Cooking With Confidence
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Economical, Main Dishes, Spicy, Vegetarian

Black Pepper Tofu

by Nick

Last week I got an awesome compliment comment on an old post.

They said, “Funny how I get some of my favorite vegan recipes from a non-vegan… I can always count on you for full flavor!”

It’s true that I’m not a vegan but I do end up making a lot of accidentally vegan things. I keep meaning to make a vegan category for the site. It’s on my lifetime to-do list. I promise.

This recipe might be one of the most flavorful and interesting vegan dishes I’ve ever made or had. The key is to make sure the tofu is fried perfectly so it’s nice and crispy and add in about three times as much black pepper as you would think to add.

Trust me, it works. Whether or not you’re a vegan, it’ll probably be the most flavorful dish you eat all week.

Yield
Serves 2 (plus some leftovers)
Prep Time
Total Time

Just a moment please...

Print Recipe Black Pepper Tofu

Ingredients

  • 1 pound extra firm tofu, pressed and cubed
  • 2 cups peanut or vegetable oil, for frying
  • Cornstarch, for dusting
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter or oil (use oil for truly vegan version of dish)
  • 2 red chiles, I like red jalapenos
  • 1/2 cup shallots, about 3 large shallots
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 inches fresh ginger, diced
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns, roughly ground
  • 6 scallions, chopped
  • Rice for serving

Helpful Equipment

Directions

1) Slice tofu block into three or four large slices and press them between a few paper towels with some weight on top for about five minutes to press out some of the water.

2) Cube tofu and toss with cornstarch until the cubes are lightly coated. A few tablespoons of cornstarch will be enough.

3) Heat oil in a large wok or frying pan and fry tofu in two batches at 350 degrees until the tofu is nicely crisp, about 6-8 minutes per batch.

4) Remove tofu and let drain on a paper towel. Pour out oil. Don't worry about cleaning wok or pan.

5) Add butter to wok and once melted, add shallots, chiles, garlic, and ginger. Cook over medium-high heat until veggies start to get soft, about 3-4 minutes.

6) In a separate bowl, whisk together soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil. Grind peppercorns roughly.

7) Pour soy sauce mixture into wok and let reduce for a minute or two. Add black pepper and tofu and toss to combine and heat tofu.

8) Serve immediately with rice and chopped scallions.

Recipe adapted from Epicurious.

The Tofu

The thing I always remind people about tofu is that it’s basically a big sponge. If you take it out of its water bath, slice it, and cook it, you are going to be disappointed unless you are using it in a soup.

If you want to fry it though, you need to get out as much of the liquid from the block of tofu as possible.

To do this, slice the tofu into thirds or quarters and then press them between layers of paper towels with some weight on top.

After a few minutes, a lot of water will be pressed out of them and the tofu will be much easier to work with.

pressed

Lots of moistures.

To make absolutely sure that the tofu gets nice and crispy, cube it up into about half inch cubes and then toss the cubes with some corn starch.

There’s not exact amount of corn starch, but you should use enough so the cubes are mostly dry and coated very lightly in starch. When they fry, the starch will turn super-crispy almost like a batter.

I probably used between 3-4 tablespoons of corn starch for my version below.

starch

Don’t over do it.

Add a few cups of oil (peanut or vegetable) to your wok or any large skillet really and heat it until it’s at 350 degrees.

I highly recommend using a thermometer to make sure your oil is the right temperature.

Then add your tofu and fry it until it’s lightly brown and crispy. You’ll probably need to fry it in two batches so the pan doesn’t get too crowded and each batch will probably take 5-6 minutes.

When they are done you can drain them on a paper towel until needed later in the recipe.

fried

Delicious!

Flavor City

As the title implies, a lot of the flavor in this recipe comes from a rather large amount of black pepper, but there are some other things going on also.

veggies

No lack of flavor here!

These aromatics make a perfect base for the stir-fry.

For the shallots, just peel them and slice them thinly. Peel and cube up the ginger and mince the garlic. For the chiles, you can just dice them and leave in the seeds and everything.

I recommend using a mild pepper for this. You don’t want them to be super-hot as there are a lot of other flavors going on.

chopped

Some chopping work…

For the title ingredient, black pepper, make sure to get real black peppercorns and grind them yourself.

Please don’t use ground pepper. It really does make a big difference in this recipe.

You want the peppercorns to be fresh and have a very rough grind. I recommend using a mortar and pestle for it or if you don’t have a mortar and pestle, just pour the peppercorns on a cutting board and smash them with the back of a heavy pan.

That will roughly crush the peppercorns and release their flavor.

pepepr

Pepper town.

Finishing the Dish

After you fry your tofu, pour out the oil and don’t worry about washing the pan or anything.

