My cousin Kenny shares my passion for tofu. Every week, we’re swappin’ recipes. For Christmas, he got me a tofu press. Recently we made BBQ tofu pizza together. The love runs deep. A few months ago, he sent me a recipe for a Sweet Chili Tofu he’d been perfecting. I made it immediately and our family enjoyed it so much we have made it no fewer than ten times since with only a few modifications. It is our fresh, hot, homemade take-out with all the classic comfort of a dish like sweet & sour chicken with none of the post-take-out regret.
I always say, “If any dish could convert a non-tofu lover, this is the one.” Our recipe testers agreed! They said:
I am not a tofu fan, I find the taste bland and the consistency off-putting but this recipe nailed both those aspects, with lots of flavour and a perfectly-cooked, crispy-but-moist tofu. Loved the sauce.
One said it was the only time she had been able to get her husband to eat tofu. “He says what are these blocks we are having? I told him to just taste it which he did. He actually enjoyed the dinner!”
“I’m making it again tomorrow. I see a habit coming on.”
“When you snitch a cube out of the skillet AFTER dinner you know it’s a winner…. It’s basically unicorn tofu.”
So, whether you love tofu or think you hate it, give this one a try. If you love it, as we do, you will come back to it again and again.
Moisture is the enemy of crispness
Pressing the water out of the tofu is a critical first step in preparing tofu. Moisture is the enemy of crispness! For many, many years I placed the tofu on a paper-towel lined plate, covered it with another paper towel, and then put something heavy on top like a pot with a couple cans inside it. It worked well enough, but several times I heard a crashing noise and returned to the kitchen to find the pot and cans on the kitchen floor. I also wanted to stop using paper towels!
Consider Investing in a tofu press
Once I found myself eating tofu several times a week, I decided to invest in a good tofu press. While this one is on the pricier side (about $40), it is by far the best I have ever used. Removing 1/2 cup of water from a block of tofu in less than 10 minutes, this press is tofu’s BFF. It’s efficacy ensures that tofu gets crispy on the outside while remaining creamy on the inside. I am obsessed with my Tofu Xpress and would venture to say it is one of my most beloved kitchen gadgets.
A Note on Spice in Sweet Chili Tofu
While I wouldn’t say this dish is terribly spicy, it does have a kick, so if you have kids, you might leave out (or cut back on) the chili. But my six-year-old hoovers it down by the spoonful, chili and all (with a water chaser!). If you can’t find sambal oelek, which I was able to find at my parent’s rural grocery store, you can use any kind of chili paste. A note from our testers: if you’re going to use a chili sauce (which is different than chili paste) like Sriracha, use less than the two tablespoons called for in the recipe.
If you like, top with chopped cilantro and/or toasted sesame seeds.
Sweet Chili Tofu
- 1/4 cup neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed
- 1 pound tofu, drained, pressed, and cut into 24 cubes per pound (halved crosswise, each half cut into 12 pieces)
- 1/4 cup plus 4 teaspoons cornstarch, divided
- 1/2 cup each: rice wine vinegar and sugar (sugar can be cut down to 1/3 cup depending on taste preference)
- 2 tablespoons each: soy sauce and sambal oelek (ground fresh chili paste)
- Heat oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over low heat. Meanwhile cut tofu and dredge it in 1/4 cup of the cornstarch. When almost ready to sauté, increase heat to medium-high. When whisps of smoke start to rise from the pan, add tofu and cook until golden brown on one of the sides, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn to opposite side and continue to cook until golden brown on the other side, about 3 minutes longer. Remove from pan and set aside.
- Meanwhile, mix 3/4 cup of water with vinegar, sugar, soy, and chili paste; add to empty skillet and bring to a boil. Mix remaining 4 teaspoons of cornstarch with 4 teaspoons of water. Stir into the sauce and continue to cook until it thickens, just a minute or so longer. Return tofu to the sauce and heat through.