If you are looking for a healthy snack or sumptuous meal, you can never go wrong with crispy salt and pepper tofu. Whether you decide to deep fry, pan fry, or air fry the tofu, every bite is satisfyingly crunchy with its delightful seasonings.
What Is Salt And Pepper Tofu?
Salt and pepper tofu is a popular Asian dish made with tofu dipped in a wet and dry batter and stir-fried with chili peppers and onions. It’s a healthy dish mainly because tofu has anti-inflammatory properties and a high protein and iron content. It helps lower cholesterol levels, strengthens bones, prevents anemia, and reduces the risk of cancer, to name a few.
The tofu is dipped in a wet batter mixture of beaten eggs then coated with cornstarch and salt and pepper seasoning. However, you can always change the egg batter to a flour and water mixture for a vegan-friendly and eggless version. You can deep fry or pan fry the tofu or use an air fryer if you prefer little to no oil.
For the ultimate finisher and the highlight of this dish, the tofu is sprinkled with Chinese salt and pepper seasoning made with 6 spices. It’s not your regular salt and pepper since it is a combination of Sichuan peppercorn, fennel seed, shrimp skin, white sesame, salt, Chinese Five Spice Powder, and paprika. This seasoning is key to this recipe, so make your homemade seasoning when you can or buy it at your local supermarket.
What Type Of Tofu To Use
There are different types of tofu, including silken, firm, extra firm, baked, and fermented. Silken tofu is the softest type, so it is not recommended for this recipe since it will easily break when you try to slice or fry it. I recommend firm, medium firm, or extra firm tofu to make it easier to slice, coat, and fry without crumbling.
It is worth mentioning that “momen” tofu, aang dou fu, and regular tofu are also referred to as firm or extra firm tofu. Some stores may sell this as momen, which means cotton. In addition, if you see tofu labeled as kinu, nèndòufu, or yeon-dubu, this is the silken type and not the firm tofu.
How To Drain Tofu
The trick to getting the best texture in tofu is draining as much water as possible. If you fry tofu when it is not thoroughly drained, it will take longer to cook and might not crisp. Moreover, even when the coating becomes crispy, the center will still be too soft.
For me, I like my tofu with a bit of a firm texture and not too soft. Tofu can be drained in many different ways using only paper or kitchen towels.
Here are the steps on how to drain tofu:
- Wrap the tofu with paper or kitchen towels and allow it to absorb the water from the tofu. You can add some more towels at the bottom of the tofu for more absorption.
- To make it drain faster, put some extra weight on top using a flat pan or container filled with water. Make sure it is placed at the center and is stable, or the container will tip over. Moreover, do not make it too heavy as this can cause the tofu to break. Keep in mind the draining process can only be done slowly, so adding a lot of pressure will not really be effective.
- You can also place the tofu on top of a strainer or baking cooling rack for continuous water drainage. In this way, you do not need to add more towels for absorption since the water will drain at the bottom of the rack.
- After draining enough water, lightly press the tofu with both hands to drain the remaining water. Do not press too hard, or the tofu will break.
- To make draining tofu easier, you can also use a tofu press. This device will help you squeeze out water without manually doing steps 1 to 4.
Tips And Recommendations For Salt And Pepper Tofu
This dish can be tweaked in a number of ways to suit your tastes. Listed below are some of my foolproof preparation suggestions and alternatives that can give you excellent results.
Be sure to read these guidelines before proceeding to the recipe instructions.
- Tofu Cut: You can cut the tofu in any shape and size you like. In my recipe, I cut the tofu into thin rectangular slices, a similar shape to my Salt And Pepper Fish. If you like it even crispier, cut the tofu into small cubes instead. However, small cubes can make the cooking time longer since you have to dip them one by one in the wet and dry batter.
- Firmer Texture: I have always enjoyed tofu with a firmer texture. A trick I’ve learned in creating a better texture is draining and freezing the tofu. Not only is the texture firmer, but it also holds its shape better for frying. It adds an extra step and requires advanced planning in preparing the tofu, but believe me, it’s worth it if you prefer a firmer texture. Try this step by draining the tofu as you normally would, then keeping it in the freezer in a freezer bag. When you are ready to cook the tofu, thaw and squeeze out excess water before cooking. A frozen and thawed tofu (firm or extra firm) will have a different texture than when cooked immediately without freezing.
