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Crisp, savory salt and pepper tofu is a quick, easy, and versatile dish. Our recipe has all the benefits of the takeout version without the downsides of deep-frying.

salt and pepper tofu on a black plate
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Why we love this recipe

If you’re looking for a quick, craveable protein source to add to all kinds of meals or enjoy on its own, we’ve got you. This recipe is:

  • Ready in 20 minutes
  • Fresher, healthier, and less expensive than takeout
  • Vegan and gluten-free
  • So crisp and delicious you won’t be able to get enough!

What you’ll need

Here’s all you need to make this recipe.

cornstarch safflower oil, extra-firm tofu, salt, and pepper
  • Extra-firm tofu stays tender on the inside while crisping up nicely on the outside.
  • Cornstarch is gluten-free and kinda magical at making things crispy!
  • I like to use safflower oil, but any neutral-tasting oil with a high smoke point is fine. Other good choices include canola, peanut, and vegetable oil blend.

How to make it

Here’s all you need to do to make this recipe. You can see all the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post.

drying, coating, and pan-frying tofu
  1. Drying the tofu isn’t hard, but it’s really important to do it thoroughly. Use several changes of paper towels, and dry the tofu both before and after dicing.
  2. You can sprinkle the cornstarch, salt, and pepper evenly over the tofu or mix them together in the bowl before adding the tofu.
  3. Gently but thoroughly coat the tofu.
  4. After heating the oil in the pan, add the tofu in a single layer without crowding. Cook until crisp and golden on all (or almost all) sides. I like to leave it undisturbed for several minutes until the underside is golden and then stir it up a few times after that.

Expert tips and FAQs

How do you get tofu crispy?

The good news is that you don’t need to deep fry tofu to make it crispy! Here’s what you DO need to do for crispy tofu.

Use extra-firm tofu. It stays creamy inside and easily gets nice and crispy on the outside.

Dry it really, really well. Use multiple layers of paper towels and gently press down to extract moisture without damaging the tofu. Dry it both before and after dicing.

Coat lightly with cornstarch. This magic ingredient is the silver bullet for crispness.

Use an oil with a high smoke point, like safflower, canola, or peanut oil.

Don’t crowd the pan when cooking. Pan-fry in a single layer so the tofu doesn’t steam.

What if the pieces stick together in the pan?

If the pieces stick together a little bit and it bothers you, you can just gently separate them with a spatula. Next time, you can be a little bit more diligent about adding the pieces to the pan separately. I actually like when a few pieces stick together there and there, just sayin.

How do I store leftovers?

You can keep them tightly sealed in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for up to six months. To recrisp, heat in the toaster oven or in a 250°F oven.

How to serve it

This recipe is great by itself, dipped in soy sauce or dumpling sauce if you like. But it also makes an amenable component to some of our other favorite recipes. Try it in:

salt and pepper tofu on a black plate

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salt and pepper tofu on a black plate
4.86 from 7 votes

Salt and Pepper Tofu

By Carolyn Gratzer Cope
This recipe is so simple and easy, yet so next-level delicious. You can serve this 20-minute recipe alone or as a component of other dishes. See the notes section for our favorites.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Total: 20 minutes
Servings: 4
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Ingredients 

  • 1 14- ounce package extra-firm tofu
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons safflower or other neutral oil
  • Sliced scallion greens and red pepper flakes to garnish

Instructions 

  • Dry tofu very well between several layers of paper towels. I usually do this twice with a change of paper towels in between, pressing gently to extract moisture without damaging the tofu.
  • Cut tofu into approximate 1/2-inch cubes and dry well again, changing paper towels as necessary.
  • In a large mixing bowl, stir together cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Add tofu cubes and toss gently to coat evenly.
  • Warm the oil over medium-high heat in a 12-inch nonstick skillet.
  • Add tofu in a single layer and cook until golden brown on the bottom, then stir once in a while and continue cooking until most sides are golden. This will take about 10 minutes total.
  • Slide tofu onto paper towels to drain any excess oil

Step-by-step video

Notes

  1. This recipe is best eaten warm, shortly after it’s made.
  2. Store any leftovers tightly sealed in the fridge for up to a week. Recrisp in the toaster oven or on a sheet pan in a 250°F oven if you like.
  3. Besides eating this dish by itself, we especially like adding it to Roxane’s 20-minute vegan sushi bowls, collard green wraps, and our Napa cabbage stir fry.
  4. Here’s the pan featured in the video.

Nutrition

Serving: 1, Calories: 147kcal, Carbohydrates: 9g, Protein: 10g, Fat: 9g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 7g, Sodium: 270mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 1g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Beans + Lentils
Cuisine: Chinese
Tried this recipe?Mention @umamigirl or tag #umamigirl!

Hungry for more?

Subscribe to Umami Girl’s email updates, and follow along on Instagram.

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Carolyn Gratzer Cope Bio Photo

About Carolyn Gratzer Cope

Hi there, I'm Carolyn Gratzer Cope, founder and publisher of Umami Girl. Join me in savoring life, one recipe at a time. I'm a professional recipe developer with training from the French Culinary Institute (now ICE) and a lifetime of studying, appreciating, and sharing food.

4.86 from 7 votes (7 ratings without comment)

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2 Comments

  1. I do not see a video attached to this recipe. I was looking for a demo of drying tofu to make your Tofu Cauliflower Curry.