sauces like my nut-free vegan ranch, vegan BBQ sauce, or even just ketchup is good! But I also like to serve this super crispy tofu with pasta, on a salad, with a stir fry or some fried rice, or in any number of other dishes.
Use the air fryer (preferred) or oven methods. It’s not necessary and I make this all the time without oil!
You can store panko tofu in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. While they are probably at their absolute best on the first night, they’re still delicious when reheated. I highly recommend reheating in a pan on the stove, an air fryer, an oven, or a toaster oven to get that crispy texture back. This particular dish won’t be as delicious when reheated in a microwave since the breading won’t crisp back up.
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More Recipes Like This
I love tofu. I love it so much I made a whole collection of my tofu recipes, all quite different.
Here are some of my faves.
- Tofu Schnitzel
- Vegan Honey Garlic Tofu
- Sweet and Sour Tofu
- Vegan “Beef” and Broccoli
- Vegan Orange “Chicken”
- Crispy Tofu
- Sticky Tofu
- Vegan Paella
- Puffed Tofu