Twice-Fried Salt And Pepper Tofu Recipe

Spicy, crunchy salt and pepper squid is a popular Cantonese appetizer where little bites of airy, fried squid are tossed with garlic and peppers for a simple and fiery take on calamari. The same thing can be done for tofu, though if you know anything about tofu, you'll know it takes a little more work. A misunderstood ingredient, tofu often gets a bad rap for being bland; worse, it can even get criticized for its texture. If you've only ever had flavorless, mushy tofu, this recipe might just change your mind. Developed with Michelle McGlinn, this twice-fried salt and pepper tofu is first brined, then dredged and fried, then fried again in a mixture of garlic and peppers. The result is a crispy, crunchy, golden-brown exterior, a firm and flavorful inside, and a mellow spice throughout that leaves you wanting more. Never thought you'd be popping tofu like potato chips? Think again.

Gather the ingredients for twice-fried salt and pepper tofu

The first thing to grab for this recipe is, of course, tofu. For the best results, pick up a package of extra firm tofu, which will hold together in the high heat. You can also use firm and regular tofu, but avoid silken or soft varieties entirely, which will crumble easily. From there, you'll need Shaoxing wine, sesame oil, fresh ginger (you can swap for powder), garlic, salt, cornmeal, cornstarch, flour, white pepper, scallions, and green chiles. You can use just about any variety of pepper here, from jalapeño to serrano to Fresno — you can even use Thai chile peppers for extra heat. Our tip? Use a smaller pepper with a medium to hot heat. Finally, you'll need oil for frying: We recommend vegetable or canola.

Step 1: Prepare the brining liquid

In a saucepan, combine 1 cup water, wine, sesame oil, grated ginger, 1 grated garlic clove, and 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil.

Step 2: Brine the tofu

Remove from the heat and add the tofu cubes. Brine for 15 minutes.

Step 3: Drain

Transfer tofu to a paper towel–lined tray to drain until completely dry, about 15 minutes.

Step 4: Prepare the dredge

In a large bowl, combine cornstarch, cornmeal, flour, the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and white pepper.

Step 5: Dredge the tofu

Add tofu and toss to coat.

Step 6: Heat up the oil

Add oil to a wok and place over medium heat.

Step 7: Fry the tofu

Once hot, add tofu and fry until golden brown, about 3–4 minutes per side.

Step 8: Drain again

Remove tofu from the wok and drain on a paper towel–lined plate.

Step 9: Fry the aromatics

Add chiles, scallions, and the remaining 4 chopped garlic cloves to the wok. Saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Step 10: Return the tofu to the wok

Return the tofu to the wok and fry with the aromatics until the garlic is golden, about 1–2 minutes. Do not burn the garlic.

Step 11: Serve

Remove from the wok and serve immediately.

What is the purpose of brining tofu?

Preparing tofu can be a little mystifying. For example, the soft bricks of bean curd are always packaged in water that has to be completely drained before using. Fail to drain the tofu, and you'll end up with bland, crumbly pieces. Because it's common to drain the tofu before using, it might sound backwards to stick it in a brine. But, a brine is the perfect thing to prepare your tofu for frying. The salty solution draws moisture out of the tofu, drying it out so that the tofu fries in the hot oil. Without this process, the moisture in the tofu will cause steaming, leading to soft, mushy tofu instead of the crispy, golden-brown bites we're looking for. 

Even better, the brine can serve as a marinade, too, imparting flavor into the tofu while working to dry it out. You only need a little bit of salt for this to work, but you can use as much as ¼ cup for extra-flavorful tofu (it's very hard to over-season). You can also use soy sauce, chili crisp, hoisin, or extra spices for added flavor; don't be afraid to get creative.

How do I reheat fried tofu?

There's a downside to this dish: It doesn't reheat well. Like most fried foods, the crispy exterior breaks down overnight, drawing in so much moisture that it becomes mushy and soft. If you have leftovers, plan to reuse them in soups or ramen, where the texture can be complemented by flavorful broth. If you have an air fryer, you can also get very close to crispy fried tofu in minutes by popping the squares in on the air fryer setting. 

You can also fry the tofu again (making it thrice-fried), using a similar technique to re-fried chicken. You don't need a lot of oil for this — just enough to fry each half of the tofu evenly. For the best results, bring the tofu to room temperature before tossing it back into the oil so that the interior warms through during the quick third fry. The tofu is best freshly fried, so if you need to make the tofu ahead of time, brine and drain the tofu, stick it in the fridge or freezer, and continue with the dredging and frying right before serving.

Twice-Fried Salt And Pepper Tofu Recipe
5 from 23 ratings
This vegan variation on Cantonese salt and pepper squid employs a brine and two frying sessions for perfectly crisp and spicy cubes of tofu.
Prep Time
35
minutes
Cook Time
15
minutes
Servings
2
servings
fried tofu on plate
Total time: 50 minutes
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1-inch knob fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 grated + 4 chopped cloves garlic, divided
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1 block firm tofu, drained and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ¼ cup cornmeal
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground white pepper
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 green chiles, such as serrano, finely chopped
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
Directions
  1. In a saucepan, combine 1 cup water, wine, sesame oil, grated ginger, 1 grated garlic clove, and 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil.
  2. Remove from the heat and add the tofu cubes. Brine for 15 minutes.
  3. Transfer tofu to a paper towel–lined tray to drain until completely dry, about 15 minutes.
  4. In a large bowl, combine cornstarch, cornmeal, flour, the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and white pepper.
  5. Add tofu and toss to coat.
  6. Add oil to a wok and place over medium heat.
  7. Once hot, add tofu and fry until golden brown, about 3–4 minutes per side.
  8. Remove tofu from the wok and drain on a paper towel–lined plate.
  9. Add chiles, scallions, and the remaining 4 chopped garlic cloves to the wok. Saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  10. Return the tofu to the wok and fry with the aromatics until the garlic is golden, about 1–2 minutes. Do not burn the garlic.
  11. Remove from the wok and serve immediately.
Nutrition
Calories per Serving 786
Total Fat 45.2 g
Saturated Fat 4.3 g
Trans Fat 0.2 g
Cholesterol 0.0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 65.9 g
Dietary Fiber 7.3 g
Total Sugars 1.2 g
Sodium 705.9 mg
Protein 33.9 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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