With a perfectly light and crisp panko breading, this plant-based tofu katsu recipe is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. I think even picky kids or tofu skeptics can enjoy this one. It’s a versatile protein option that pairs beautifully with rice, Japanese curry, ramen, and more. It’s also ridiculously easy to make, requiring just a few simple ingredients.
Katsu is a dish that holds a lot of memories for me. There wasn’t much diverse cuisine in the town where I grew up, but every summer we’d road trip to San Diego to visit my grandparents. Whenever we made that drive, I looked forward to stopping for a chicken katsu lunch plate at my family’s favorite Hawaiian barbecue joint. Since going vegan, I whip up a batch of crispy tofu katsu any time I’m feeling nostalgic for that time.
This Crispy Tofu Katsu is…
- Vegan-friendly. Instead of the traditional pork, chicken, or beef, this recipe utilizes tofu. The egg is also omitted from the breading.
- Simple. You only need to use a select handful of ingredients to make a fantastic centerpiece for your meal.
- Easy to make. Frying oftentimes intimidates home cooks, but don’t worry! It’s actually quite easy, and I’ll share all my best tips and tricks to make it go as seamlessly as possible.
Ingredients for Vegan Tofu Katsu
- Tofu. Firm or extra-firm tofu works best in this recipe. For an extra-meaty texture, trying freezing and defrosting the tofu in the container ahead of time.
- Flour. Just a little, to dredge our tofu.
- Panko breadcrumbs. These Japanese breadcrumbs are known for their light, airy texture. They get extra golden brown and crispy when fried, making them a perfect choice for our tofu katsu curry.
- Cornstarch. Instead of egg, we’re using a combination of cornstarch, flour and water to adhere the breadcrumbs to the tofu. The cornstarch keeps the breading extra light and crispy.
- Oil. Use one with a high smoke point, such as vegetable oil, canola oil, or peanut oil (if you’re feeling fancy).
How to Make This Tofu Katsu Recipe
- Freeze & defrost the tofu. (Recommended but not required.) A day or two ahead of time, place the block of tofu (container and all) into the freezer. Allow it to freeze completely, then transfer it to the fridge to defrost overnight. You can also let it defrost on the counter if you need it faster.
- Cut your tofu. Cut open the defrosted tofu and drain the excess water. Use your hands to gently press out the excess liquid. Slice your tofu up into 6-8 “steaks,” roughly 1/2″ thick. (If you didn’t freeze and defrost the tofu ahead of time, you will want to use your favorite method to press your tofu now, then cut it into steaks.)
- Season the tofu. Season the tofu steaks with salt and pepper.
- Set up the breading station. Create a 3-part breading station using 3 wide, shallow dishes.
- Dish 1 – Whisk together flour and a pinch of salt.
- Dish 2 – Whisk together flour, cornstarch, and water.
- Dish 3 – Add panko breadcrumbs.
- Bread the tofu. Dredge each tofu cutlet with flour, shaking excess off. Then dip in the cornstarch mixture, followed by the panko mixture. Set breaded tofu aside on a baking tray or plate.
- Fry it. Tofu katsu can be deep-fried or shallow-fried. To shallow-fry, add about 1/2″ of oil to a skillet. (Make sure the pan is deep enough to keep any oil spattering contained). Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it reaches 360-375°F (a frying thermometer is a useful tool here). Gently drop in your tofu cutlets, making sure not to over-crowd the pan. Cook for a few minutes (until golden brown) and then flip and repeat. Transfer your freshly fried cutlets to a wire rack to allow excess oil to drip off.
Sarah’s Recipe Notes
- Make it meatier. If you’ve never tried freezing and defrosting your tofu before cooking it, definitely give it a try for this Tofu Katsu! The process transforms the texture of the tofu, making it a bit more spongey and similar to chicken. This takes a little extra planning, but it’s worth it!
- Fry with a thermometer. Are you new to frying? Using a thermometer can be quite helpful to ensure your oil is at the right temperature (between 360-375°F). If your oil is too hot, your breading might get a little too dark too fast. If it’s too cool, it’ll cook too slowly, causing the breading to retain a lot of extra oil. Cooked at the right temperature, the tofu katsu should be crispy and non-greasy.
- Use a wire rack. When frying, I used to transfer my food to a paper towel-lined plate. Eventually I learned that this isn’t ideal, because it traps excess grease and steam close to the food, so it’s more greasy and less crispy. If you have a wire cooling rack handy, place it over a baking tray and use that instead. The rack allows the extra oil to drip off, and also allows the steam from the just-fried tofu katsu to dissipate without making the breading soggy.
- Frying safety tip! Frying things can be a little intimidating. One important tip is to place the tofu cutlets into the oil falling *away* from you, so the oil doesn’t splash toward you.
Once you’ve made your delicious tofu katsu, you’re going to have to figure out what to serve it with! Here are some of our suggestions:
- Over rice with tonkatsu sauce. This is one classic way to enjoy katsu. Just whip up a batch of fresh rice, lay your tofu cutlets on top, and drizzle on some tonkatsu sauce. Top with some sliced scallions. We also love the Japanese barbecue sauce by Bachan’s!
