Spicy sriracha and crispy panko breading take tofu from bland to bold. Even tofu skeptics will enjoy these light and zesty air-fryer tofu nuggets. Serve them as an appetizer, a salad topping, or as a complement to stir-fried veggies.
Reasons to Love This Recipe
If you have a soy skeptic in your life, I dare you to make this recipe for them. It’s flavorful enough to erase any preconceived notions that tofu is bland and boring.
A bold claim, I know. Stay with me.
Spicy, poppable, crispy, soft in the middle… It’s everything you want from nugget-shaped food.
Make a batch to enjoy as an appetizer, on top of salads, or as your protein with stir-fried veggies and rice. The options are endless!
Plus, tofu is a nutritious way to get more beneficial plant foods into your life – score.
Soy gets a bad rap, but foods like tofu, soy milk, edamame, and tempeh are actually really nutritous.
Maybe you’ve heard claims like, “Soy spikes your estrogen!”
This claim comes from a misunderstanding of a legit fact about soy. Soy contains many naturally-occurring plant compounds, one of which is called phytoestrogen.
From the name alone, you may conclude that this plant estrogen is the same as human estrogen, so eating foods with these compounds will raise the estrogen levels in your body. Nope!
Luckily, plant estrogens have a much weaker effect on estrogen receptors in the human body than our natural hormones do. Research shows that eating phytoestrogen-rich soy foods has been shown to have a positive to neutral effect on many health conditions.
In short, these foods are safe to eat in the quantities that most people consume!
Sriracha – you know it, and I hope you love it as much as I do – but do you know where it comes from?
This tangy, spicy condiment originated in Thailand, but the version of sriracha you probably recognize (with that cute little green cap) made its way to the US thanks to a Vietnamese refugee named David Tran. (You can read more about the sriracha story here – it’s pretty cool!)
You may be asking, “Do I really need to press my tofu before cooking?”
I know, it seems like a pain, but it does improve the texture and flavor of your tofu.
Think of tofu like a kitchen sponge. A wet kitchen sponge isn’t able to absorb much additional water. Similarly, spongy wet tofu isn’t able to soak up as much flavor from marinades.
If you eat tofu a lot, you can invest in a tofu press. But you can also make a DIY version.
Start by placing a kitchen towel or paper towel on a flat surface. (I use a plate.) Then, add another layer of paper towel, another plate for easy cleanup, and something flat and heavy on top. A cast iron skillet, heavy pot, or a big textbook will do.
Then, just wait! Most of the excess water will seep out of the tofu after about 10 minutes.
Infusing flavor into tofu
Marinades and seasoning mixes are a great way to add flavor to tofu. This recipe uses both.
The marinade for these tofu nuggets includes sesame oil, sriracha, hot honey, and cornstarch. Just mix it up and pour it on top of the tofu cubes, then let it sit for a few minutes.
The seasoning mix comes next. All you need are some panko breadcrumbs, crushed red pepper, and salt. The marinade will give your seasoning something to stick to. Once you coat your tofu in the seasoning mix, you’re ready to cook!
How to get tofu crispy
Adding cornstarch to the marinade helps the tofu get more crispy on the outside. Panko breadcrumbs also add some extra crunch.
The key to crispy – but not overcooked – tofu is to cook it enough to brown up the outside, but not too much. Resist the urge to keep cooking the tofu to get it more browned and crispy. I’ve tried it. Just don’t – unless you enjoy rubbery tofu.
Frequently Asked Questions
For recipes where your tofu is cut into chunks, firm or super firm tofu is best. Softer varieties won’t hold up.
A mid-high temperature is best for air-fried tofu. This helps the outside crisp up quickly without needing to cook so long that the tofu becomes rubbery.
Absolutely! Tofu is a great plant-based source of protein, calcium, iron, and disease-fighting phytochemicals.
On its own, tofu is pretty bland. Marinading, seasoning liberally, and/or using sauces helps a lot.
Add a bit of cornstarch to either your marinade or the outside of your tofu before cooking. Also, cooking at a higher temp for a shorter amount of time helps.
Tofu is technically cooked food, so it is safe to eat cold (41°F). Cooked tofu should be heated to an internal temp of 165°F to get it out of the “temperature danger zone” where pathogens thrive. You’ll know your tofu is done when the outside is slightly browned and crisp. The tofu should still be springy to the touch.
- Vegan version – At first glance, this might seem like a vegan recipe, and for many it is! The honey is the only non-vegan ingredient here. (Some vegans include honey, but most omit it.) If honey is not a big deal to you, enjoy this recipe as-is. If you prefer a swap, use maple syrup instead.
- Gluten-free – Use gluten-free breadcrumbs instead of regular panko.
- Make it less spicy – I’d say this recipe has an approachable amount of spice for most folks. If you’d prefer to try it less spicy, omit the red pepper flakes and swap in regular honey instead of hot honey.
Spicy Air Fryer Tofu Nuggets
- air fryer
- 16 oz super firm tofu
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp sriracha
- 1 tsp hot honey regular honey is also fine!
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 2 tbsp panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tsp red pepper flakes
- salt to taste
- Cut tofu into 1-inch cubes. Lay a kitchen towel or paper towel over a plate, then arrange the tofu cubes on top in a single layer. Cover the tofu with the towel and top with another plate, then place a heavy object (a pot, cast iron pan, textbook) on top and let gravity press any excess water out of the tofu for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, add the marinade ingredients (sesame oil, sriracha, hot honey, and cornstarch) to a small bowl and mix until most of the cornstarch lumps are gone. (It's okay if some remain!)
- Once the tofu is done pressing, add the tofu pieces to a medium bowl. Pour in the marinade and mix gently with a spatula or wooden spoon until all of the tofu pieces are coated. Cover and refrigerate for 5 minutes to marinate.
- Preheat the air fryer to 375°F.
- In a separate small bowl, add the breading ingredients (panko, red pepper flakes, generous pinch of salt) and mix until combined.
- Pour the breading mixture over the marinated tofu pieces and mix gently with a spatula or wooden spoon until all of the tofu pieces are coated with breading.
- Arrange the breaded tofu pieces in a single layer in your air fryer basket. Air fry for 15 minutes, gently turning each piece halfway through (7.5 minutes).
- Serve immediately as an appetizer with sriracha aioli, or as a main dish with a salad, rice bowl, or roasted vegetables.
- Please note that nutrition facts are an estimate and can vary widely based on amounts and specific types used.
- For a fully vegan version, use maple syrup instead of honey.
- Need an easy dipping sauce for your nuggets? Mix together equal parts mayonnaise (or veganaise) and sriracha.