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Black Pepper Tofu

James Ransom

Servings: 4

Tofu’s proponents have tried to get us to see all the ways to improve its texture—freezing or pressing or boiling to rid it of spare water, broiling or roasting to crisp it up. These are all effective at making tofu friendlier to cook with, but nothing is as guaranteed to seduce a skeptic as dredging tofu in cornstarch and pan-frying it to a shiny crisp, while the inner bits go soft and custardy. The just-fried nubs are almost too crunchy to eat, which is why it’s a good idea to add them to a pan of shallots, chiles, ginger, and garlic that have stewed in butter and soy and heaps of black pepper. In the sauce, the fried cubes will relax just enough, but maintain all the integrity you’ve fried into them.

This recipe is excerpted from Food52 Genius Recipes. Read our review.


  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1-3/4 lb. firm tofu
  • Cornstarch, to dust
  • 11 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 12 small shallots, thinly sliced
  • 8 fresh red chiles (fairly mild ones), thinly sliced
  • 12 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 Tbs. finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 3 Tbs. sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
  • 3 Tbs. light soy sauce
  • 4 tsp. dark soy sauce
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 5 Tbs. coarsely crushed black peppercorns (use a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder)
  • 16 small, thin green onions, cut into 1-1/4-inch segments


  • Start with the tofu. Pour enough oil into a large frying pan or wok to come 1/4 inch up the sides and heat over medium-high. Cut the tofu into large cubes, about 1 inch (2.5cm) square. Toss them in some cornstarch and shake off the excess, then add to the hot oil. (You’ll need to fry the tofu pieces in a few batches so they don’t stew in the pan.) Fry, turning them around as you go, until they are golden all over and have a thin crust. As they are cooked, transfer them onto paper towels.
  • Remove the oil and any sediment from the pan, then add the butter and melt it over low to medium heat. Add the shallots, chiles, garlic, and ginger. Sauté for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the ingredients have turned shiny and are totally soft. Next, add the soy sauces and sugar and stir, then add the crushed black pepper.
  • Add the tofu to warm it up in the sauce for about a minute. Finally, stir in the green onions. Serve hot.


Yes, you can ease back on the butter a little. And you can use whatever kind of soy sauce you have, if you adjust the saltiness to taste (and the sweetness, if you need to make up for not having kecap manis, a.k.a. sweet soy).Reprinted with permission from Food52 Genius Recipes by Kristen Miglore, copyright © 2015. Recipe courtesy of Yotam Ottolenghi. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.


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Reviews (6 reviews)

  • Sagada | 03/22/2021

    Way too much pepper! Ouch FC, this hardly ever happens. But the tofu itself was Devine and I’ve used the method over and over since.

  • bakergal53 | 07/28/2020

    Okay - a little too much pepper for me. I will cut back on it next time. I made my own Kecap Manis- not difficult.

  • CherylM1947 | 08/04/2018

    Delicious! I had to omit the chile peppers, so I went heavy on the black pepper, ginger, and garlic. I used the ordinary soy sauce that I had on hand. It's hard to imagine that it might have been even better without my adaptations.

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