Black Pepper Tofu

There are a wide range of dishes that I consider good and worth making and worth telling you about. Some are simply satisfying and delicious, others are totally knock-your-socks-off amazing. This recipe is from the later category of recipes. It comes from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi and I have been eying it for weeks but feeling stressed out by the three kinds of soy sauce it calls for in the recipe. I didn’t know there were three kinds of soy sauce and I had no idea how I would find them, but am I glad I did.

Googling provided some answers but I eventually had to make a trip to Mitsuwa in Arlington Heights to find the sauces I wanted (but don’t let this discourage out!, see notes below). This recipe is simple but does require some time and a lot of chopping. There were moments when I began to doubt the success of the final product, but when I sat down to eat I was so impressed with what I had created and this immediately made its way onto my list of favorite foods.

This is spicy, there is a lot of black pepper, chile pepper and ginger in this recipe. But it is also sweet, and comforting and incredible and you can adjust the spice as you see fit. We served this on a bed of jasmine rice and ate slices of watermelon along side. It was totally perfect. I wish it were simpler so that it could be a weekly addition to our menu. We ate the leftovers the next day and like most things they weren’t as good. The tofu was no longer crispy and the sauce was less plentiful, but we still thoroughly enjoyed it. My advice to you is to make this for three of your favorite people and I guarantee there will be no leftovers.

*Notes on the soy sauce: don’t stress out about this. I am going to try next time only using two types. I have a sweet Indonesian Soy Sauce (like this) and a light soy sauce. But I imagine some combination of soy sauce and honey could also work.

*A note on measurements. I left this recipe in grams, as I find it easier to work with weight than volume anyway. We all should own an inexpensive kitchen scale so that we aren’t frustrated or limited by recipes from the rest of the world. Says me. ; )

Black Pepper Tofu (adapted from a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi)

  • 800g firm, fresh tofu
  • Cornflour/cornstarch, to dust the tofu
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 113 g butter (1 stick)
  • 12 small shallots (350g), peeled and thinly sliced
  • 4 red chillies, thinly sliced
  • 12 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 tbsp chopped ginger
  • 4 tbsp crushed black peppercorns
  • 3 tbsp sweet soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 4 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar (superfine sugar)
  • 16 small, thin spring onions, cut into segments 3cm long
  • jasmine rice for serving

Cut the tofu into 3cm x 2cm blocks and toss them in cornflour, shaking off the excess. Pour in enough oil to come 0.5cm up the sides of a large frying pan, and bring up to frying heat. Fry the tofu in batches in the oil, turning the pieces as you go. Once they are golden all around, and have a thin crust, transfer to a paper towel.

Remove the oil and any sediment from the pan and throw in the butter. Once it has melted, add the shallots, chillies, garlic and ginger, and sauté for about 15 minutes on low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the contents of the pan are shiny and totally soft. While you wait, crush the peppercorns, using a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder. They should be quite coarse.

When the shallots and chillies are soft, add the soy sauces and the sugar, stir, then stir in the crushed pepper. Warm the tofu in the sauce for about a minute, then add the spring onion and stir through. Serve hot with steamed rice.

62 comments to “Black Pepper Tofu”

  1. Hey Kelsey- Blazing hot! Well, it will just depend on the chiles you have and how hot they are. You can adjust amount to control heat. Aye! Yes, cornstarch. How did I not catch that before now? Sorry! Fixed.

  2. I made this for friends, including a vegan so I swapped in Olive Oil for the butter. I will say it was good, but it needs a lot of adjustments. The 3 different soy sauces are completely unnecessary, you can get a complex flavor with traditional soy sauce and honey yes would be a good addition. My main problem was that it was realllllly dry. The tofu could be cut smaller, but I needed more of this sauce. I improvised adding more oil and soy sauce to get it more wet, but over all I was underwhelmed. Also….NOT SPICY. What gives?

  3. Hey Juliet- I don’t know what gives, we certainly had different experiences with this recipe. I am guessing that much of it comes from your substitution of olive oil for the butter, which I don’t think would work at all. Completely different flavor profiles, and levels of richness. Mine definitely wasn’t dry. As I said in the post, the 3 soy sauces aren’t necessary- I make it with two. As far as the spice, all I can imagine is that your peppercorns had lost flavor? With 4 tablespoons of pepper, it should be pretty peppery. Or your red chiles just weren’t spicy?

  4. This is awesome, but I would probably half the amount of black pepper! Me and my wife love spicy food but the amount of pepper is just too much to the point where its almost inedible after a few bites!

    I think it would make an amazing marinade for some sticky slow cooked pepper ribs as well!

  5. Love this recipe, and well done for hunting out the different soy sauces! I do have some alternatives if it’s hard for people to find the sauces – you can use ketchap manis, which is a think soy sauce but with a sweet flavour, or light or dark say sauce with a couple of tea spoons of palm sugar, and if you aren’t vegetarian, try adding 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce in the recipe. This will really lift the flavours. but please beware with all the soy sauces, it can turn out very salty. :)

  6. yum! I’ve recently started cooking a lot of tofu, and I have to try this recipe!

  7. This recipe is so amazing. Thank you!

  8. Dave in Limburg NL ... says:

    August 14th, 2013 at 7:43 am

    This recipe is to die for. It has become a staple in my Asian dishes, and every single person who has experienced this agrees … it is top-notch! Yotam Ottolenghi deserves a Roman Triumph for this one.

  9. Great Recipe.!!

  10. Chiming in late, but I think the has-to-be eaten immediately is an Ottolenghi thing – grilled zucchini & basil salad was awful leftover

  11. i can’t believe it’s taken me this long to tell you this: i asked you back in 2011 why you needed butter for this dish. (i may have internally scoffed at it… just kidding, i verbally said it out loud and tweeted about it…) well. i apologize. i’ve made this dish a few times, and it’s delightful. i use ghee for the lack of lactose and seriously. thanks. and sorry, for doubting, and for being late in telling you about it. let’s be friends?

  12. I initially found this recipe a number of years ago on Epicurious, and started making it then, and I just stumbled across it here. Just wanted to mention, the sweetened soy sauce (kecap manis) is sooo worth it, and raises this dish to a whole new level; I initially skipped it, but then I eventually made some… just….wow, huge difference. If you can’t find kecap manis, or just want to save money, it is actually very easy to make, here are some very straightforward directions:

    Also, while I wouldn’t recommend changing the butter quantity, personally, if you must… I’d suggest cutting it with sesame oil, rather than olive oil; the flavour and richness work fairly well. Be sure to keep the majority as butter, though, that is what gives the sauce it’s velvety texture and flavour, and it balances wonderfully with all the complex spices.