Salt and pepper tofu is a popular side dish amongst those who love Chinese take-out. This dish is so easy to make, and you can eat alone or serve with other mains, at lunch or dinner.
We wanted to help our readers recreate its fried goodness, so we researched the web extensively to bring you the best recipes out there. So let's have a look at how to make it!
What is it?
Salt and pepper tofu is deep-fried bean curd flavoured with salt and white pepper. Some cooks add mushroom powder, chilli powder and other seasonings such as Chinese five spices to make it taste even better.
The slabs of bean curd come in a soft or firm version. Most recipes use the firm beancurd to make this dish and the soft one for stir-frying or soup. You can use firm bean curd if you like. It is a great vegan and gluten-free side dish that you can cook for any meal.
Beancurd, which is high in protein, comes in various firmness levels, from "silken," which has a liquid-like consistency, to "extra-firm". This type of beancurd is so solid that it is often used as mock meat since it has enough structure to pass as, or at least aptly substitute for, animal-based protein. It would be best to buy the firm type to make Salt and Pepper tofu.
For those wondering about its origins, it's interesting to note that there are many stories about Salt and Pepper tofu. One story goes that the Chinese created it when ground soybeans were mixed with impure sea salt. Another theory is that some 2000 years ago, someone added seaweed into soy milk, causing it to curdle.
Beancurd made its way to the Western world in the 1770s. The anecdotal tidbit is that while writing from London to his friend, John Bartram in the new world (via Smithsonian), Benjamin Franklin referenced a Chinese dish that tastes like curdled cheese but is created from soybean. He spelt it as "Tau-fu."
But it was not until the 1970s that people in the West started digging into its versatile goodness. Today you will frequently see this dish on Chinese take-out menus in the United Kingdom. They are just as popular as the Chinese salt and pepper squid.
Salt and pepper tofu is a low-calorie dish, with 135 calories for a block of beancurd that weighs around 150 grams. If you order it, salt and pepper tofu takeaway calories are higher, around 200 calories.
Salt and Pepper Tofu Ingredients
These are the main ingredients that you will need to purchase for your salt and pepper tofu: you will need firm beancurd, sesame oil and garlic. Additionally, we recommend ginger powder and ground white pepper for the seasoning.
You can also buy Chinese five-spice powder if you want to add flavour to the block of beancurd. For extra crispiness, buy cornstarch powder to coat your beancurd blocks when frying.
If you can find Shao xing wine in Asian supermarkets, you should also grab a bottle of it. This wine is excellent for cooking Chinese dishes in general. For this dish, we will use it to make brine. Soaking the beancurd in a mixture of Shao xing wine helps it absorb the seasoning better, creating a savoury Salt and Pepper tofu.
For the beancurd, you will want to get a super firm beancurd. It is less porous and easier to pan or deep fry. You should choose your tofu carefully. Any discolouration or sour odour means that the beancurd has been on the shelf too long. Shelf-stable cartons have longer shelf lives, but they are made with genetically modified soybeans and less flavour.
It's also a good idea to buy chopped garlic and ginger so you can save time on cooking prep.
You should find these ingredients at any major supermarket or online grocery shop.
You will need white-fresh smelling beancurd cut into regular shapes for your Salt and Pepper tofu. There is no fixed shape for cooking, but it is best to cut the block into standard rectangular shapes if you move the beancurd around a lot.
Thicker, rectangular blocks are also easier to fry without wok gymnastics. To let your beancurd soak up the seasoning, you should brine your bean curd. That means slicing the beancurd into rectangles and soaking them for 1-2 hours in a mixture of garlic powder, onion powder, salt sugar and warm water before cooking your Salt and Pepper tofu.
Add in a teaspoon of Chinese wine if you can find it. This quick salt bath infuses a layer of flavour into otherwise tasteless beancurd.
Salt and pepper tofu sauce
The most popular sauce for salt and pepper tofu is garlic soy-sesame sauce. You can also add chilli powder if you want a tinge of spice.
Below ingredients are what you will need to make the sauce:
- One minced garlic clove
- 1 ½ tablespoon of sesame oil
- Two tablespoons of soy sauce
- One tablespoon of sesame seeds.
You will have to stir fry the garlic in the sesame oil for 1 minute. Then, whisk in the soy sauce. Once it is boiling, remove from heat and stir in the sesame seeds.
What to serve with it
You can serve Salt and Pepper tofu with white rice or mee hoon. The dish pairs well with rice, as you can drizzle the leftover sauce into your bowl of rice, so it soaks it all up. Meehoon or bee hoon or rice vermicelli also works well. Else, you can always eat it alone as a snack.
If you are ready to create your salt and pepper tofu dish, here are some tips for you to take note of. The first tip is to leave the beancurd you are not using in a bag filled with cornstarch. If you remove them and leave them in the open when they are coated with cornstarch, the cubes will release moisture, and the cornstarch coating will fall off.
Using soft beancurd
If you want to experiment with soft beancurd, it's also possible. You will get a silky smooth texture. If you prefer your beancurd to taste that way, feel free to try a softer block of beancurd.
