The picture above probably doesn’t look that impressive, but that there was the best tofu I’ve ever had in the Western Hemisphere. It’s the salt and pepper tofu from Northwest Tofu, which my friend Mitchell recommended to me the last time I was in Seattle. It’s a simple enough dish–tofu dusted with starch, salt, and pepper and then deep fried–but that description barely does it justice. The crust is super thin and light, but full of crispy texture and perfectly seasoned. The tofu itself is so soft and custardy it pretty much melts in your mouth.
I tried to recreate the dish at home using firm silken tofu, cornstarch, and finely ground Sichuan peppercorns and sea salt. I think it turned out pretty well for my first attempt, but the coating got a little thicker than I wanted, and the tofu was firmer than I remember the original being. I can’t imagine trying to keep a cube of soft silken tofu intact through the coating and frying phases though; the firm tofu was already breaking up a bit even though I was trying to be very careful. That said, I think my version was still really tasty. =) Next time I might try using tapioca flour or potato starch instead of cornstarch just to see if that ends up being closer to what I remember.
Salt and Pepper Tofu
12 oz. package of firm silken tofu
5 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons sea salt, finely ground
1 teaspoon Sichuan or black peppercorns, finely ground
Vegetable oil, for frying
Pat the tofu dry with paper towels. Cut into 1″ cubes.
Mix together the cornstarch, salt, and ground pepper. Pour enough oil into a saucepan to reach 1″ depth and heat over medium high. The oil is ready for frying when it reaches 350°F or bubbles start to form when you dip a wooden utensil in the oil.
Working in small batches, carefully coat the tofu cubes in a thin layer of the cornstarch mixture, the thinner the better. Fry the tofu, turning after a minute or so, until all sides are a pale, golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and let drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.