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Salt and Pepper Tofu - easy vegan side dish
5 from 2 votes
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Servings: 3
Author: Lisa Lin

Salt and Pepper Tofu (椒鹽豆腐)

Salt and pepper tofu is a great vegan and gluten-free side dish. For this recipe, you’ll shallow fry tofu cubes and season them with salt, white pepper, and shiitake mushroom powder. If you prefer to pan fry the tofu, I have outlined pan-frying directions in the notes.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time25 mins
Total Time45 mins

Ingredients

  • 1 pound super-firm tofu, see note 1
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch, see note 2
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper, add more to taste
  • 3/4 teaspoon shiitake mushroom powder, see note 3
  • 1/2 cup canola oil, any neutral oil works too
  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 or 2 red chili peppers, such as Fresno peppers, sliced (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons sliced scallions

Equipment

  • large bowl
  • 2 small bowls
  • tongs
  • spider spatula
  • cooling rack
  • large baking sheet

Instructions

  • Drain the tofu from the package and wrap it with a cloth or paper towels. Give the tofu a gentle squeeze so that the cloth or paper towels absorb the extra moisture. Let the tofu sit on the counter for 10 to 15 minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.
  • Cut up the tofu into small, roughly 3/4-inch cubes. They don’t need to be perfectly uniform. Then, transfer the tofu cubes to a large bowl.  
  • In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Sprinkle half of the cornstarch mixture over the tofu and toss to coat. When you no longer see any dry cornstarch, sprinkle the remaining cornstarch mixture and toss again.
  • In another bowl, mix the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper, and 3/4 teaspoon shiitake mushroom powder. Set it aside.
  • Pour the canola oil into a wok over medium-high heat. Once the temperature of the oil reaches 375ºF, the oil is hot enough for frying (it should take about 2 minutes). If you don’t have a thermometer, you can also test the temperature of the oil by pinching a tiny piece of tofu and carefully adding it to the wok. If the tofu sizzles rapidly, the oil is hot enough. 
  • Fry the tofu in 3 or 4 batches. Carefully transfer 1/4 or 1/3 of the tofu into the wok. Don’t overcrowd the wok with tofu or else the tofu won’t fry properly. Fry the tofu for about 2 minutes, until the bottoms of the tofu start to brown. Using tongs, carefully flip the tofu over. Fry for another 2 minutes or so, until the tofu looks golden. Use a spider spatula to scoop up the fried tofu. Give the spatula a few shakes to shake out any excess oil. Transfer the fried tofu to the cooling rack. (See note 4 on how to keep tofu warm.)
  • Add another batch of tofu into the wok to fry. The tofu may brown more quickly than the first batch because oil is likely hotter now. You can reduce the heat to medium if you find the tofu is browning too quickly. Transfer the fried tofu to the cooling rack and repeat.
  • Once all the tofu cubes are fried, turn off the heat. Pour the hot oil into a heat-safe bowl, leaving about 2 teaspoons of oil in the wok. (See note 5 for information on what to do with the fried oil.)
  • Turn the heat to medium. Then, transfer the minced garlic to the wok and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until most of the garlic is lightly golden. Turn off the heat and transfer the garlic to a bowl.
  • Heat the wok on medium. Pour 1 tablespoon of the oil that you used for frying tofu into the wok. Next, add the sliced red chili peppers, if using. Sauté the peppers for 1 to 2 minutes, until they start to soften. Then, add the scallions and sauté everything for another 10 to 15 seconds to soften the scallions. Transfer the peppers and scallions to the bowl with the garlic.
  • Add the fried tofu back to the wok. Sprinkle the salt and pepper seasoning over the tofu, and toss to coat the tofu with the spices. Taste a piece of tofu and add more salt, white pepper, or mushroom powder if necessary. Pour the garlic, peppers, and scallions over the tofu, saving some fried garlic to sprinkle over the tofu as garnish. Toss everything together.
  • Turn off the heat and transfer the tofu to a serving bowl. Sprinkle the remaining fried garlic over the tofu pieces. Serve the salt and pepper tofu immediately. This dish goes well with my jasmine rice, egg fried rice, kimchi fried rice, Chinese garlic green beans and/or Chinese garlic cucumber salad

Notes

  1. I prefer to use dense tofu for this dish because the tofu isn’t porous. I don’t need to worry about water releasing from the tofu and into the hot oil during the frying process. Confusingly, some brands like House Foods call this “super-firm” tofu while others like Hodo call it “firm tofu”, which usually comes in shrink-wrapped packages. Read the blog post for more information about this. Look for tofu with statements like “no pressing required” on the label. That’s usually a cue that the tofu is dense. 
  2. I do not recommend substituting the cornstarch with potato or tapioca starch. I found that those starches turn slightly gelatinous in the hot oil and don’t actually crisp up the tofu as well as cornstarch. 
  3. Make the shiitake mushroom powder by breaking up 2 dried shiitake mushrooms into small pieces with a kitchen mallet or meat tenderizer. Then, transfer the shiitake mushroom pieces to a spice grinder. I usually use an electric coffee grinder (affiliate link) that I dedicate to grinding spices. There will be some tiny pieces of mushroom that somehow manage to avoid the blades. You can pass the mushroom powder through a strainer or sifter to extract those mushroom pieces. You won’t use all the mushroom powder in the recipe, so save the rest in a jar for later. 
  4. I don’t like transferring the fried tofu directly onto plates because the heat of the tofu will steam the bottom side, turning the tofu soggy. Because you are cooking the tofu in 3 or 4 batches, the first batch of tofu may turn cool by the time you cook the last batch. You can heat up your oven to 185ºF. Place the cooling rack on top of a large baking sheet and transfer the baking sheet to the oven. After you fry a batch of tofu, transfer it to the cooling rack in the oven. You can remove the tofu from the oven when you are ready to toss it with the dry seasoning. 
  5. You can use the oil to stir fry other dishes the same day. Once cooled, you can transfer the oil to a jar and refrigerate it. Try to use the oil in the next few days and make sure to strain the oil to remove any solids before transferring the oil to a jar.  
  6. Pan-Frying Directions: You can pan fry the tofu instead of deep frying it. Cut the tofu into large rectangles or triangles. You do not need to cover the tofu with cornstarch. Pan fry the 2 large sides of the tofu pieces over medium-heat until golden brown. Then, season the tofu the same way as the shallow-fried tofu. Read the blog post for more details.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 350kcal | Carbohydrates: 13.7g | Protein: 15.9g | Fat: 26.1g | Saturated Fat: 2.4g | Sodium: 526mg | Fiber: 2.5g | Sugar: 1g
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