Add pepper flakes to the cornstarch batter for a spicy version of the dish. You can also add chilli oil to your garlic sesame sauce as a dip.
Beancurd can get very moist, so to dry the slabs of curdled goodness before you cook, use paper towels and place the pieces on them. You can also sandwich between two plates and let it sit for a while.
Deep frying salt and pepper tofu
Finally, if you are deep frying your Salt and Pepper tofu, we have some reminders for you. You should cook for about two minutes in the frying basket before shaking it to break any pieces stuck together. When the pieces float, you know they are thoroughly cooked.
Why should you blanche beancurd
Before you cook your beancurd, be sure to soak it in a brine. You can also boil it in hot water before dropping it into cold water. This is a cooking method known as blanching and helps to bring out the best texture and flavour of your Salt and Pepper tofu.
Last but not least, you can savour this fakeaway with garlic and sesame soy dip. Stir fry garlic and sesame soy together to make a worthy sauce for your beancurd!
Air fryer Salt and Pepper Tofu
While we see that Chinese restaurants usually deep fry this dish as a side menu order, you can also use an air fryer. Since the air fryer heats the food by using surrounding air rather than oil, you will reduce the calories of your Salt and Pepper tofu.
Oil is high in calories and has no nutrition; therefore, you should learn to consume less. High-fat diets can cause heart diseases, so keeping to low fat and high carbohydrate diet is better if you want to steer clear of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
To air fry your bean curd, preheat your air fryer to 200 degrees celsius (375°F) for 3 minutes. Then air-fry the beancurd for 10-15 minutes. Bring it out to turn it over before air frying until thoroughly crispy and golden.
Oven baked Salt and Pepper Tofu
If you want to make a healthier version of Salt and Pepper tofu, you can choose to bake it in an oven. Frying means you will submerge your food in oil. Oil is saturated fat and high in calories. The benefit is that baking does not add any additional calories and fats to the foods you cook. For those who need to follow a strict diet, it is better to bake than fry.
You will need cornstarch to make the dish extra crispy. After you have coated the slabs of bean curd in cornstarch:
- Bake the Salt and Pepper tofu at 200 degrees celsius (400°F f) for 15 minutes.
- Remove the baking sheet and flip each slab over.
- Return it to the oven to bake for another 15 minutes until golden brown.
How to Store
It is best to consume this dish fresh, but keep it in the fridge if you have to store it. It will stay fresh for about four to five days. Just ensure that you separate your sauce from your Salt and Pepper tofu, and you use a covered container.
Storing the beancurd with the sauce makes it too wet and less crispy.
Salt and Pepper Tofu | Chinese Vegetarian Recipe
For the brine:
- 400 g firm beancurd
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 300 ml warm water
- ½ teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
For the seasoning:
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ¾ teaspoon ground white pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground Sichuan Peppercorn
- ¼ teaspoon sand ginger powder
- 16 g all-purpose flour
- 15 g cornstarch
For the dip:
- 60 ml vegetable oil
- 5 cloves garlic (roughly chopped)
- 1 long hot green pepper (seeds removed, thinly sliced; about 30g)
- 1 shallot (sliced into round slices; about 20g)
- 1 scallion (chopped, about 20g)
- 1 tablespoon cilantro (chopped, optional)
- Slice the tofu into 1 cm (½ inch) thick, 4x5 cm (1½ inch x 2 inch) rectangles. Stir garlic powder, onion powder, salt, sugar, and warm water. Place the tofu into the mixture for 1-2 hours.
- Drain the liquid from the beancurd completely. Gently stir the tofu pieces in the sesame oil and Shaoxing wine.
- Mix the salt, ground white pepper, Sichuan peppercorn powder, and sand ginger powder for the seasoning. Add half of the mixture to the all-purpose flour and cornstarch. Sprinkle the rest over the tofu to coat.
- Heat 4 tablespoons of oil in your wok over low heat. Add the garlic and cook until it turns golden brown before removing it.
- Place your Salt and Pepper tofu in the wok over high heat. Flip your food over to the other side to ensure it is thoroughly cooked.
- Add the sliced long hot green peppers shallots, and stir-fry for 15-30 seconds. Next, add the beancurd and gently toss the mixture for another 30 to 60 seconds. Add the scallions, cilantro, and crispy garlic. Continue tossing for another 15 seconds.
- Sprinkle the rest of the mixture that you made in Step 2 over the dish. You are now ready to serve.
Calories have been calculated using an online calculator. Nutritional information offered on Honest Food Talks is for general information purposes and are only rough estimations.
Niki House on Youtube has a splendid video recipe showing how to make this delectable dish at home. We highly recommend you watch how they prepare their version of this recipe step by step.
We hope you enjoyed this classic Chinese fakeaway recipe! This dish is easy to cook, and it is a perfect pairing for any main dish. If you like more of these Asian recipes, follow us on Instagram @Honestfoodtalks for more!