Purely adult time is pretty sparse around here. If we’re lucky, we go out to dinner once or twice a month, so we make the most of home-cooked meals. This one was my husband’s request a few nights ago, a recipe memory from our pre-parent days when cooking never had to involve considerations like needing leftovers that were child-friendly for the next day’s lunch. Once he mentioned black pepper tofu, it triggered a craving so strong that I had to acquiesce, practicality be damned. I mean, this is why PB&J sandwiches were invented, right?
People talk a lot about food being the way to a man’s heart, but not much mention is made of women’s hearts. Turns out, we’re not too different. In my case, fried tofu so spicy that your eyes will water just a little, is pretty much the express lane to my heart. I challenge you to try this dish once and not think it is the BEST tofu preparation ever. As for you tofu skeptics? Consider yourselves converted. This is tofu in its very best avatar – crispy batter fried, and then tossed in a hot-sweet mix of shallots, red chilies, green onions and black pepper. Fire up the skillet, and be sure to invite me to dinner. Cos honestly, even if you didn’t, I’d probably smell it from a mile away and show up anyway.
Black Pepper Tofu
Recipe adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
1 package (14 oz) extra firm tofu
vegetable oil for frying
cornstarch to dust tofu
3 tbsp butter
6 small shallots or one medium red onion, thinly sliced
4 fresh mild red chiles, or 1-2 hot Thai green chilies, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
4 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp coarsely crushed black peppercorns
6-8 green onions, cut into 1 inch segments
Pour enough oil into a large frying pan or wok to cover the bottom of the pan and heat until near smoking. Cut the tofu into 1 inch cubes. Toss with some cornstarch and shake off the excess, then add to the hot oil. Fry the tofu in batches so they become crispy, not stew in the pan. Turn them around as you go, until they are golden all over and have a thin crust. As they are cooked, transfer them to a plate lined with a paper towel.
Remove the oil and any sediment from the pan, then melt 2 tbsp butter in the pan. Add the shallots, chiles, garlic and ginger; sauté on low-medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the ingredients have turned shiny and are totally soft. Add the soy sauce, honey, and sugar and stir, then incorporate the crushed black pepper. Add the tofu to warm up in the sauce for about a minute. Finally, add the remaining tablespoon of butter to create a glossy coating on the tofu, stir in the green onions and remove from the flame. Serve hot, with steamed white or brown rice.