If you’re a fan of Cantonese cuisine and love the dynamic flavor combination of salt and white pepper, then our Chinese Salt and Pepper Tofu recipe will surely become your new favorite! This vegan/vegetarian interpretation of a classic Cantonese dish is not only delicious but also a healthier alternative to the traditional fried salt and pepper pork chops.
White Pepper: An Underrated Gem
White pepper is an ingredient that often goes unnoticed, but its unique flavor is truly remarkable. Just like our popular Kaitlin’s Baked White Pepper Chicken Wings, white pepper adds a distinctive kick to dishes. Classic Cantonese Salt and Pepper Pork Chops have been a lifelong favorite in our family. Inspired by our love for this flavor pairing, we decided to create a mouthwatering salt and pepper tofu recipe.
As we’ve gotten older, Judy and I have become more conscious of our diet. We’ve started incorporating more leafy green vegetables and cutting back on meat consumption. This recipe allows us to indulge in our favorites, while still maintaining a healthy balance.
What Kind of Tofu is Best?
Tofu is a versatile and delicious ingredient that can be enjoyed by vegetarians, vegans, and omnivores alike. Understanding the different types of tofu and their textures is key to maximizing flavor in your dishes. There are three basic types of tofu: firm, soft, and silken. While silken tofu is perfect for dishes like Mapo Tofu, for this salt and pepper tofu recipe, we recommend using firm tofu.
Check out our Tofu Ingredients glossary page to learn more about different types and forms of tofu. You’ll also find exciting recipes like General Tso’s Tofu, Kung Pao Tofu, and our Ultimate Braised Tofu recipe.
The Choice of Tofu Shape
The shape of tofu for any dish is largely a matter of personal preference. However, when it comes to fussing with tofu, a sturdier and standard shape is usually preferred. For this recipe, we suggest cutting the tofu into simple rectangles. They are bite-sized, easy to handle, and only require one flip when frying. This ensures that the edges get fried perfectly without any gymnastics in the wok.
A Couple Other Essential Ingredients
This dish features two additional seasonings that beautifully complement the white pepper: sand ginger powder and Sichuan peppercorn powder. If you can’t find these ingredients, don’t worry! You can use ground white pepper as a substitute. Similarly, if you can’t find sand ginger powder, galangal powder or five-spice powder will work just fine. Feel free to omit it altogether if necessary.
Let’s dive into the cooking process!
First, brine the tofu:
Brining tofu adds an extra layer of flavor to the otherwise neutral tofu. Begin by slicing the tofu into ½ inch (1 cm) thick rectangles measuring 1 ½ inch x 2 inch (4×5 cm). Create a brine by combining garlic powder, onion powder, salt, sugar, and warm water. Place the tofu in the brine for 1-2 hours. Afterward, drain the liquid completely, let it sit for 5 minutes to drain further, and gently toss the tofu pieces in sesame oil and Shaoxing wine.
Next, make the salt and pepper tofu seasoning, and dredge the tofu:
Prepare the salt and pepper spice mix by combining salt, ground white pepper, Sichuan peppercorn powder, and sand ginger powder. Set aside half of the mixture for later use. Combine the remaining spice mix with all-purpose flour and cornstarch. Sprinkle the mixture over the tofu to coat, ensuring that all sides are well covered. The moist tofu will absorb the dredge, resulting in a batter-like coating. Adjust the amount of cornstarch as needed to achieve the desired crispiness.
Next, make the crispy garlic:
While restaurants use deep fryers to make fried garlic, you can achieve the same delicious result by shallow-frying over medium-low heat. Heat oil in a wok, add the garlic, and cook it slowly until it turns a light golden brown. Be patient and avoid burning the garlic, as burnt garlic can have a bitter flavor. Remove the golden brown garlic using a slotted spoon and transfer it to a plate lined with a paper towel.
Pan-fry the tofu:
Heat oil in the wok over medium-high heat and add the tofu in a single layer. Brown the tofu on both sides, carefully flipping each piece. Keep an eye on the frying process to avoid burning the crust.
Finish the salt and pepper tofu in the wok:
Once the tofu is browned, remove it from the wok and set it aside. Reserve the remaining oil in the wok for the next step. Increase the heat to medium-high, add sliced long hot green peppers and shallots, and stir-fry for 15-30 seconds. Gently toss in the warm tofu and continue stirring for another 30 to 60 seconds. Finally, add scallions, cilantro, and the crispy garlic.
Continue tossing the mixture for about 15 seconds. Sprinkle the remaining salt and pepper spice mix evenly over the tofu and aromatics. This will infuse an extra kick of flavor into the freshly fried tofu. Toss for another 15 seconds, transfer everything to a plate, and serve!
Enjoy the delightful combination of salt and pepper in this vegan dish that will surely leave your taste buds craving more. For more culinary inspiration and incredible dining experiences, visit BDK Restaurant.