Air fryer salt and pepper tofu is quick, easy, and packed with bold seasonings. You can expect a satisfying crunch with every bite.Jump to Recipe
Air fryer salt and pepper tofu is a vegan dish that combines the crispy goodness of tofu with a burst of savory and aromatic flavors. Tofu is marinated and seasoned with spices like salt, black pepper, and sichuan peppercorn powder.
Air frying transforms the tofu giving it a crunch on the outside and a tender, pillowy interior. This dish is not only incredibly easy to make but also versatile. You can enjoy this as an appetizer, or main course.
- What is Salt and Pepper Tofu?
- Why You'll Love This Recipe
- Ingredient Notes
- Can Other Types of Tofu Be Used?
- Do I Have to Marinate The Tofu?
- How It's Made
- Tips for Pressing Tofu
- Air Fryer Salt and Pepper Tofu Recipe Tips
- Is This Air Fryer Salt and Pepper Tofu Healthy?
- Storing and Reheating
- More Tofu Recipes You'll Love
- More Air Fryer Recipes You'll Love
- Crispy Air Fryer Salt and Pepper Tofu
What is Salt and Pepper Tofu?
Crispy salt and pepper tofu is a popular Asian dish that features cubes or slices of tofu that are seasoned with salt, ground black pepper, and sometimes other spices or seasonings. The tofu is typically deep-fried or pan-fried until it becomes crispy and golden on the outside while maintaining a soft and creamy interior. It's often served as an appetizer or a main course and is known for its savory, peppery flavor and delightful contrast in textures between the crispy exterior and the tender tofu inside.
Salt and pepper tofu is a versatile dish, and variations of it can be found in various Asian cuisines, including Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai. It's often garnished with sliced green onions, fresh chili peppers, and sometimes garlic or other herbs for added flavor and visual appeal. It can be served with dipping sauces like soy sauce, sweet chili sauce, or a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar for extra flavor.
This dish is especially popular among vegetarians and vegans as it provides a satisfying and protein-rich alternative to meat-based dishes. While it's traditionally deep fried or pan fried, this air fryer recipe makes it a bit healthier by eliminating all the oil used.
Why You'll Love This Recipe
Crispy Texture: The air fryer creates a wonderfully crispy exterior on the tofu without the need for deep frying. It achieves that perfect crunch while keeping the inside tender and moist.
Healthier Option: Air frying requires significantly less oil than traditional frying methods, making it a healthier choice. It's a guilt free snack you can enjoy without the excess calories and saturated fats.
Quick and Convenient: Air frying is fast and efficient, allowing you to have salt and pepper tofu on the table in a fraction of the time it would take with other cooking methods.
Vegan and Vegetarian-Friendly: This dish is a fantastic option for vegans and vegetarians seeking a protein-packed and flavorful alternative to meat-based dishes.
Minimal Cleanup: The air fryer is easy to clean, which means you spend less time on kitchen cleanup and more time enjoying your delicious meal.
Creative Pairings: You can get creative with how you serve it, pairing it with different sauces and sides to create a diverse range of meals.
Firm tofu - I found that firm tofu has the best texture for this recipe. However, that's my preference. Other types can be used. We will get into that more later.
Soy sauce - I suggest sticking to a low sodium soy so you can better control the amount of sodium in the dish. Keep in mind, if you're on a gluten free diet you'll want to swap this for a gluten free brand or try liquid aminos instead.
Sriracha - For extra flavor and spiciness. I absolutely love sriracha. This is not typically used in the authentic recipe but I found that this takes the flavor to the next level especially if you like a little spice. I use it in the marinade and to garnish over the top once done.
Sugar - For a touch of sweetness and to balance all the umami flavor in the soy sauce. Regular granulated sugar will work just fine. You can substitue for maple syrup or honey if you prefer.
Water - To thin out the sauce and to keep it from being overpowering.
Sesame oil - To infuse the tofu with even more flavor. Don't have sesame oil? No worries, you can substitute peanut oil, vegetable, or canola oil.
Seasoned salt - Regular salt can be used but I prefer the added flavors that seasoned salt brings to a dish.
