Pad Thai with Dry Fried Tofu

For a home cook, the day you successfully recreate your favorite restaurant dish is a proud one. It’s even more exciting when you realize this once intimidating dish is ridiculously easy and that there is really very little you can’t do in the kitchen. This empowering kitchen moment came when I made Pad Thai with perfectly cooked tofu for the first time.

Pad Thai with tofu has been one of my favorite dishes since Ruth and Gill introduced me to Thai food my junior year of undergrad. Since that enlightening day, I have had tried other Thai dishes (Drunken Noodle is another favorite) but I only crave Pad Thai. My friends are all well aware of my Pad Thai addiction, so I was not surprised when several of them sent me this New York Times article several years ago.  I tried the recipe and it came out perfectly the first time – except for that dreaded tofu.

See, since that first enlightening bite of Pad Thai, I have tried it with chicken, shrimp, and beef, but I always go back to tofu. Everywhere I went the tofu was well flavored and firm. Both the texture and taste the perfect complement to the rest of the dish, but whenever I tried to cook it at home my tofu was bland and a bit slimy. The basic Pad Thai was easy to master, but that tofu just kept disappointing me. Until I learned about dry frying my tofu. Hallelujah! By using a non-stick pan and no oil over medium-low heat, you essentially dry out the tofu, which then allows it to soak up a flavorful marinade without becoming slimy and falling apart. Even better, it is incredibly easy.

Dry Fried and Marinated Tofu

1)      Begin with a block of extra firm tofu and press it, as shown in the video below. I like to pour off the excess water half way through the 40 minutes and then continue pressing, but that isn’t really necessary.

2)      While you press the tofu, prepare this simple marinade:
1/2 cup soy sauce or fish sauce
1/8 cup rice vinegar
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1 tsp honey

3)      After pressing the tofu for about 40 minutes,  cut it into half inch slices.

4)      Heat a non-stick pan (or very well seasoned cast iron skillet) over medium-low heat for about 2 minutes before adding the tofu, leaving space between each piece. You may  have to dry fry the slices in several batches.

5)      Using a spatula, carefully press down on the tofu slices in order to squeeze out extra moisture. Once the first side has turned a medium golden brown, flip over and repeat on the other side.

6)      Cut the slices of tofu into cubes and add  to the prepared marinade. Let it sit for half an hour to an hour. (Just enough time to make your Pad Thai sauce and stir fry your veggies).

Pad Thai

(adapted from the Minimalist)

4 ounces fettuccine-width rice stick noodles
1/4 cup peanut oil
2 to 4 tablespoons tamarind paste
1/4 cup fish sauce (nam pla)
1/3 cup honey or brown sugar
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more if you are like me)
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1 garlic clove, minced
2 eggs
About 3 cups shredded cabbage
1 & 1/2 cup broccoli slaw
1/2 pound pressed tofu (or chicken or peeled shrimp)
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 limes, quartered
mung bean sprouts (optional)

1)      Bring a large pot of unsalted water to a boil. Add rice noodles and remove from heat. Let soak until the noodles are just tender, checking frequently to avoid over-cooking. Drain and toss with a drizzle of oil to keep them from sticking together.

2)      In a small sauce pan, combine fish sauce, honey,tamarind, and rice vinegar. Bring to a simmer. Add red pepper flakes and let simmer for another minute. Remove from heat.

3)      Heat a generous drizzle of oil in a large frying pan (I like to use the one I had just used to dry fry the tofu). Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add scallions and eggs. As the eggs begin to set, scramble them with your spatula.

4)      Add cabbage and broccoli slaw to the pan and cook until the cabbage begins to wilt.

5)      Drain tofu and add to veggies and eggs.

6)      Add noodles and sauce to pan and toss to coat and mix everything thoroughly.

7)      Serve with a sprinkling of chopped peanuts, a little cilantro and bean sprouts, and a lime wedge on the side.


13 responses to “Pad Thai with Dry Fried Tofu

  1. Pingback: Books for Cooks: The Flavor Bible | corkandspoon

  2. Thank you thank you thank you for sharing the dry frying technique! Somehow, after at least half my life of trying 18 bazillion different ways of cooking tofu, I have never heard of this. I even had various vegetarian cookbooks years ago that I read cover to cover with no mention of this. A quick google search shows me it’s pretty common, but your blog is the first one I’ve seen it on. Thank you! I made the tofu with your marinade last night, and it turned out perfectly.

    • I’m glad it worked for you Phoebe!!! This is definitely my favorite way to do fried tofu, although I like a bunch of other ways too.

  3. Pingback: Tofu and Veggie Stir-Fry | corkandspoon

  4. This sounds like a very healthy version of Pad Thai. It has to have a lovely taste and flavor from all the vegetables.

    • As much as I love Pad Thai, Karen, it can be really disappointed when I get an order drenched in more oil than sauce. For me that’s the best thing about this recipe, that there is very little oil and none in the sauce. The veggies are just a bonus.

  5. Just connected to you site via Dashboard.

    Pad Thai is definitely one of my favorite Thai dishes and I’m always on the look out for new/different versions of the recipe. I know my wife would love this because of the tofu. Thx for sharing.

    If you have a moment, check out my site that combines sports, food, libations and more.


  6. Ooh..Can’t wait to try this one!

  7. Hi 🙂 Great post! This looks wonderful and I like the instruction for the tofu. I’m going to make this one! Have a great weekend.

    • Learning how to dry fry tofu was one of the greatest moments of my life! When I’m being really persnickety, I’ll dry fry the individual cubes of tofu (it takes substantially more time, mind you) and it gives them an almost crunchy texture. So fabulous!

  8. I love Pad Thai! And now I’m craving! This looks so yummy!

    • Once you realize how easy it is its hard not to make it once a week! The hardest part is the sauce, mostly because you have to find everything in the pantry. I’m going to experiment with freezing the sauce. If that works well, a bag of dry coleslaw + broccoli slaw and you can have Pad Thai in under 30 minutes!

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