Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.
It’s easy to see why some people are turned off by tofu. As a relatively neutral-tasting protein that acts as a blank canvas, tofu gets a bad rap for bland flavor, and its smooth texture and distinctly jiggly consistency can be polarizing. However, when it’s paired with bold flavors and a crisp-inducing cooking method, even the most die-hard tofu haters might be converted.
In this recipe, those bold flavors come in the form of a sweet-and-savory peanut sauce that’s spiked with chili crunch and soy sauce, brightened with a boost of acid from red wine vinegar and lime juice. The crisped texture comes from the oven, and the key is to dry the tofu out as much as you can before cooking. Tofu is most often packed in water, and that moisture will impede the crisping process in the oven. In an ideal world, you’d drain the water from the packaging, squeeze out the excess water from the tofu using paper towels or a kitchen towel, then wrap the tofu in more towels and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours, with a can or two on top as a gentle weight.
But if you’re not able to prep that far in advance, you’ll still achieve a nicely textured exterior simply by squeezing as much water out of the tofu as possible 10 to 15 minutes before getting started. Dredging the tofu pieces in corn starch helps too.
I’ve experimented with cooking tofu in both a skillet and in the oven, and the oven method has won my favor—especially when cooking for four. Not only is it significantly easier to roast the tofu on a sheet pan, but I also find that the oven results in a consistently crunchy exterior, without the splattering or clean-up of a pan-fry.
Some recipes suggest tearing tofu into pieces by hand, rather than using a knife. Either will work with this recipe, so go with your method of choice, but there are pros and cons. Tearing by hand creates irregular, scraggly edges that offer more surface area for giving the tofu added texture, but it’s trickier to control the size of each piece, which can lead to inconsistent cooking. On the contrary, cutting offers more control and consistency but with smoother edges. Either way, the most important thing is to use extra-firm tofu so the structure holds up in the oven and the pieces don’t disintegrate into a crumbly mess (which would still be delicious, just less visually appealing).
The versatile sauce is convenient to keep on hand for a variety of applications, and it even freezes well. I’ve dipped raw vegetables into it for a midday snack, spread it on wraps and thinned it out with some additional rice wine vinegar and water to use it as a salad dressing, to name just a few examples. At the “taste and adjust” step in the recipe, don’t be shy about messing with the ratios. Some people will inevitably prefer a sweeter, more peanut-forward sauce, while others may prefer more acidity or heat. With this combination of ingredients, it’s hard to go wrong. Just taste as you go.
With numerous components mingling together in the sauce, I kept the wine pairing classic. German Riesling is known for complementing the spice, acidity and sweetness that’s prominent in Asian cuisines such as Thai and Vietnamese, both of which have some overlap with the flavor profile of this dish, making for a natural fit that lets the sauce (and tofu!) shine.
I went with Bassermann-Jordan Riesling Trocken Pfalz 2020. While the suggested release price is $24, I’ve found this bottle in several shops for $18 and as low as $16. That being said, there are countless options for great Rieslings with tropical, honeyed fruit notes and minerality that would pair beautifully with this, so by all means, reach for a favorite producer.
Crispy Tofu with Peanut Sauce
Pair with a minerally German Riesling featuring delicate floral and fruit notes like honeysuckle and lychee, such as Bassermann-Jordan Riesling Trocken Pfalz 2020 (87 points, $24).
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes
Approximate food costs: $30
- 1 pound extra-firm tofu
- 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
- 3 tablespoons chili crunch (also known as chili crisp, this spicy jarred condiment is akin to chili oil, but with a greater proportion of crispy bits)
- 3 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
- Juice and zest from 1 lime
- 1/4 cup soy sauce, divided
- 1/2 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon neutral oil (such as grapeseed or vegetable)
- Optional garnish: 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- Optional accompaniments: 1 cup cooked rice and 1 English cucumber, cut into 1/4-inch sticks
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Drain the tofu and use a kitchen towel or paper towels to squeeze out as much water as possible. (Optional: Wrap the tofu in several towels, place it on a plate with a weighted object on top such as a can of beans or jar of honey, and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours.)
2. Either by ripping with your hands or cutting with a knife, separate the tofu into 1-inch pieces, then add to a large bowl and set aside at room temperature for at least 10 minutes while you prepare the sauce.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together peanut butter, chili crunch, rice wine vinegar, the lime juice and zest, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, honey and 1 tablespoon of water. Season with salt and taste to see if any adjustments are needed. For a thinner texture, whisk in more water, 1/2 tablespoon at a time. Set aside.
4. Add cornstarch to the bowl with the tofu and toss until each piece is coated. Spread onto a foil-lined sheet pan, toss with oil and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the sheet pan to the oven and roast the tofu for about 20 minutes, turning once halfway through, until the exterior is crisp and lightly golden. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce.
5. Serve the tofu over a bed of cooked white rice and some raw cucumber sticks or on its own, with the peanut sauce drizzled over the top. If desired, garnish with sliced scallions. Serves 4.