Sichuan peppercorn powder - A delicious aromatic commonly found in chinese five spice. If you have trouble finding this try visiting a specialty food store. If you can only find the whole peppercorns you can grind them using a mortar and pestle to create a powder.
Freshly ground black pepper - Using two varieties of pepper increases the aromatics even more.
Corn starch - To give the tofu a light crispy texture on the outside.
Cooking spray - For keeping the tofu from sticking to the air fryer basket and to help give the tofu that extra crispy texture we all love.
Cooking oil - Used to sautee the scallions, garlic, and chili before it's added over top of the tofu. Vegetable or canola can be used.
Scallions - The green and white part are both used in the garnish
Garlic - Fresh garlic is best for this recipe.
Red thai chili - For color and added heat
Sichuan Peppercorn - combine black pepper, coriander seeds, and lemon zest to mimic the spiced citrusy flavor of the sichaun
Red Thai Chili - Red Fresno chilies are a good substitute for red Thai chilies. They have a similar heat level and provide a slightly sweet, fruity flavor. Remove the seeds and membranes if you want to reduce the heat.
Corn starch - Arrowroot powder and tapioca starch are great one-to-one replacements.
Can Other Types of Tofu Be Used?
Yes, you can use different types of tofu in air fryer salt and pepper tofu, but the results may vary slightly in terms of texture and flavor. I recommend firm tofu because it holds its shape well as it's being cooked and maintains a tender center. Some tofu varieties work better than others when it comes to substitutions. Below is what I recommend.
Extra Firm Tofu: Holds its shape well much like firm tofu does but the texture is firmer because it holds less water. It's easy to air fry but doesn't absorb marinades as well as firm does.
Super Firm Tofu: A very dense variety of tofu that doesn't contain a lot of water. Much like extra firm it doesn't absorb marinades very well. It does get very crispy when fried, more so than extra firm and firm.
Feel free to experiment with different types to see which best fits your taste. I don't recommend regular or silken tofu for this recipe because it's too soft and may not crisp up the ways other varieties do.
Do I Have to Marinate The Tofu?
No. Marinating the asian air fryer tofu is completely optional. I prefer to marinate tofu before I cook it because it helps develop flavor from the inside out. However, this step takes extra time so if you want to throw it together and save time, you can.
How It's Made
Step 1. Remove the block of tofu from the package and apply a weight over top of the block to squeeze out the excess moisture. Press for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Step 2. While the tofu is being pressed, combine all the marinade ingredients into a small bowl and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
Step 3. After the tofu has been pressed place it in a large bowl and combine with the marinade. Marinate between 1-2 hours. Flip the tofu periodically to make sure all of the pieces get coated.
Prepare and Air Fry Tofu
Step 4. After the tofu has marinated, drain the marinade from the bowl. Top the tofu with sesame oil, salt, sichuan peppercorn powder, and black pepper. Stir until all the tofu is seasoned.
Step 5. Stir in the corn starch until all the pieces are coated well.
Step 6. Spray the air fryer basket with cooking oil to prevent sticking. Place the tofu in the air fryer and cook at 380 degrees for 15 minutes or until the tofu has started to become golden brown. Flip the tofu at the 10 minute mark.
Step 7. While the tofu is cooking, prepare the garnish. Heat a skillet over medium heat with the cooking oil.
Step 8. Once the oil has heated, add the scallions, garlic, and thai chili. Sauté for about 3-4 minutes until fragrant and the garlic, chili, and scallions have begun to soften.
Step 9. Once the tofu is done, place on a plate and top with an additional pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Pour the garnish over the top and serve immediately. Optional: drizzle additional sriracha over the top for extra spice.
Tips for Pressing Tofu
Pressing tofu is an important step in preparing it for cooking because it helps remove excess moisture. It also allows the tofu to crisp up nicely in the air fryer. Here are some tips for pressing tofu effectively:
Use a Tofu Press: Tofu presses are designed specifically for this purpose and make the process much easier. They consist of two flat surfaces that apply even pressure to the tofu. Place the tofu in the press and follow the manufacturer's instructions. This is especially useful if you cook with tofu a lot.
