Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty is one of the most beautiful cookbooks I've acquired in the last year, and I find myself swooning over its recipes every time I flip it open. It's full of inventive ideas (all of which are vegetarian), one of which I've already covered in this column involving a dressing with orange flower water. And that creativity is no different with this recipe, which drapes crisp tofu in a complex sauce of black pepper, butter, and soy sauce.
That said, it requires some modification (this recipe in particular has been highlighted as an example of one with good ideas, but inexact quantities), which I've adapted in my version, like pan-searing the tofu instead of deep-frying it, using far less butter and keeping the amount of black pepper in check. Regardless, this result is crisp-pillowy tofu and a deeply pungent and spicy sauce, which is also sweet and warming. It's intense, so don't skip on serving it with plenty of white rice.
While the recipe calls for three different kinds of soy sauce (one of which is sweet), the recipe would be nearly as good with just one. Adding some honey or molasses to taste would balance the dish back out.
Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi.
- 1 3/4 pounds firm tofu, cut into large (1-inch square) cubes and well-dried with paper towels
- Cornstarch to dust the tofu
- 3 tablespoons neutral oil
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 8-12 shallots (12 ounces in total), thinly sliced
- 4 fresh red chiles, thinly sliced, or less to taste
- 12 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
- 3 tablespoons sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
- 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons coarsely crushed black peppercorns (use a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder)
- 16 small and thin green onions, sliced or shredded
- Cooked white rice for serving
In a large bowl, spinkle the tofu with the cornstarch and toss well to lightly coat.
Heat the oil a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat until almost smoking. Add the cubes of tofu and cook, turning the pieces occasionally, until golden and crisp all over. Transfer to a sheet pan lined with paper towels and set aside.
Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel and add 3 tablespoons of the butter. Heat the skillet over medium until the foam subsides, then add the shallots, chiles, garlic, and ginger. Cook, stirring often, until completely soft.
Add the soy sauces to the skillet, along with the sugar and peppercorns. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, then add the tofu back to the skillet and stir to coat it well. Taste for a balance of sweet and spicy, adding sugar or more peppercorns as needed (keep in mind the sauce is meant to be very intense and may well be salty).
Add the remaining tablespoon of butter and turn off the heat. Stir well until the butter is just melted into the sauce (it should make it somewhat shiny). Add the scallions and stir, then serve with white rice.