Sunday, November 3, 2013

Salt & Pepper Tofu (Jiao Yan Tofu)

This essentially vegetarian version of a classic salt and pepper Chinese dish, typically done with chicken or seafood, is one of the best things you can do with tofu. I adapted this recipe from Fuchsia Dunlop's cookbook Every Grain of Rice and the end result is scrumptious. If you're generally not a fan of tofu (and I'm talking about you, Dan!) this rendition is da bomb! The tofu is lightly coated in cornstarch and then fried until crispy on the outside but still creamy tender on the inside. The salt & pepper seasoning along with freshly sliced jalapeño peppers and scallions makes this dish indescribably delectable!

2 14-oz. packages of firm tofu, cubed
6 cloves garlic, peeled & minced
5 scallions, thinly sliced
2 red jalapeño or Fresno chiles, seeded and sliced
2 green jalapeño chiles, seeded and sliced
2 tbsp freshly minced cilantro
1 cup cornstarch
2 tsp. ground Szechuan peppercorn-salt
White pepper
2 cups vegetable oil

1. Cut the tofu into 1" square cubes, place on a large platter or tray, cover with several layers of paper towels, then place a plate on top. Let rest for 3o minutes and change paper towels as needed, until most of the liquid/water in the tofu has come out. Blot the tofu dry with paper towels just before frying.

2. Heat 2 cups of oil over high heat in a large sauté pan until very hot. In the meantime, coat the tofu in the cornstarch. Fry the tofu in hot oil (in 2 batches so as to not overcrowd the pan) about 5 minutes until lightly browned. Remove the tofu to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.

3. Pour out all but 1 tbsp. of oil from the pan. Add the sliced jalapeños and garlic and sauté briefly. Add the fried tofu to the pan, season with 2 tsp. of Szechuan pepper-salt, and a dash of white pepper and voila! We're good to go. Garnish with sliced scallions before serving. Taste and add more pepper-salt and/or white pepper as needed.

Firm Tofu.

Cut the tofu into 1" cubes.

Sliced scallions, green and red jalapeño peppers, and garlic.

White Pepper and Szechuan Salt and Pepper.

Blot the tofu cubes dry.

Place several layers of paper towels on top of the tofu and weigh down with a large plate for at least 2 hours to remove any excess moisture.

 Saute the sliced chiles and garlic. 

 Dredge the tofu cubes in cornstarch.

Saute the cornstarch-coated pieces in hot oil. Remove to a paper-towel-lined plate. 

Pour out all but 1 tbsp. of the oil in the pan. Add the sautéed sliced chiles, garlic and cilantro to the pan. Cook 3-5 minutes. 

Season with ground Szechuan peppercorn-salt and sprinkle with some white pepper over the mixture just before serving. 

  Plate and garnish with some freshly sliced scallions over the top - voila!

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