Black Pepper Tofu

Nothing is as guaranteed to seduce a skeptic as dredging tofu in cornstarch and pan-frying it to a shiny crisp, while the inner bits go soft and custardy.
June 15, 2015

About this recipe

Tofu’s proponents have tried to get us to see all the ways to improve its texture—freezing or pressing or boiling to rid it of spare water, broiling or roasting to crisp it up. These are all effective at making tofu friendlier to cook with, but nothing is as guaranteed to seduce a skeptic as dredging tofu in cornstarch and pan-frying it to a shiny crisp, while the inner bits go soft and custardy.

The just-fried nubs are almost too crunchy to eat, which is why it’s a good idea to add them to a pan of shallots, chiles, ginger and garlic that have stewed in butter and soy and heaps of black pepper. In the sauce, the fried cubes will relax just enough, but maintain all the integrity you’ve fried into them.

This—with some brown rice—is as impressive a vegetarian dinner party main dish as you can get. And cheap, too—despite the 11 tablespoons of butter and 5 tablespoons of black pepper. The tofu called for, even organic, costs less than $6 and feeds at least 4, generously.

genius TIP

Yes, you can ease back on the butter a little. And you can use whatever kind of soy sauce you have, if you adjust the saltiness to taste (and the sweetness, if you need to make up for not having kecap manis, a.k.a. sweet soy).

Reprinted with permission from Food52 Genius Recipes by Kristen Miglore, copyright © 2015. Recipes courtesy of Ian Knauer and Yotam Ottolenghi. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photographs: James Ransom © 2015

Instructions

1. Start with the tofu. Pour enough oil into a large frying pan or wok to come ¼ inch up the sides and heat over medium-high. Cut the tofu into large cubes, about 1 inch square. Toss them in some cornstarch and shake off the excess, then add to the hot oil. (You’ll need to fry the tofu pieces in a few batches so they don’t stew in the pan.) Fry, turning them around as you go, until they are golden all over and have a thin crust. As they are cooked, transfer them onto paper towels.

2. Remove the oil and any sediment from the pan, then add the butter and melt it over low to medium heat. Add the shallots, chiles, garlic and ginger. Sauté for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the ingredients have turned shiny and are totally soft. Next, add the soy sauces and sugar and stir, then add the crushed black pepper.

3. Add the tofu to warm it up in the sauce for about a minute. Finally, stir in the green onions. Serve hot.


Reprinted with permission from Food52 Genius Recipes by Kristen Miglore, copyright © 2015. Recipe courtesy of Yotam Ottolenghi.
Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photographs: James Ransom © 2015

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Ingredients

  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1¾ pounds firm tofu Cornstarch, to dust
  • 11 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 12 small shallots (12 ounces), thinly sliced
  • 8 fresh red chiles (fairly mild ones), thinly sliced
  • 12 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 3 tablespoons sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
  • 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 4 teaspoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 5 tablespoons coarsely crushed black peppercorns (use a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder)
  • 16 small, thin green onions, cut into 1¼-inch segments
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