Add the butter to the pan over medium high heat and once it’s melted and bubbling, add the shallots, ginger, garlic, and chile peppers.

Cook this for about 3 minutes until the veggies start to soften.

Then pour in your simple sauce (soy sauce whisked with sesame oil and sugar).

sauced

Pretty light sauce!

Once the sauce reduces for a few seconds, add the tofu back in and toss to combine.

Then toss in all your black pepper and stir to make sure everything is heated through.

It looks really simple, but the flavors are insane.

dish

done deal.

Serve the tofu with roughly chopped scallion greens and lots of rice.

As with any stir-fry you can serve it with some soy sauce on the side so people can add their own if they want more.

done

Pretty serving dishes, dude.

I’ve made and eaten a lot of tofu over the years and I can’t think of a tofu dish that I liked more than this one.

Give this a shot if you are a vegetarian, vegan, or just someone who likes delicious things.

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24 comments on “Black Pepper Tofu

  1. Well, this recipe WAS vegan up until the “unsalted butter” ingredient!! To be truly vegan, replace the butter with vegan margarine (for example, Earth Balance). Remember that “Vegan” means “no animal products”, and butter definitely is an animal product!

    Looking forward to giving this a try!

  2. Great recipe! When I’ve cooked tofu, I’ve had to have it pressed by something heavy overnight to get the moisture out, then I usually dry fry first, and then cook or marinade accordingly. Your recipe cuts all this time in half, which I LOVE. Is this how you usually handle tofu? Your results are superb, and it excites me to think I don’t have to do all the other prep! :) Keep up the great work!

    1. Umm yea… that’s a lot of work! Just press it for a few minutes to get out most of the moisture and then toss it with cornstarch. Easy breezy.

  3. Nick, you have a new fan: Me! This looks so good and simple enough to do and I have got all of the stuff in my pantry. Tell you what, though, if you replace the tofu with some seafood, you’ll get yourself a Singaporean dish. :)

  4. I made this lastnight after reading your post!! I normally am not a fan of tofu but my girlfriend is so i decided to give it a try and it was AWSOME!! It was the crispness of the tofu that i loved. soggy tofu isnt my cup of tea and thats why i am put off by it most times. I will definitely be making this again!! thanks nick!

  5. Hi Nick, I think this recipe is very similar to Yotam Ottolenghi´s Black pepper tofu. Its from his book “Plenty”. I think you would really enjoy his recipes, just like you he loves to use an abundance of fresh herbs and spices. Plenty is a vegetarien cookbook, but he also has another cookbook “the ottolenghi cookbook” and another one is coming soon. I am a big fan, and think you should check his recipes out! He even accomplishes to make broccoli taste fantastic!

  6. Last night I made this recipe with one mistake: I accidentally used cornmeal instead of cornstarch. It turned out great!

  7. This was great!! I made it the first time with tofu as the recipe indicates, and I loved all the flavors. My only issue was that I didn’t have any fully ripe red jalapenos and just used two green with all the seeds included. No surprise, it was pretty spicy!! I still loved it, but it was borderline too spicy to eat. I made the same thing again last night with chicken instead of the tofu (husband still hasn’t warmed over to the tofu side), and it was again great. This time I find small round mild red peppers (don’t know what kind) and they were the perfect level of spicy. We loved it.

  8. Totally awesome to see myself quoted by one of my favorite internet celebrities! :) Can’t wait to try this–I’ve got it on the menu for next week!

  9. I have to second your reader – I have you bookmarked too, and I’m a vegetarian who leans vegan. I love your recipes, and sometimes adapt your meaty ones to veg; she’s right, you do bring the flavor!

  10. Just made this. Tofu always disintegrates whenever I cook it, but this stayed together! This is by far the best textured result I’ve ever had making tofu. But, the best has made me realize that I’m just not a tofu person. If something this tasty can’t convert me, it might be time to turn to other substitutes (Nick and other readers, have you seen this: http://beyondmeat.com/ — it should make one of your Guess the Foods!)

    1. Yea.. .I’ve been trying to get them to send me some of it but they don’t have enough production yet… I’ll review it as soon as I can though… I think it’s pretty fascinating.

  11. Just made this for dinner today; man, it was a stunner! It was so delicious. I ended up overseasoning it a bit (the fried tofu kept magically disappearing off the counter into various stomachs) but it was still awesome. Thanks for the recipe!

  12. I had a spicy peppery tofu dish in my favourite Thai place and was hunting for the recipe – when you posted this! I’ve made it several times since, and everyone at home just can’t get enough of it. Thank you for an awesome recipe. May I post my version on my blog? I will link it back to yours…
    R

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