Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Blackened Chinese Spiced Tofu with Ginger Dipping Sauce

There are milestones in every cook’s life when they make something for the first time and think, “I can never go back”. This is my third such moment. The first came when I first visited Bangkok four years ago and learned to make my own curry paste. The second was a year ago when I bought my first home-made ice-cream machine. And the third was last week when I made my own spice rub for this tofu dish.

I am not a chef; I’m a girl who loves learning to cook new things. To some a spice-rub is probably fairly basic, but to me it was a new step on my culinary journey. During my spice-rub epiphany I realised how wonderful it is to season food with a combination of flavours and a texture that works for your dish. I can’t believe that I have gone through life never questioning Chinese five spices or garam masala. Having finally figured out the delicate combination of beautiful spices that go into those mixes…well, I feel like I just cracked the Da Vinci Code or something.

Anyway, I suggest doubling or trebling the quantities for the spice rub and keeping the rest in an airtight container for future use. I have already used it since on chicken breasts and pork belly.

This dish follows my golden rule for vegetarian cooking: treat the main element as you would meat – so in this case, marinate, spice rub and fry. My veggie guests all gave it a big thumbs up.

Time: 1 hour
Rating: A little effort - the spice rub takes a bit of work if you are grinding by hand, and there are a few different stages and processes to this dish
Serves: 2


1 block firm tofu

For the Marinade:
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil

Spice Rub:
1 tsp black pepper corns
2 star anise
1 tsp Szechuan pepper corns
1 inch cinnamon stick
1 tsp dried ginger
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar

Dipping Sauce:
120ml light soy sauce
60ml cup red wine vinegar
2 tsp minced ginger
3 tbsp brown sugar
2 spring onions

Serve with steamed wild rice, stir-fried pak choi and sliced shitake mushrooms


  1. First marinate the tofu. Remove it from its package and blot dry using kitchen roll. Cut in half into smaller blocks and place in a small shallow dish.
  2. If you are making steamed rice, put this on now and keep it warm until all the other components are ready.
  3. Combine the soy sauce and sesame oil and pour over the tofu. Leave to marinate in the fridge for half an hour, turning over at least once.
  4. Next prepare your dipping sauce.  Very finely mince the ginger and combine with the soy sauce and red wine vinegar. In a small saucepan melt the brown sugar on high heat, until it is just melted but not burnt. Add the soy sauce, ginger and red wine and reduce to a medium heat. The sugar will harden but don’t worry. Bring the mixture to the boil until the sugar is melted again. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Once cooled, finely chop the spring onions and add to the sauce before transferring to a small serving bowl.
  5. Next prepare your spice rub. Using either a coffee grinder, spice grinder or mortar and pestle, grind the first four spice rub ingredients one at a time. Don’t grind them so much that they become a fine powder as you want to keep some of the texture, but try not to leave any very large chunks in there. Add the remaining spice rub ingredients, combine and spread the mixture out on a plate.
  6. Remove the tofu from the marinade and blot dry onto some kitchen roll, pressing down firmly to help the moisture escape. The drier you can get the tofu, the tastier and firmer it will be so repeat this several times until the kitchen roll stays dry.
  7. Once dry, place the tofu onto the spice rub and press down. Turn each block over and repeat several times until there is a nice thick crust.
  8. Heat a little vegetable oil in small frying pan until it is very hot. Place the tofu squares in the pan and cook for about 2-3 minutes on each side and then another minute on each side. You want it to take on a nice char-grilled look but not burnt to a crisp! Be very careful when you turn them over to avoid scraping off the rub. Use tongs if you have them.
  9. If you are serving pak choi and sliced shitake mushrooms, put these on immediately after the tofu goes into the pan. Cook in a hot wok with a little bit of vegetable oil and a dash of soy sauce, stirring constantly.
  10. Remove the tofu from the pan and cut each block into evenly sized strips. Serve with the rice, greens and dipping sauce.


  1. Szechuan pepper corns?!?!?! This sounds wonderful!

    1. I just discovered them, they have an awesoe flavour. And I think they're pretty easy to find. Thanks for checking the recipe out :-) x

  2. Hi Venessa, I like tofu but never cooked it this way. Going to try it soon. Got a surprise for youi so come over to see what it is. :)

    1. Thanks so much! Very touched - just back from a few days on an island and this was a lovely surprise. Will pass on the love soon!

  3. This sounds brilliant. I'm always looking for ginger/soy dipping sauce to taste just right so I'll have to remember yours to give it a try! I like your blog and am following.

    1. Thanks very much :-) big fan of your blog too. Hope the dipping sauce works for you!

  4. Your spice rub sound great. I am going to try it with pork belly and the dipping sauce too. Thanks.

    1. THanks Francesca. It was really yummy on the pork belly - will blog that soon...