- With Japanese curry. This is one of our favorite ways to eat tofu katsu during the colder months when we’re craving heartier dinners. Japanese curry is a thick, savory stew filled with delicious veggies. It goes perfectly with these crispy tofu katsu cutlets.
- With Hawaiian macaroni salad. This combo is a summertime favorite of mine. Growing up, I used to love ordering chicken katsu from Hawaiian barbecue joints like L&L or Ono. Their lunch plates used to come with a heaping scoop of Hawaiian macaroni salad. When I feel like basking in my nostalgia, I whip up a batch of that salad to enjoy with my tofu katsu.
Substitutions & Variations
Can the tofu katsu be made gluten-free?
Yes, absolutely! Substitute your favorite gluten-free flour for the dredge. Then you’ll simply need to find a gluten-free panko breadcrumb alternative. Check your local Asian market or your regular grocery store in the international section — look for Kikkoman Gluten Free Panko or Dynasty Gluten Free Rice Panko.
I’ve also heard from a few people that they simply crush up toasted rice cereal to use as a gluten-free panko substitute, though I haven’t personally tried this! Let me know if you do!
Can you bake tofu katsu instead of frying?
Yes, although I think the texture is crispier and less dry when fried. If you want to bake it, here are a few tips:
- Panko doesn’t brown as nicely when baked, so I actually like to toast the panko before breading my tofu with it. Add the panko along with 1 tablespoon of oil into a skillet. Toast it over medium-heat, stirring constantly, until an even golden brown color is achieved. Allow the panko to cool before using it to bread the tofu.
- Spraying or lightly brushing the breaded tofu with oil will also help to it to brown nicely and crisp up in the oven. If you’re going for a completely oil-free tofu katsu, you can skip this, but the breading will be quite pale when it comes out of the oven.
- Bake the breaded tofu in a 400°F oven for 20-25 minutes.
How to make gluten-free Japanese curry
Unfortunately most store-bought Japanese curry will not be gluten-free, because curry roux contains flour for thickening. You can, however, make your own curry roux. It may sound daunting, but it actually requires only a few simple ingredients. Plus, you can make a large batch that will keep in your freezer for months at a time.
Check out this tutorial for How to Make Japanese Curry Roux from the Just One Cookbook blog. Simply substitute in vegan butter and gluten-free flour.
Storage & Reheating
- Refrigerator: Leftover tofu katsu can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
- Freezer: Stored in an airtight container, leftover tofu katsu can be frozen for up to 1 month. Defrost in the fridge overnight, or for a few hours on the counter. The texture of the tofu will change slightly (unless you already used the freeze & defrost trick).
- Reheating: Leftover tofu katsu will need to be crisped back up. The best way to do this is in the oven or in an air fryer. 10 minutes at 350°F usually does the trick. If you microwave it, the breading will definitely turn out soggy.
More Tofu Recipes
Crispy Tofu Katsu
- 2-4 cups vegetable oil see notes
- 1 (14 oz) block firm or extra-firm tofu
- salt and pepper
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour to dredge the tofu
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour for the batter
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs (start with 1/2 cup and add more as needed)
- Optional but recommended: A day or two of time, freeze the tofu in the package. Allow it to defrost completely (in the fridge overnight, or on the counter).
- Drain the tofu and use your favorite method to press out the excess liquid. (If you used the freeze + defrost trick, you can simply press out the extra liquid gently by hand.)
- Cut the tofu into roughly 1/2 inch slices. Any shape will work, but I like to cut along the long edge to get about 6-8 "cutlets."
- Season each tofu cutlet with salt and pepper.
Bread the Tofu
- Then set up a 3-part breading station.Dish 1: Add 1/3 cup all-purpose flour.Dish 2: Whisk together 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, 2 tablespoon cornstarch, and 1/3 cup water to form a very thin batter.Dish 3: Add panko breadcrumbs. You might not need the full cup. Start with 1/2 cup and add more as needed.
- Dredge each tofu cutlet in flour. Shake off excess. Then dip in the flour and cornstarch slurry. Allow excess to drip off. Lastly, coat with the panko crumbs.
Fry the Tofu
- Place a wire cooling rack over a baking tray so that the excess oil can drip off of your tofu katsu once it's done frying. (If you don't have one, you can line a plate with paper towels instead.)
- Heat about 1/2 – 1" of vegetable oil to about 375°F in a heavy-bottomed skillet or pot. (Use a Dutch oven or a skillet with higher sides if you want to avoid the splatter.) It is helpful to use a thermometer to ensure the tofu katsu cooks properly and doesn't turn out greasy.
- Place the breaded tofu cutlets in the preheated oil and fry 3-5 minutes per side, until deep golden brown. Avoid over-crowding the pot, as this can lower the temperature of the oil and make it take much longer to cook, resulting in greasy katsu.
- When golden brown, remove the tofu katsu to your prepared wire rack (or paper towel lined plate). Sprinkle with salt to finish.
Storage and Reheating
- Refrigerator: Leftover tofu katsu can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Freezer: It can be frozen in an airtight container for a month.
- Reheating: Tofu Katsu will need to be re-crisped in the oven, air fryer, or toaster oven. Generally 8-10 minutes at 350°F works well, but keep an eye on it to avoid it getting too dark. If you microwave it, it will be soggy.