- Cooking Method: This dish can be deep-fried, pan-fried, air fried, or baked. All methods give you a crispy texture and will only vary in terms of cooking time and technique. If you want the tofu to be evenly crispy and golden brown on all sides, I suggest deep frying than pan frying. Pan frying works fine, but you will have to turn the tofu on each side to make sure all sides are cooked. Using an air fryer is also a great way to get crispy tofu with less cooking time. You can spray some oil in the air fryer basket and spray both sides of the tofu for a crispier result. Baking in an oven works well, however, it will take longer to cook than an air fryer.
- Wet Batter: The wet batter used is beaten eggs. The eggs only serve as a binder to help the batter stick better and for added flavor. If you prefer an eggless recipe, you can substitute it with flour and water slurry. Prepare 1 cup flour with 1 cup water (1:1 ratio) and mix well. You can add some black salt for that “eggy” taste like a boiled egg yolk. Black salt has been a holy grail for eggless and vegan recipes. For a richer flavor and texture, you can use soy milk instead of water and chickpea flour instead of regular flour.
- Dry Batter: The dry batter is a mix of cornstarch and salt and pepper seasoning. This will give you that crispy and thick texture of the tofu. Aside from cornstarch, you can also use tapioca flour or potato starch as a substitute. All-purpose flour and rice flour also work to achieve a crispy exterior.
- Dipping Technique: Using chopsticks to dip the tofu in the wet and dry batter is a great way to lessen clumps forming. You can also use a kitchen tong when doing the dipping steps. If you want to use your hands for this step, follow this technique: left hand for dry, right hand for wet, or vice versa. In this way, you avoid the mess of clump formation because of mixed dry and wet batter in your hands. The way it works is you dip the tofu in the wet batter using your left hand only, and then dip it into the dry batter with your right hand.
- Cooking oil: Choose a cooking oil with high smoke points to lessen the amount of oil oxidized. Oils with high smoke points are the ones that can withstand high heat for longer. You can use sesame, avocado, sunflower, canola, and peanut oil.
- Diced onion: The tofu is stir-fried with diced onions. You can use any type of onion you prefer, such as red, white, or yellow. With red onions, you can achieve mild sweetness and flavor. Yellow onions tend to have a deeper and stronger taste, while white onions are sweet as well.
- Green and red chili peppers: Aside from onions, the tofu is also seasoned with green and red chili peppers. If you are not into spicy flavors, it is best to skip the peppers. You can use either green or red or both types if you prefer. In case you don’t have chili peppers, you can substitute 1/4 tsp chili flakes for 1 whole chili pepper.
- Salt and pepper seasoning: This seasoning can’t be substituted since it consists of a unique combination of six or more spices and it is an ingredient that cannot be left out. It is a delicious blend of sweet, spicy, salty, and savory flavors. You get a distinct and amazing flavor with this seasoning. Making this seasoning or purchasing it at the store is going to be worth it since you can make a variety of salt and pepper dishes with it, including salt and pepper potatoes, salt and pepper pork chops, and salt and pepper chicken wings.
- White sesame seeds: White sesame seeds have a hint of nuttiness and crunchiness. It also adds a decorative touch to the dish. You can substitute white sesame seeds with black sesame seeds. However, black sesame seeds have a more potent flavor. If you don’t have white sesame seeds, it is perfectly fine to leave them out of the recipe. It won’t really have a noticeable difference in taste and texture.
Storage And Reheating Method For Salt And Pepper Tofu
For fried crispy dishes like this, I recommend eating it as soon as possible while it is still hot and crunchy. Once it is stored in the fridge, it tends to lose its crispy texture and becomes soggy. However, there are several ways to reheat it and bring back its crispy texture. Here are some methods to try:
- Oven or air fryer: Reheat the tofu for 5 to 10 minutes at 350°F. The time and temperature will depend on the amount of tofu to be reheated.
- Skillet: Pan fry it with a bit of oil or toast it without oil on medium heat.
- Microwave: Reheating in a microwave is the last resort. It will heat up the tofu but will not restore its crispiness. Food reheated in a microwave always turns out soggy.
