This Chinese Tofu Recipe has been one of my favorite discoveries of the year. The simple cooking method gives you a plate of restaurant-quality tofu (that tastes like crispy ground pork!) in your very own kitchen.
Do you still have people in your life who insist they don't like tofu? Is that person you? Allow me to introduce you to my little friend...the saucy, sticky tofu dish you'll actually crave...restaurant-style Chinese Tofu in Garlic Sauce.
After years of making and modifying this non-recipe, I've made it into an actual recipe for your enjoyment. It's equally delicious over steamed basmati rice or wide egg noodles, and don't forget the fresh herbs and chilis for garnish. Your taste buds will never be the same...
What you’ll need to make this recipe:
Before we get to the step-by-step instructions, a few notes about the ingredients. This recipe is based on a non-recipe recipe post in Bon Appetit Magazine years ago. Christina Chaey was the author and I instantly fell in love. Over the years I refined the measurements into the recipe you see here!
Soy Sauce: If you don't have dark soy sauce, just use extra light soy sauce. You can also substitute a few teaspoons of oyster sauce in the tofu mixture sauce. Dark soy sauce has a thicker consistency. It is far more salty and flavorful than light soy sauce, so proceed with caution.
Sweetener: Brown sugar, white sugar, stevia, maple syrup or agave could be used in place of honey. I love the balance of honey with soy and chili crisp, but use what you have on hand.
Make it Vegan: If you're looking to make a fully vegan tofu recipe, substitute sugar for honey, and omit the optional fish sauce and oyster sauce (or use a vegan version).
Full ingredient measurements included in the printable recipe card below.
How to make this tofu recipe:
1. Prep Tofu
Cut open the packaging and drain a block of extra-firm tofu. Wrap the tofu in several layers of paper towels.
I usually cut my tofu in 2-3 equal slices before wrapping it in paper towels and weighting it with a heavy cutting board, then a cast iron skillet, and maybe some books stacked inside the skillet. (And if you're not pressing your tofu with David Sedaris masterpieces, you just don't know what you're missing.)
Removing excess moisture from the tofu is critical to achieving the minced meat texture we're looking for, so please don't skip over this step!
Once the tofu has drained (at least 30 minutes, but an hour will only improve the texture more), use your hands to crumble the pressed tofu into a bowl.
Toss the crumbled tofu with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and ensure the crumbles are coated well in the starch.
2. Cook Tofu
Heat 3 tablespoons of neutral oil in a wok or cast iron pan over medium high heat until the oil is hot and shimmering. Add the crumbled tofu tossed in cornstarch into the hot oil.
Use a wooden spatula to break up any larger pieces of tofu as you shallow fry the mixture in the skillet.
Fry until the ground tofu is golden brown and crispy. Resist the urge to stand at the stove and stir the mixture as it cooks, as this will slow the browning process. Just check on it every few minutes and ensure you're achieving a golden brown crust before tossing the tofu. This process will take 10-12 minutes, depending on the heat and the pan you're using. When the entire mixture has a nice sear and it's looking crumbly like ground pork, transfer the tofu to a plate and set aside.
3. Make the Sweet and Savory Sauce
Reduce the burner to medium and add the last tablespoon of oil to the same pan. Sauté the diced shiitakes, scallions, grated garlic and ginger until the mushrooms are browned, about 4-5 minutes. Monitor the heat to ensure the garlic doesn't brown or burn while cooking the mushrooms.
While the mushrooms are cooking, in a measuring cup or small bowl, combine all sauce ingredients. Add the vegetable stock, light and dark soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, chili crisp, rice vinegar, and a splash of fish sauce and white pepper, if using. Stir to mix well.
4. Finishing Touches
Once the mushrooms have browned, add the sauce and tofu crumbles back into the pan with the mushrooms, ginger and garlic.
Cook about 2 minutes, until the mixture simmers and the sticky sauce coats the tofu. Taste and adjust seasoning.
5. Garnish and Serve
Spoon the tofu stir fry mixture over cooked rice or noodles. Then top with fresh cucumbers, red chilis, and herbs such as basil, cilantro, and mint. Keep your jar of chili crisp handy, as well.
FAQ's and Serving Suggestions:
The most common types of tofu are extra firm, firm, regular and silken. The different tofu categories correspond to the amount of water in the finished tofu product. So silken tofu is very soft, almost like pudding, because it has more water. Extra firm tofu is more ideal for this recipe or anything made with tofu cubes and promising "extra crispy tofu" in the recipe description. It is most readily available in grocery stores across the US, so you shouldn't have a problem finding it. The sauce for this Chinese tofu dish is extremely flavorful, and would be delicious in almost any application, so feel free to use whatever tofu or seafood you have on hand. Just be aware that the texture of the tofu will not feel like rich and crispy ground pork if you use a softer style of tofu.
The chili crisp in the sauce adds a balanced, flavorful heat to the mixture. If you're looking for a truly spicy tofu dish, adding a half teaspoon of red pepper flakes, or a teaspoon of garlic chili sauce (such as sambal oelek or sriracha) would add another layer of heat. Using chili oil in place of 1 tablespoon of neutral oil while sauteing the tofu would add additional flavor and heat. And I like to garnish this tofu stir fry dish with sliced red chili peppers, and that gives a final opportunity to create a spicier dish.
Ground ginger is a great substitute for fresh ginger - start with 1 teaspoon and then taste and adjust seasoning from there. Same goes for garlic, if you're out of fresh garlic cloves, grab the garlic powder.
Chili crisp is one of my favorite pantry staples. It's available in Asian markets or here on Amazon. It is a super flavorful oil infused with crispy bits of dried chilies, garlic, onion and any number of other aromatics. Lao Gan Ma is the most popular and readily available brand (it's the one I always have in my pantry, no matter where I am in the world). Generally, chili crisp is a balance of savory and spicy flavors. I find it less spicy and less acidic than sriracha, and more approachable for many people.
If you are looking to substitute for chili crisp, you could use whatever spicy thing you have in the pantry or fridge that your whole family enjoys. Hot sauce, red chili flakes, even cayenne powder.
Simple steamed Chinese broccoli, baby bok choy, sugar snap peas, even a simple veggie stir fry would all go well with this tofu dish. And don't forget to make your favorite kind of rice and noodles! My personal favorite is basmati rice, but jasmine rice or even plain white rice or brown rice would be a great foundation for this Chinese tofu. Cauliflower rice could be a good low carb option. I often serve Scallion Ginger Sauce with any Asian rice or noodle dish. Shrimp Wontons and Chinese Eggplant with Oyster Sauce would be a lovely appetizer and side dish combination.
Neutral-flavored oil that has a high smoking point is best for frying tofu. Canola is great and so are vegetable/soybean oil and peanut oil.
The drier you can get your tofu, the crispier it will become. You could pat tofu with a lint-free kitchen towel or paper towel before you start cooking but even better to press some of that excess water out using a heavy weight (see pic above).
To store, transfer the tofu to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. The texture of tofu changes with freezing, so I would advise against freezing leftovers.