About cooking tempeh

Caramelized-tempeh - Tempeh or tempe is a traditional food in Indonesia

Tempeh or tempe is a traditional food in Indonesia, made by fermenting whole soybeans. Since it is the whole soybean tempeh has a higher proportion of protein, dietary fiber, and vitamins than the more familiar tofu.

Years ago a friend made some fresh tempeh and it was absolutely amazing! Unfortunately, most of the tempeh we can purchase here is mass-produced, not freshly made, and has a bitter twang that comes in at the end. No idea why that is, but mass-produced foods never, ever taste as good as freshly made. But who has the time to make their own!

We’ve worked out a process to make tempeh tasty and delicious, removing the funky, twangy aftertaste.

Pan-frying, deep-frying, or cooking in an air-fryer and then simmering the tempeh in a flavorful sauce for about 45 minutes or so really helps improve the flavor and gets rid of the “tempeh twang”.

We tried simmering tempeh in a simple sauce without first frying it in a bit of oil, but we’ve found the frying step to be essential to make the tempeh yummy.

Three methods to fry the tempeh

Are you gluten-free? If so make sure to check the ingredients since not all tempeh is gluten-free.

Note: Pan-frying tends to use much more oil than deep frying or using an air-fryer. But so many people are either nervous about deep-frying or don’t have the tools to deep fry that they would prefer another method so here are three options for you.

Deep-fry the tempeh

You will need

  • 1 or 2 packages of tempeh
  • 2 quarts organic high-heat sunflower oil
  • Pot for deep frying – 12 qt to 14 qt is good*
  • Oil/candy thermometer
  • Tongs
  • Wire rack sitting on a sheet pan
  • Paper towels


  • Cut the tempeh into the shape and size you want for the dish you’re making.
  • Heat 2 quarts of organic sunflower oil in a deep-fry pot to 350º**
  • Use an oil/candy thermometer to make sure the oil is at the correct temperature. The thermometer should have a clip on the back so you can hang it on the side of the pot.
  • After the tempeh has drained on the rack put the pieces, single layer, on a few layers of paper towels to absorb more of the oil
  • Put 6 to 12 pieces of the tempeh in the fry oil***
  • Deep fry the tempeh, turning once or twice using tongs, till golden brown on all sides
  • Remove from the oil with a spider strainer or tongs
  • Drain on a wire rack placed over a sheet pan

* Consider having a separate pot for deep frying since, if used regularly, the pot will get a bit of a patina on it. Or, if you have space you can get an electric deep fryer which is nice since it maintains the temperature.

**This oil can be reused a few times. Once you’re done frying then allow the oil to cool, place a funnel in the spout of the empty oil jar and pour the oil back in. Store in the fridge and use for pan-frying, sautéing or you can use it at least two more times to deep fry. You’ll be surprised how little oil you used.

***If you’re experienced then you can probably do more than 6 pieces of tempeh at once.

Pan-fry the tempeh

You will need

  • 1 or 2 packages of tempeh
  • 1 cup organic sunflower or olive oil
  • 8” skillet (not a sauté pan)
  • Wire rack sitting on a sheet pan
  • Tongs
  • Paper towels


  • Cut the tempeh into the shape and size you want for the dish you’re making.
  • Heat the oil in your pan. You’ll know it’s ready when you drop a crumb of tempeh in and it sizzles.
  • Place as many pieces of tempeh in your pot as it will hold in a single layer.
  • Pan-fry the tempeh until it’s golden brown on one side then turn, repeating until all four sides are browned.
  • Remove from the oil and place on a wire cooling rack that’s sitting on a sheet pan.
  • After the tempeh has drained on the rack put the pieces, single layer, on a few layers of paper towels to absorb more of the oil.
  • Any leftover oil can be strained and saved in the fridge for use another time.

Using an air fryer

This is such a lovely invention!

You will need

  • 1 or 2 packages of tempeh
  • Organic olive oil or sunflower oil – enough for brushing on the tempeh


  • Set the air fryer to 400º
  • Brush oil on the tempeh
  • Place the tempeh in the air fryer in a single layer, the pieces not touching is best.
  • Set the timer for 8 minutes and there you go.
  • That should do it.

Tempeh simmer sauces

For years we used high-quality soy sauce to make a simmer sauce for tempeh, but we’ve come to love coconut aminos as the base of the sauce since it has a lovely sweet-savory balance and you don’t need any additional seasonings such as vinegar and a sweetener, as you do with shoyu (soy sauce).

Here are some simple simmer sauces you can make for the tempeh.

Coconut Amino Sauce

  • 1 cup organic coconut aminos – we use Coconut Secret brand
  • 2 cups of water

Yup – that’s it. Very simple.

Use this mixture if you’ll be adding other seasonings to the dish such as in the Fajita Tempeh, Tempeh with Mushroom Sauce. If you’re not using the tempeh for one of these dishes then including one of a few of the additions listed below will make it more flavorful

Organic Shoyu/Tamari Sauce (soy sauce)

Unlike coconut aminos, tamari or shoyu (both of which different names for soy sauce), need a bit of doctoring up to create a well-rounded, flavorful simmer sauce.

  • ½ cup shoyu/tamari
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup honey, agave, maple syrup, coconut nectar, monkfruit, or other sweetener you may like to use.

These have different levels of sweetness so feel free to adjust the amount to your taste.

1 to 2 cups water, adjust the amount of water to your taste. All soy sauces have a different flavor profile so you might need less water for one brand and more for another.

You can liven up either of these sauces with the addition of any or all:

  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger