A slightly lower-fat version of Yotam Ottolenghi’s famous black pepper tofu recipe. Delicious and bursting with meaty, peppery flavour. You won’t miss the meat. It has been featured in Food52‘s Genius Recipes column.
When I served this to Keith for lunch one Sunday, I had no hopes of him liking it. Keith hates tofu. He says tofu tastes like a wet sponge. And I see his point. Tofu can taste like a wet sponge if it isn’t pressed properly and coated or dressed in a flavourful sauce. But, knowing how much I adore Yotam Ottolenghi’s style of cooking, he said he’d give the dish a fair chance — he’d take three bites and decide if he cared for it or not.
This is actually one of Ottolenghi’s much sought after dishes that I did not like as much. Just too much black pepper for my taste. I can handle the heat from all kinds of peppers from around the world, but my tastebuds do not appreciate being continuously assaulted with the bitterness of black peppercorns. However, Keith loves steak with a grainy black peppercorn crust, so the rather large, unevenly crushed black pepper did not bother him any. And the sauce was properly seasoned and thickened, hugging each piece of tofu so the tofu tasted of the sauce instead of a watery, diluted soy flavour. Even before he was done eating, Keith asked me to make sure I made this again. I’d never thought I’d see the day when Keith asked me to remember the recipe for a tofu dish. Thank you, Yotam Ottolenghi!
When I first made the dish, I intuitively reduced that to 3 tablespoons and even that was too much for me. My final version contains 2 tablespoons of crushed black pepper, which brings the pepper to the far end of tolerable for me. I've also brought the butter down from the original 11 tablespoons to 8, because it works, and is a convenient amount. Just don't serve this dish to your heart surgeon. If you are thinking you are going to skip frying the tofu, please don't. Raw tofu spoils the harmony of this dish.
- 1¾ lbs extra-firm tofu
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 medium onion, minced
- 8 fresh red chiles, thinly sliced on the bias
- 12 cloves garlic, crushed
- 3 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
- 4 tablespoons, dark soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
- 2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar (powdered sugar)
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
- 3 bunches scallions, green parts only, cut into 1" pieces
- Dry the tofu: Fold two or even three squares of paper towels and place the block of tofu on top. Fold two more squares of paper towels and place on the block of tofu. Place a plate or tray over this and weigh the whole thing down with a big tins of tomatoes (or anything heavy). Let sit for 15 minutes. Cut the tofu into cubes and dust with the cornstarch.
- Sauce ingredients: While the tofu is draining, mix the light, dark and sweet soy sauces, confectioner's sugar, black peppercorns, broth, cornstarch. Whisk until the sugar is dissolved.
- Fry the tofu: Heat a (preferably non-stick) skillet with ¼" of vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, place the tofu into a sieve and shake off the excess flour. Fry the tofu in a single layer until lightly golden on all sides. If the tofu does not fit in a single layer, fry in batches. Transfer the tofu to a plate lined with paper towels to blot out the excess oil.
- Sauté the aromatics: Melt the butter over medium heat in a clean 9" skillet. When the foam subsides, turn the heat down to medium-low and add the onion, garlic and ginger. Sauté for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are shiny and look like they are melting into the oil.
- Finish the Dish: Add the sauce ingredients. Turn the heat up and cook until the sauce is dry. Serve immediately over jasmine rice.