The Key To Perfecting Pan-Fried Tempeh Steaks

Tofu has gotten the lion's share of the culinary spotlight for vegan and vegetarian dishes, but tempeh deserves a chance to shine. Like tofu, tempeh is a protein-packed soybean derivative, but it uses whole soybeans and a unique method of fermentation to achieve its unique flavor, texture, and nutritional content.

While you might be tempted to crumble it into chilis or drown it in a coconut curry, pan-frying tempeh is an easy and effective way to make it the star of the show. Its firm, dense, and chewy texture is reminiscent of meat, so pan-fried tempeh steaks are the perfect substitute for high-end cuts. But, before proceeding, you should know one thing: When pan-frying tempeh steaks, you must limit the thickness of each cut to one-quarter of an inch.

Thinner cuts of tempeh will get wonderfully crispy on the outside, while the hot oil will evenly steam the inside for a tender and moist steak. As a general rule of thumb, the amount of oil you use should reach half the thickness of whatever you're frying. So, for tempeh, you can use one-eighth of an inch of cooking oil over medium-high heat.

Tempeh needs to fry for four to five minutes on each side so both sides get crispy and the steaks are tender on the inside. A simple salt and pepper seasoning will help bring out its nutty flavor but tempeh's versatility opens up a world of flavoring possibilities.

Pan-frying tips for tempeh steaks

While a popular way to pan-fry tempeh is in a wok as part of a stir fry, you'll achieve the best results by using a high-quality, wide, non-stick pan with raised edges. A large surface area prevents crowding, ensuring your steaks have that delicious texture contrast. Old or low-quality pans may have hotspots that will lead to uneven cooking and burning.

You can flavor pan-fried tempeh steaks with dry rubs, marinades, or seasoned breading. Popular dry rubs include jerk seasonings, Mexican taco mix, Cajun rubs, and barbecue rubs, which you can roll them in after brushing with oil. Pan-frying highly seasoned steaks will create a flavorful crust, while the oil will help the seasonings permeate the steak.

Marinades are also easy and delicious ways to flavor tempeh, and they don't need to be complex. A simple blend of tamari, rice vinegar, and oil would amp up tempeh's flavor; the longer you leave tempeh to marinade, the more flavorful the steak.

Another great way to enhance pan-fried tempeh steaks' flavor and texture is by dredging it through seasoned breading like panko crumbs or cornmeal. The oil will bring out the flavor in the breading while also creating a deliciously crispy crust. Create a tempeh milanesa to serve with chimichurri for a vegetarian twist on the Argentine classic.