Salt and pepper tofu, it's crispy on the outside and soft and tender on the inside, stir fried with onions and peppers, seasoned with an addictive salt and pepper seasoning mix, and garnished with crispy garlic pieces. This crispy tofu recipe is a popular classic Chinese dish that's also a cult-favorite at dim sum restaurants, just like shumai (siu mai). Plus, it's vegan and vegetarian friendly, gluten-free, and can be easily made in less than 30 minutes! For another addictive salt and pepper recipe, this Taiwanese fried chicken is a must-try!
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What to serve with salt and pepper tofu
Salt and pepper tofu is a tasty dish on its own and all you really need is some white rice. But this dish is also a dim sum favorite, so the more sides the better! Here are some of our favorites:
- Veggies - Bok choy with oyster sauce and Chinese broccoli stir fry
- Cucumbers - Chinese smashed cucumber salad and cucumber kimchi
- Fried rice - We have a variety of fried rice recipes, and all of them are great options!
- Dim sum classic - Pork and chive dumplings, pork and cabbage dumplings, siu mai
Please scroll down to the recipe card for the ingredient quantities!
- Tofu - Firm, medium, or soft tofu can all be used to make salt and pepper tofu. We love making this recipe using soft tofu because the tofu is super crispy on the outside but soft and silky on the inside. A super satisfying texture combo! However, it can be a little challenging using soft tofu because of how fragile it is. So firm tofu may be a more beginner-friendly option or if you prefer firm tofu texture.
- Garlic - It will be chopped and fried to make crispy garlic, which will add texture and extra flavor to this dish. A great garnish as well.
- Onion - A highly recommended aromatic and veggie that's a must for any salt and pepper recipe! It also adds texture and sweetness.
- Bell pepper and jalapeño - These two veggies are optional. They add color, texture, and additional flavors.
- Dry chili peppers - These dry chili more mostly for garnish, so they're totally optional. They add a very mild smokiness to the dish.
- Oil for cooking and frying - Any neutral, high smoke point oil such as avocado, canola, or soybean oil is fine. We like to use canola oil for frying because it's a more affordable option.
- Seasoned cornstarch dredge - We opted for cornstarch as the dredge base because it'll give the tofu an extra crispy exterior. It's also seasoned with fine salt, garlic powder, and finely ground gochugaru. If you prefer, you could skip the seasoning and just use plain cornstarch.
- Gochugaru - Make sure to use finely ground gochugaru because the coarse ones are too are not fine enough. If you can't find it, you can use ground paprika instead.
- Salt and pepper seasoning mix - The super addictive seasoning mix for this crispy tofu recipe! It's a mix of salt, Sichuan pepper, sugar, msg, and white pepper. Do make sure to use fine salt and fine granulated sugar so that they adhere well to the tofu.
How to make salt and pepper tofu
Please scroll down to the recipe card for the full recipe and instructions!
Prepare the ingredients:
1. Brine tofu. Bring a pot of water to a boil and season generously with, about 1 tablespoon per 2 quarts of water. Take the pot off the heat and gently add the tofu cubes. Give it a gentle stir if needed and allow the tofu to brine for 10 to 15 minutes.
2. Dry tofu. After brining, carefully drain the tofu and allow the tofu to dry on some paper towels. Also use some paper towels to pat down the tofu cubes. Set aside until needed.
3. Make salt and pepper seasoning mix. Combine the salt, Sichuan pepper, sugar, msg, and white peper. Mix well and set aside until needed.
4. Make seasoned cornstarch dredge. In a wide mixing bowl, mix together cornstarch, fine salt, garlic powder, finely ground gochugaru. Set aside until needed.
Make the salt and and pepper tofu:
1. Prepare the fry station. Heat 1 to 2 inches of oil to 350°F and prepare a plate lined with paper towels or a tray with a cooling rack. Also prepare a spider strainer.
2. Make crispy garlic. In a wok or pan over medium low heat, add about 2 tablespoons of oil. While heating up, add the chopped garlic and fry until the garlic pieces are golden and crispy. Remove immediately and allow the fried garlic to drain on paper towels.
🌟 Pro tip: The optimal temperature is around 250°F and the garlic should be removed by the time they are golden because the heat will carry over and caramelize the garlic even more.
