Simmering super-savory sauce over crumbled and fried extra firm tofu yields a crispy ground meat texture that soaks up the stir-fry sauce. It also gives you a plate of restaurant-quality tofu in your very own kitchen. It’s one of the most delicious recipes I’ve ever made or eaten with tofu.
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.
The inspiration for this recipe comes from a 2015 post from Christina Chaey in Bon Appetit Magazine. It was featured in a series called Cooking Without Recipes, where chefs shared old school methodologies for amazing dishes, but without measurements. Since this is how I cook on a daily basis (pre-recipe-development-career), it was a great way for me to learn a new cooking method for tofu. It also allows me to customize the flavors to my liking. It’s how all tasty recipes are born.
Ms. Chaey is a genius and I’m forever in her debt.
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 Chinese tofu in stir fry sauce:
- Extra firm tofu
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Fresh ginger
- Fresh garlic
- Green onions
- Light and dark soy sauce
- Sesame oil
- Chili crisp
- Rice wine vinegar
- Vegetable stock
- Vegetable oil or other neutral oil
- White pepper (optional)
- Fish sauce (optional)
Step by step instructions for Chinese-style tofu:
Cut open the packaging and drain a block of extra-firm tofu. Wrap the block of 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! Tofu is the main ingredient in this dish so we want to treat it right.
Once the tofu has drained (at least 30 minutes, but an hour will only help the texture), 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.
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 delicious and crumbly like ground pork, transfer the tofu to a plate and set aside.
Reduce the burner to medium heat and add the last tablespoon of oil to the same pan. Sauté the diced shiitakes, scallions, and grated garlic and ginger until the mushrooms are browned, about 4-5 minutes. If the pan gets too dry, add a little bit of oil until it is finished cooking. 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.
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.
Spoon the tofu stir fry mixture over cooked rice or noodles. Then top it with fresh cucumbers, red chilis, and herbs such as basil, cilantro, and mint. Keep your jar of chili crisp handy, as well.
Variations and serving suggestions:
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.
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.
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).
FAQ’s for this dish:
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). In Asia, many restaurants make their own variety in-house. 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.
If you are looking to remove the spicy factor, just use a flavor you enjoy – it could be a pinch of black pepper, diced bell peppers or green onions, even some extra garlic works here.
Simple steamed or sauteed 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 also 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.
Cornstarch acts as a crisping agent for the tofu, so substitutions would include potato starch or arrowroot powder.
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.
More recipe for you to try!
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Easy Restaurant-style Chinese Tofu (that tastes like pork!)
- Total Time: 35 minutes
- Yield: 4-5 1x
Rich and saucy ground tofu in a sweet-savory Chinese sauce is the better-than-takeout vegetarian dish you’ve been waiting to make. Serve with wide egg noodles or basmati for a delicious dinner!
4 tablespoons neutral oil, divided
1 block extra firm tofu (16 ounces)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and diced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced or grated
3 garlic cloves, minced or grated
2 green onions, sliced
1/4 cup light soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons chili crisp
1 1/2 cups veggie broth
3/4 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
Splash of fish sauce, optional
Dash of white pepper, optional
For serving: fresh cilantro, basil, mint, cucumbers, red chili peppers
Drain a block of extra-firm tofu and wrap it 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, cast iron skillet, and maybe some books. 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 help), crumble the pressed and fairly dried tofu into a small bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch to coat.
Heat 3 tablespoons of neutral oil in a wok or cast iron pan over medium-high heat until shimmering, then 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 it in the skillet. Fry until the ground tofu is golden brown and crispy. Resist the urge to stand at the stove and stir, 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. When the entire mixture has a nice sear and it’s looking delicious and crumbly like ground pork, transfer to a plate and set aside.
Reduce burner to medium heat and add the last tablespoon of oil to the same pan. Sauté the diced shiitakes, scallions, and grated garlic and ginger until mushrooms are browned, about 4-5 minutes. If the pan gets too dry, add a little bit of oil until it is finished cooking.
In a measuring cup or small bowl, add the vegetable stock, light and dark soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, chili crisp, rice wine vinegar, and a splash of fish sauce and white pepper, if using. Add the sauce and tofu crumbles to the pan with the mushrooms, ginger and garlic, and cook about 2 minutes, until the sticky sauce coats the tofu.
Taste and adjust seasoning.
Spoon tofu mixture over a bed of rice or wide noodles and top with fresh cucumbers, red chilis, and herbs like basil, cilantro, and mint. Keep your jar of chili crisp handy, as well.
- Prep Time: 10
- Cook Time: 25
- Category: Easy Recipes
- Method: Stove Top
- Cuisine: Asian
Keywords: Chinese tofu recipe, ground tofu recipe, vegetarian Chinese recipe
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