Deep-fried tofu with peanut sauce is gonna make you think of tofu like you’ve never, ever thought of it before.
Deep-fried tofu with peanut sauce is a classic for a reason. Made with soy sauce and sambal oelek and shrimp paste and tamarind and coconut milk and, natch, peanuts, it’s kid-friendly and adult-approved. The peanut sauce is also perfect for dipping satay as well as countless other things.–Renee Schettler Rossi
Deep-Fried Tofu with Peanut Sauce
For the deep-fried tofu
- 13 ounces firm tofu
- Peanut oil for frying (4 tablespoons if shallow frying and 1 quart if deep-frying)
For the peanut sauce
- 1 teaspoon tamarind pulp
- 1 tablespoon hot water
- 1/2 cup raw peanuts
- 1 large garlic clove crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon dried shrimp paste* (found in Asian markets)
- 1/2 cup crushed roasted peanuts
- 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon sambal oelek, hot chile paste, or store-bought or homemade Sriracha sauce
- 1 teaspoon palm sugar or dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup full-fat canned coconut milk
- 1 cup shredded green cabbage
- 1 cup fresh mung bean sprouts trimmed
- 4 scallions thinly sliced
Fry the tofu
- Press the tofu by placing it between several sheets of paper towels on a plate and weight it under a heavy skillet or under another plate topped with a can or something heavy for about 1 hour. Cut the tofu into 3/4- to 1-inch chunks.
- To deep-fry the tofu, heat about 1 quart peanut oil in a large, deep-sided pot over medium heat until it measures about 350°F (180°C). Add the tofu to the oil, being careful not to crowd the pot. You may need to fry the tofu in batches, depending on the size of your pot. Cook until golden brown on all sides, being careful not to break up the cubes of tofu. Drain on a paper towel. Reserve the oil for the peanut sauce. To shallow-fry the tofu, heat about 4 tablespoons peanut oil in a wok or large, heavy-based frying pan until hot but not smoking. Add the tofu to the oil, being careful not to crowd the pot and frying it in batches if necessary, depending on the size of your pan. You may need to fry the tofu in batches, depending on the size of your pan. Cook until golden brown on all sides, being careful not to break up the cubes of tofu. Drain on a paper towel. Reserve the oil for the peanut sauce.
Make the peanut sauce
- In a small bowl, soak the tamarind pulp in the hot water until somewhat softened, about 10 minutes. Smash the tamarind with the back of a spoon or fork and then strain it. Reserve the liquid and throw away the fiber and seeds.
- To fry the peanuts, toss the raw peanuts into the oil in the same pot or pan for 3 to 4 minutes in the same pan, using the oil left from frying the tofu, over medium heat. Then drain well and rub off any skins on the peanuts. Once your pan is hot, it can be easy to burn the peanuts, so keep a close eye on them and reduce the heat to low, if necessary. To roast the peanuts, preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Scatter the peanuts on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of oil from the pot or pan used to fry the tofu. Place it over low heat, add the garlic and shrimp paste, and stir constantly, crushing the shrimp paste with the back of a spoon. Add the crushed peanuts, soy sauce, tamarind liquid, sambal oelek and palm sugar and stir until well combined. Remove the peanut sauce from the heat and gradually add the coconut milk, stirring until the peanut sauce is a thick pouring consistency.
- To assemble everything, place the tofu on a serving plate and top with the cabbage and bean sprouts. Spoon the peanut sauce over the dish and garnish with the scallions and fried peanuts.
*Vegan Deep-Fried Tofu With Peanut Sauce VariationTo make this dish vegetarian and vegan, substitute vegan Worcestershire sauce or Chinese fermented bean curd for the shrimp paste.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This Indonesian deep-fried tofu with peanut sauce dish will make any tofu lover (and probably some tofu haters) happy. The first thing I want to say is don’t worry if you don’t have a wok. You really don’t need one for this dish as it’s not a stir-fry. You can fry the tofu and peanuts in any pot. This is supposed to be deep-fried tofu, but you could shallow-fry in a skillet if you wanted. I like to fry, and keep a pot of oil on my stove, so I just deep-fried the tofu and peanuts in my usual way. The tofu does need to go in batches, but your results will be better that way. After frying, I’d suggest you keep the tofu and peanuts warm in the oven. The peanut sauce can be made in any small saucepan. I used roasted peanuts and a store-bought sambal oelek for the sauce. If you want to make this dish vegetarian, the substitute I like to use for the shrimp paste is Chinese fermented bean curd. But if you want a more supermarket-friendly substitution, miso will work. I didn’t have tamarind pulp (the stuff in blocks) on hand, but I had tamarind pods. I used 1 tamarind pod and about 2 tablespoons hot water to make my tamarind liquid. The sauce comes together easily, and once you have it made, it’s easy to assemble the dish. This served 2 as a one-dish meal.
This recipe has great possibility, especially for a meatless meal. I really wanted to make this vegan friendly, so my research suggested substituting a vegan Worcestershire sauce for the shrimp paste. Roasting the peanuts in the wok, it’s easy to burn them, even at low heat (woks can be darned efficient), and nearly impossible to remove skins from the oiled peanuts (though rubbing with a towel in a mesh strainer helped, stopping to do this in the middle of the recipe was awkward). I think the best way to handle this is to pre-roast the peanuts in the oven (350℉ for 12-15 minutes, and then crush some of them). You could still give them a minute or two in the wok to toast them up and heat them briefly. When serving the remaining salad the next day, I added 40 to 45 ml freshly squeezed lime juice (Rangpur, thanks to a lucky gift from a friend’s orchard) and then cut up 2 small Persian cucumbers in 1/2- to 3/4-inch chunks and tossed them in the remaining salad as well. This transformed the salad into something lighter that’s more suited to warm weather eating. Loved using the tamarind fresh—will explore other uses! Surprisingly sweet. The surprise bounty of Rangpur limes (which are orange when ripe) was their beautiful perfume and high tartness. It really transformed this dish.
Originally published May 22, 2017