Crispy Salt and Pepper Tofu

Crispy Salt and Pepper Tofu is a popular Chinese dish. The tofu cubes have a super crispy exterior and a soft and silky center. The dish is very easy to make and ready in less than an hour.
close-up photo of chopsticks holding a piece of Crispy Salt and Pepper Tofu

When we go to Chinese restaurants, one of our favorite dishes to order is crispy salt and pepper tofu. But it’s also quite easy to prepare at home.

What I love about the dish is the contrast between the incredibly crunchy exterior and soft, silky interior.
overhead photo of Crispy Salt and Pepper Tofu

Frying with Cornstarch

The super crunchy batter is achieved by coating the tofu in cornstarch before frying. Because cornstarch is almost pure starch, it produces a much crispier crust than frying with flour. Many fried Chinese dishes use cornstarch as the batter. It’s quicker, less heavy and the result is quite delicious.

With the cornstarch method, there is no need to dredge the tofu in egg and flour. Instead, you place the cornstarch into a large bag, add the cornstarch and shake the bag a few times until all the tofu pieces are evenly coated in a thin layer of cornstarch.

The batter will be much paler than when frying with flour. Instead of a dark golden brown, it’s more of a pale yellow gold. The batter is also so thin, it is barely visible. However, when you touch the tofu, you can definitely feel the firm crunchy crust.

Salt and White Pepper

The tofu is seasoned simply with a salt and white pepper mix. White pepper is used in Chinese dishes because it has a more mild flavor compared to black pepper.

I garnished the dish with a little bit of fresh ground black pepper, but the tofu crust is seasoned with salt and white pepper.

Pressing the Tofu

It’s important to press the tofu before cooking with it because tofu retains so much water. I usually press mine for 15-20 minutes and then pat dry the tofu cubes. If the tofu is too wet, the cornstarch will also not properly coat the tofu which will make it hard to fry.

To press the tofu, place a small cutting board over the tofu. Place a heavy object on top of the cutting board. The constant application of gentle pressure should release a lot of the water from the tofu.
close-up photo of Crispy Salt and Pepper Tofu

Variations

While this dish is great as is, there are other variations of the dish I’ve come across that you can try as well:

  • You can add ground sichuan peppercorn or pepper flakes to the cornstarch batter to create a spicy version of the dish.
  • You can include a chili sauce to dip the tofu cubes in (it’s usually a mix of minced garlic, soy sauce, vinegar and chili paste or chili oil).
  • For this version, I used firm tofu because it is easier to handle. However, the tofu is even silkier if you use a soft tofu.

Crispy Salt and Pepper Tofu

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Chinese
Servings: 4

Salt and Pepper Tofu is a popular Chinese dish that can be made easily at home. The tofu has an incredibly crispy exterior, giving way to a soft, silky interior. 

Ingredients:

  • 18 oz firm tofu drained
  • ½ cup cornstarch
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • ½ tsp table salt
  • Canola oil for frying

Optional garnishes

  • 2 red chili pepper seeds removed and thinly sliced
  • 2 scallions thinly sliced
  • Fresh ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Place tofu block onto a cutting board. Place a second cutting board over tofu. Place a heavy object on top of the cutting board, preferably a heavy can. Apply the weight on the tofu for about 15-20 minutes, to release water from tofu.
  2. Slice tofu into 1 inch cubes. Pat dry the tofu cubes with paper towel.
  3. Add about 1 inch of oil to pan being used for frying. Bring to medium heat.
  4. In a small bowl, combine cornstarch, white pepper and salt. Add to a large ziploc bag. Add in tofu and seal bag. Shake bag several times until tofu is evenly coated in starch.
  5. When oil is hot, add a few pieces of tofu and fry until crispy on all sides before removing. Because you are using cornstarch instead of flour, the battered tofu will not change that much in color when finished cooking. Instead of a golden brown, the tofu cubes will be a pale yellow gold.

  6. Repeat with remaining tofu until all tofu is fried. Keep tofu waiting to be fried in the cornstarch bag. If you lay down the tofu cubes to rest while waiting, they will release more water and will soak through the cornstarch coating and cause it to fall off.
  7. When tofu is fried, you can garnish with chili peppers, scallions and fresh ground black pepper.

Notes:

  • Keep tofu waiting to be fried in the cornstarch bag. If you lay down the tofu cubes to rest while waiting, they will release more water and will soak through the cornstarch coating and cause it to fall off.
  • You can add ground sichuan peppercorn or pepper flakes to the cornstarch batter to create a spicy version of the dish.
  • You can include a chili sauce to dip the tofu cubes in (it’s usually a mix of minced garlic, soy sauce, vinegar and chili paste or chili oil).
  • For this version, I used firm tofu because it is easier to handle. However, the tofu is even silkier if you use a soft tofu.
All images and content are © Kirbie's Cravings.

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