DIY Pressing Method: If you don't have a tofu press, don't worry you can press tofu with the items you already have on hand. Start by wrapping the block of tofu in several layers of clean kitchen towels or paper towels to absorb the moisture. Place the wrapped tofu on a flat surface, like a cutting board. Put a heavy object on top, such as a cast-iron skillet or a stack of heavy books. Then, allow the tofu to press for at least 20-30 minutes. For extra-firm tofu, you can press it for up to an hour.
Things to keep in mind:
Changing Towels or Paper Towels: If the towels or paper towels become too saturated during pressing, you'll want to replace them with fresh, dry ones. This will help remove excess moisture more efficiently.
Apply Even Pressure: When using a DIY pressing method, make sure the weight or object you place on top of the tofu is evenly distributed. If you press one side more than the other you can end up tearing the tofu or not getting the moistue out as well.
Be Gentle: Tofu can be delicate, especially when pressed. Handle it gently to avoid breaking it apart.
Air Fryer Salt and Pepper Tofu Recipe Tips
Choose the Right Tofu: Use firm or extra-firm tofu for the best results. These varieties have lower moisture content and will crisp up nicely in the air fryer.
Press the Tofu: Before marinating or seasoning, press the tofu to remove excess moisture. Follow the tips mentioned earlier to press the tofu effectively. Skipping this step could result in the corn starch mixture not sticking and instead becoming a clumpy mess later on.
Season Generously: Be generous with the seasonings for a more flavorful tofu. Keep in mind that tofu has little to no flavor on its own so it may take a bit more than you would think.
Arrange Tofu Evenly: Arrange the tofu pieces in a single layer in the air fryer basket, ensuring they are not overcrowded. This allows for proper air circulation and even cooking.
Serve Immediately: Air fryer tofu is best enjoyed hot and right after cooking to maintain its crispy texture. Serve it as an appetizer, side dish, or in a main course.
Is This Air Fryer Salt and Pepper Tofu Healthy?
I would say that this easy air fryer tofu recipe is healthy. Especially compared to the traditional deep-fried tofu recipe. Below are some of my favorite health perks.
- Plant Based Protein
- Lower in Saturated Fat
- No Cholesterol
Storing and Reheating
Before storing the air fryer tofu allow to cool to room temperature. Place the tofu in an airtight container and refrigerate for 3-4 days.
To reheat, place leftover tofu in a single layer in the air fryer basket, then cook at 350 degrees for 3-5 minutes or until heated through completely. Be sure to check the tofu before it's done to ensure you don't overcook it.
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Crispy Air Fryer Salt and Pepper Tofu
- 16 oz firm tofu
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sriracha
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
- 1/4 teaspoon sichuan peppercorn powder
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 4 tablespoons corn starch
- Cooking spray
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 1 bunch scallions sliced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 red thai chili chopped
- Remove the block of tofu from the package and apply a weight over top of the block to squeeze out the excess moisture. Press for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- While the tofu is being pressed, combine all the marinade ingredients into a small bowl and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
- After the tofu has been pressed place it in a large bowl and combine with the marinade. Marinate between 1-2 hours. Flip the tofu periodically to make sure all of the pieces get coated.
Prepare and Air Fryer Tofu
- After the tofu has marinated, drain the marinade from the bowl. Top the tofu with sesame oil, salt, sichuan peppercorn powder, and black pepper. Stir until all the tofu is seasoned.
- Stir in the corn starch until all the pieces are coated well.
- Spray the air fryer basket with cooking oil to prevent sticking. Place the tofu in the air fryer and cook at 380 degrees for 15 minutes or until the tofu has started to become golden brown. Flip the tofu at the 10 minute mark.
- While the tofu is cooking, prepare the garnish. Heat a skillet over medium heat with the cooking oil.
- Once the oil has heated, add the scallions, garlic, and thai chili. Sauté for about 3-4 minutes until fragrant and the garlic, chili, and scallions have begun to soften.
- Once the tofu is done, place on a plate and top with an additional pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Pour the garnish over the top and serve immediately. Optional: drizzle additional sriracha over the top for extra spice.