3. Stir fry aromatics and veggies. In the same wok or pan, heat over medium high heat and add a little more oil, just a light coating, if needed. Once hot, add the dry chili and stir fry for a few seconds.
Add the onion and stir fry until it starts to turn translucent and fragrant, about 10 to 15 seconds.
Then add the the bell pepper and jalapeño pepper. Stir fry briefly, about 5 to 10 seconds and set the wok aside until needed.
4. Coat the tofu. Place the tofu cubes into the seasoned cornstarch and coat well on all sides.
🌟 Pro tip: Try to coat the tofu when the oil is almost ready or is hot enough for frying. Also if frying in batches, coat only the amount that you will be frying. Cornstarch tends to absorb moisture really quickly and before you know it, you'll either have way too thick layer of dredge or the cornstarch will start to peel off the tofu.
5. Fry the tofu. Once the oil is hot, add the dredged tofu one at a time and fry the tofu until golden and crispy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the oil and allow the crispy tofu to drain on the prepared plate or tray. Fry in batches if needed.
🌟 Pro tip: If frying in batches, you can add the earlier batches of tofu batch into the oil for a quick double fry to to get the tofu hot again and extra crispy. About 30 seconds to 1 minute will do.
6. Season. Back to the wok of veggies, heat it up on medium high heat until hot again and add the crispy tofu, green onion, and half of the crispy garlic. Also season with about 1 ½ teaspoon of the salt and pepper seasoning. Give everything a few quick toss to combine.
7. Finish. Garnish with the remaining crispy garlic, another light dusting of the seasoning mix (if desired), and serve immediately.
What to do with leftover oil
Leftover oil can be reused for cooking or more frying. Transfer the leftover oil into a heatproof bowl, jar, or container. Let the oil cool completely, then cover with plastic wrap or a lid. If you're uncomfortable with handling hot oil, set the oil aside to cool first!
If you plan on reusing the oil again, make sure to strain it through a fine mesh strainer or a couple layers or cheesecloth to remove any debris. Keep the oil in a cool, dark place and use within a couple of weeks.
If you're disposing oil, pour it into a jar or a container that can be sealed. Dispose of it in your trashcan. DO NOT pour it down your drain! It may damage your pipes and also cause damage to the environment!
- Tofu size - How big the tofu cubes are can affect the over texture of the dish and how long the tofu can stay crispy. The larger the cubes, the quicker the tofu will lose its crisp because there's more moisture but the tofu will be softer on the inside. The smaller the cubes, the crispier and longer the tofu will stay but the inside may become a little dry. We recommend keeping the tofu around 1 inch.
- Use fine salt and granulated. This helps the seasonings stick to everything well and not have overly salty or sweet pieces.
- Make sure to not overcrowd the oil! This is important for ALL frying steps and recipes. Overcrowding the oil will dramatically drop the oil temperature, which can cause the food to become greasy and undercooked.
- DON'T overcook the veggies. It's important the veggies are quickly stir fry and stay crisp, not only for the texture but also to prevent them from releasing too much moisture. This will help prevent the tofu from becoming soggy.
- Only briefly toss the crispy tofu with the veggies to prevent the tofu from becoming soggy. The longer the veggies are in contact with heat, the more moisture it will release, so keep the tossing at the end brief.
Salt and pepper tofu is best enjoyed fresh because the tofu will become soggy after sitting for awhile or after refrigerating. The leftovers can refrigerated for up to 4 days. Just make sure to allow it cool completely before refrigerating.
Leftover salt and pepper tofu can be easily reheated in the microwave until hot. Make sure to reheat in a loosely covered microwave safe container. Do note that the tofu will not be crispy like when it was freshly made and the veggies will not be as crispy either, but the flavor will still be just as good!
The salted hot water brine is great for the tofu for 3 main reasons. First, the hot water firms up the tofu by "cooking" the protein on the outside of the tofu. This is especially helpful if using soft tofu. Second, both the hot water and the salt helps draw out excess moisture in the tofu. This helps the tofu stay crispy longer after frying. Lastly, the brining also helps to purge the tofu, which gets rid of the unwanted "tofu" flavor.
We opted for cornstarch because it's the most accessible starch, and it provides a great crunch for the tofu. If you're looking for an alternative, we recommend using potato or sweet potato starch as the next option.