Uncooked tofu can be stored in the fridge for three days (or according to the packaging’s expiration date) or in the freezer for up to five months. You can store it in its original container unopened or fully drained and kept in an airtight container. Cooked salt and pepper tofu generally lasts for up to three days in the fridge.
What You Need To Make Salt And Pepper Tofu
It is a very easy recipe that requires only a few basic ingredients and kitchenware. Prepare your tofu, batter, chili peppers and onions, and salt and pepper seasoning. Use a non-stick pan for frying to prevent the coating from sticking to the pan and get that beautiful golden brown finish.
- Chopping board
- Bowls for wet and dry batter
- 450g firm or extra firm tofu
- Wet Batter (2 beaten eggs or 1 cup water and 1 cup flour mixture)
- Dry Batter (50g cornstarch and 2 tsp salt and pepper seasoning)
- Oil (adjust the amount according to the amount of tofu)
- 10g shredded green and red chili pepper
- 10g diced onion
- 10g or more of salt and pepper seasoning
- 5g white sesame seeds
Steps To Make Salt And Pepper Tofu
In summary, the steps in making this dish involve preparing the tofu, coating it with wet and dry batter, and frying it with the seasonings.
In my opinion, the only steps that take some time are draining the tofu and coating it with wet and dry batter. Other than that, the recipe is super fast and simple to do.
Prepare The Tofu
Drain excess water by wrapping the tofu with paper or kitchen towels and pressing it with a container filled with water. Once the water is drained completely, slice the tofu into roughly ½ inch (1 cm) thick rectangular slices.
Put Together The Coating
Prepare the dry mixture by mixing 50g cornstarch and 2 tsp salt and pepper seasoning.
Prepare the wet mixture with 2 beaten or whisked eggs. (Alternatively, mix 1 cup flour and 1 cup water for an eggless wet batter.)
Dip the tofu in the wet batter first. Make sure all sides are well coated. Then, coat into the cornstarch mix.
Fry The Tofu
Put enough oil for frying in a non-stick pan. When the oil is hot, fry both sides of the tofu on medium-low heat until crispy and golden brown.
Set aside the tofu and allow the excess oil to drain using a strainer or paper towel. Then, add 10g shredded green and red chili pepper and 10g diced onions in the same pan (If there is a lot of oil in the pan, just remove some.).
Stir fry until it becomes fragrant. Next, add the fried tofu and drizzle with salt and pepper seasoning.
Stir well until the seasoning is evenly coated on all sides of the tofu.
As a finishing touch, top with some white sesame seeds. Serve and enjoy while hot and fresh!
Crispy Salt And Pepper Tofu
- Chopping board
- Bowls for wet and dry batter
- 450 g firm or extra firm tofu
- Wet Batter 2 beaten eggs or 1 cup water and 1 cup flour mixture
- Dry Batter 50g cornstarch and 2 tsp salt and pepper seasoning
- Oil adjust the amount according to the amount of tofu
- 10 g shredded green and red chili pepper
- 10 g diced onion
- 10 g or more of salt and pepper seasoning
- 5 g white sesame seeds
Prepare The Tofu
- Drain excess water by wrapping the tofu with paper or kitchen towels and pressing it with a container filled with water.
- Once the water is drained completely, slice the tofu into roughly ½ inch (1 cm) thick rectangular slices.
Put Together The Coating
- Prepare the dry mixture by mixing 50g cornstarch and 2 tsp salt and pepper seasoning.
- Prepare the wet mixture with 2 beaten or whisked eggs. (Alternatively, mix 1 cup flour and 1 cup water for an eggless wet batter.)
- Dip the tofu in the wet batter first. Make sure all sides are well coated.
- Then, coat into the cornstarch mix.
Fry The Tofu
- Put enough oil for frying in a non-stick pan.
- When the oil is hot, fry both sides of the tofu on medium-low heat until crispy and golden brown.
- Set aside the tofu and allow the excess oil to drain using a strainer or paper towel.
- Then, add 10g shredded green and red chili pepper and 10g diced onions in a pan.
- Stir fry until it becomes fragrant.
- Next, add the fried tofu and drizzle with salt and pepper seasoning.
- Stir well until the seasoning is evenly coated on all sides of the tofu.
- As a finishing touch, top with some white sesame seeds.
- Serve and enjoy while hot and fresh!