Cast iron: getting your tofu crispy

I’d never had a lot of luck browning tofu…or tempeh or burgers. I usually seemed to leave half the tofu stuck to my ‘non-stick’ pan when I flipped it over with my thick plastic spatula – so when I got Isa Does It, and read that Isa recommends a cast iron pan for frying tofu, I was itching to give it a try.

Having grown up in the age of the non-stick frying pan, I’d never really thought about buying one made of cast iron – apart from those pretty enamel ones.  The idea of using unfinished cast iron is that the surface allows you to use a thin, metal spatula to scrape right under the food, so you can flip it over without breaking off the lovely crunchy, charred outside part that develops as it cooks – or damaging your pan.

I found a nice stainless steel spatula easily enough, but had a bit of trouble tracking down a cast iron pan that wasn’t enamelled.

stainless steel spatula in cast iron pan

My new cast iron pan and thin stainless steel spatula

It wasn’t until I remembered the old cast iron pot we used to take on family camping trips that I thought about trying a camping goods store.

Oz Camping, the friendly, local, family-owned camping goods store where I’d bought my original pot about 20 years ago had closed down, and all we have nearby, these days, are the big ones – Ray’s Outdoors and Anaconda. (Don’t get me started on that!)

Anyway, Anaconda had a couple of nice iron pans. I chose a smaller pan (about $29), mainly because I could hardly lift the large one with one hand!

Clean and season your new pan

Of course, you have to season a cast iron pan before you use it, so the surface will be non-stick and won’t rust. (Thank goodness for YouTube!) This pan came pre-seasoned, but who knows how, or with what, or where it had been, so I cleaned it up and re-seasoned it. You can see the process of seasoning a pan in the video at the end of this post.

tofu frying in a cast iron pan

Not just tofu

So did it work? Yes, it really did! It made the tofu really hot and crispy, and the pieces didn’t get mangled as I flipped them.

I started off just using the pan for tofu, but I’ve been so pleased with it that I use it for pretty much all my frying now. It crisps up the food so nicely that my poor old non-stick pan has been gathering dust, unless I’m cooking something huge, but then I usually use my wok anyway.

Tempeh meat balls from Isa Does It frying in thepan

Using the thin, steel spatula is so much nicer than the plastic/nylon ones needed for non-stick pans. It’s so satisfying to scrape right underneath the pieces of food and flip them over cleanly.

More iron in your dinner

In all my excitement, I had almost forgotten another reason to cook with cast iron. I had a distant recollection of reading (long ago when I had two tiny children, and was afraid that we would all be anaemic because we didn’t eat meat) that cooking in an iron pot increases the iron content of a meal – although the food is supposed to be acidic and liquidy, rather than dry and crispy. I’ll have to find some tomato sauce recipes!

Finally, a tip

If you haven’t tried a cast iron pan, you should give it a go. Just one tip: If your pan has a metal handle, remember not to burn your hand! I’ve done it a couple of times, when I’ve been juggling several pots on the stove.

Corn fritters from Veganissimo frying in the pan

My oven mitt hanging on the iron handle – and Veganissimo corn fritters frying in the pan

Now I’m so clever, I just put an oven mitt over the handle while I’m cooking – let’s hope it doesn’t catch fire!

Check out how the expert (Isa) gets perfectly browned tofu.

How to season a cast iron pan

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10 thoughts on “Cast iron: getting your tofu crispy

  1. Great advice on buying a pan – I read the same in isa does it and thought hmmm maybe I should get one but I love my scanpans – and where do I store an extra esp as they are so heavy – but it does look like it is working for you

    • Yeah, I didn’t have a scanpan to compare it to, but everyone I know who has one, swears by them. I had a crappy KMart non-stick pan, so it certainly beat that. And I know what you mean about storage! My cast iron is too heavy to store in my big saucepan drawer, so it all ends up either sitting on the stove, or on the tiled bench next to the stove.

  2. Linda did you know that you shouldn’t wash your pan with detergent because it strips the surface that you have nicely seasoned? I usually just soak it for a while in warm water to loosen any crusty bits and then wash it with a dish cloth in hot water.

    I love your tip about the hot handle. I’ve never thought of doing that.

    • I did know that…but only thanks to YouTube (what did I ever do without it?). Of course, a couple of times, I automatically scrubbed it with detergent and had to oil it up all over again. I’ve just been rinsing it in hot water and scrubbing it with a plastic-bristle dish brush, then oiling, yadayada, and it seems to be doing well.

      How much do you want to bet there is someone selling pot handle covers on Etsy? 😉

  3. great info, thanks! I read that too and thought about buying an old pan. When I want really crisp tofu I end up tossing cubes in cornflour then frying in a little oil. If I can get my hands on a pan like yours I think I’d like the results!

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