Salt and Pepper Tofu
For the dish:
- 1 (14-16oz) block tofu cut into ½ to 1 inch cubes (firm, medium , or soft) *see notes
- 3 tablespoons garlic roughly chopped
- ½ small yellow onion diced
- ⅓ red bell pepper diced (optional)
- ½ jalapeño pepper sliced (optional - more or less to your preference)
- 1 stalk green onion sliced (optional)
- 5 pieces whole dry chili pepper optional
- Oil for cooking and frying
For the dredge:
Prepare the ingredients:
- Prepare the tofu:Bring a pot of water to a boil and season generously with salt. We recommend 1 tablespoon of salt per 2 quarts of water.
- Once the water comes to a boil and the salt has dissolved, take it off the heat and gently add the cubed tofu. Set it aside and let the tofu brine for about 10 to 15 minutes.*You can use this time prepare the rest of the ingredients.*
- Prepare a plate or tray lined with paper towels. After 10 to 15 minutes, gently drain the tofu and place them onto the prepared plate or tray. Gently pat the tofu dry with more paper towels and set aside until needed.
- Make the salt and pepper seasoning mix:In a bowl, mix together the all the ingredients for the salt and pepper seasoning mix (salt, Sichuan pepper, sugar, msg, and white pepper). Set aside until needed.*One recipes makes about 4 teaspoons of seasoning, which is more than what's needed. You can store the leftover for another use.*
- Make the seasoned cornstarch dredge:In a wide mixing bowl, mix together everything for the dredge (cornstarch, salt, garlic powder, and finely ground gochugaru). Set aside until needed.
Make the salt and pepper tofu:
- Stir fry aromatics:In a wok or large pan over medium low heat, add about 2 tablespoons of oil. While the oil is heating up, add the chopped garlic and fry until the garlic is fragrant, golden, and crispy. Remove immediately and allow to drain on some paper towel. Set aside until needed.
- In the same wok or pan, increase the heat to medium high and add a very small amount of oil, just enough to coat the wok. Once hot, add the dry whole peppers and stir fry quickly for a few seconds. Immediately add the onion and stir fry until it starts to turn translucent and fragrant.
- Then, add the red bell peppers and jalapeño peppers and stir fry briefly, about 10 to 15 seconds. Take the wok off the heat and set aside until needed.
- Fry the tofu:In a pot, heat 1 to 2 inches of oil to 350°F. Also prepare a plate lined with paper towels or a tray with a cooling rack and a spider strainer.
- Pat dry the tofu cubes one more time if needed and gently coat with the seasoned cornstarch. Make sure all sides are well coated and only coat with the seasoned cornstarch as much as you can fry per batch.
- Gently place the dredged tofu cubes into the hot oil and and fry for 4 to 5 minutes or until golden and crispy. Remove and let the tofu drain on the paper towels or cooling rack for a moment. Make sure to not overcrowd the oil and maintain the temperature. Fry in batches if necessary.*If you're frying in batches, you can refry the earlier batches for 15 to 30 seconds to reheat and make the tofu extra crispy.*
- Season and finish:While the fried tofu is draining, heat up the wok or pan of stir fried onions and peppers over medium hight heat. Stir fry briefly until the veggies are hot again and add the fried tofu, green onion, and half of the crispy garlic. Sprinkle in about 1½ teaspoons of the prepared salt and pepper seasoning mix and toss briefly to combine.
- Serve immediately and garnish with the rest of the crispy garlic and more salt and pepper mix if desired. Enjoy while hot!
- Nutrition value - The nutritional info provided is an estimate. Most importantly, for this recipe, the sodium value will vary depending the amount of the salt and pepper mix used.
- Tofu - We love salt and pepper tofu made with soft tofu because the fried tofu becomes crispy on the outside and silky soft on the inside. It's just an amazing combo! However, it is a bit tougher to work with soft tofu. So feel free to start with firm tofu if you're more comfortable or if you prefer the texture.
- Sichuan pepper - This is a classic in salt and pepper dishes but are also optional. We like toasting whole peppercorns and grinding it ourselves because it's more fragrant and flavorful. But if you prefer, you can use this ground Sichuan pepper instead.
- Seasoned cornstarch dredge - We recommend seasoning the cornstarch for more flavor and better color on the tofu, but you can definitely just use plain cornstarch if you prefer.