This spicy tofu with peanuts is a quick stir-fry of marinated tofu, scallions, garlic, ginger, peanuts, Sichuan chiles, and a soy-vinegar sauce.
Like many Chinese dishes, the origin of gōng băo chicken (gōng băo jī dīng) is uncertain and controversial. The story that the Chinese like—probably because it flirts with legend—links this recipe to Dīng Băozhēn (1820–1886), who was the governor of Sichuan at the end of the Qing dynasty. He bore the title of Gōngbăo and adored chicken cooked like this, to the point where they ended up baptizing this preparation in his honor. Whether it is true or not, the dish offers the typical Sichuan flavors: there are dried chile—from varieties that are less spicy and larger than Thai chiles—and Sichuan peppercorns, as well as peanuts, black vinegar, and sesame oil. Here is a vegan version of the recipe, with pre-pressed tofu replacing the meat.–Camille Oger
What’s the best tofu to use in this recipe?
In this spicy tofu with peanuts, or any stir-fried tofu recipe, to ensure best results you need a tofu that can withstand the rigors of high heat and being jumbled about in a pan.
What kind of tofu should I buy?
Extra-firm tofu. Not firm. Definitely not silken. You need extra-firm since it has the least moisture content of any packaged tofu and, as a result, is very unlikely to crumble or fall apart during cooking over high heat. You’ll also need to take the extra step of pressing the tofu to remove even more moisture.
How to press tofu
Pressing is a simple step that is exactly what the name implies. You gently exert pressure on the tofu. There are commercial products that can do this for you although what we do is simply line a plate with a couple layers of paper towels, place the tofu on top, then add a few more layers of paper towels and top it with another small plate that’s then weighted by a heavy can, a sturdy skillet, even a couple cookbooks. Let it rest for up to 30 minutes. A small puddle of water may collect on the plate. Discard the paper towels and proceed with your recipe.
Spicy Tofu with Peanuts
For the marinade
- 1 pinch salt
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce (or tamari for gluten-free)
- 1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine
For the sauce
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon black vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
For the tofu
- 1 pound tofu (plain or five-spice) pressed*
- Mild vegetable oil
- 1 handful (1 oz) unsalted peanuts
- 10 dried Sichuan chiles
- 1 to 2 teaspoons Sichuan pepper (whole husks, no seeds)
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger root
- 4 scallions white parts chopped, green parts thinly sliced
- Steamed rice for serving
Make the marinade
- In a large bowl, combine all the marinade ingredients.
Make the sauce
- In another large bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the sauce.
Prepare the tofu
- Cut the tofu into 3/4-inch (18-mm) squares that are 1/4-inch (6-mm) thick. Toss them into the marinade ingredients.
- Have a small bowl ready. Heat a wok over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and heat until shimmering, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the peanuts and cook, stirring constantly, until browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon or spider to move them to the prepared bowl, leaving the oil in the wok.
- If the wok seems dry, add 1/2 tablespoon oil, then add the chiles and Sichuan peppercorns. Stir-fry until the chiles are a little puffy and the oil is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tofu and its marinade and stir-fry until the tofu is golden and toasted, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the garlic, ginger, and the white parts of the scallions. Toss and stir-fry for 2 minutes more. Pour the sauce into the wok, mix well, and add the peanuts. Cook until the sauce thickens, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Remove from the heat, garnish with the green scallions, and serve immediately with rice.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This tofu dish is just the kind of spicy flavor bomb that I love! And it could not be quicker to put together and stir fry. I was able to get the whole peppercorns easily through Amazon for next day delivery. This definitely kicked the heat up a notch from using the ground ones. 1 teaspoon was enough for me.
Loved the addition of the roasted peanuts, which got nice and toasty when they were sauteed briefly. My only criticism is that my dish didn’t look as saucy as the photograph, and I like a little bit of extra sauce so that it can sop into some rice. I might increase the sauce ingredients by 1.5 or 2 times next time just to get a little more of that. But other than that, my husband and I were quite happy. When we were cooking the dish, we did have some sneeze attacks, but eating it was hot without being punishing. We will definitely put this on a week day rotation for the future.
This recipe for gōngbǎo dòufu is a good one and can give you great results if you prep ahead and watch your timing. The timing will depend a lot upon your pan or wok and your cooktop. I use a wok over a high heat burner, so the cooking times were all much shorter for me than what is written in the recipe, but I am accustomed to that, so it wasn’t a problem. My recommendation to the cook is to stir constantly, keep a close eye on the food, and go with your sensory cues rather than a set timing. Do that, and you’ll be rewarded with a delicious dish.
Because the dish does cook very quickly, having your ingredients all prepped in advance is also key. I like to put them in small bowls, combining any ingredients that go in at the same time (for example, in this recipe, the garlic, ginger, and white part of scallions are all added together, so they go in one bowl). I then like to line the prep bowls up next to the wok in the order in which the ingredients will be added. So, in the heat of the cooking, I just grab the next bowl in line. Do this, and trust your own eyes and nose, and you can produce a perfect stir-fry. This delicious hot-and-numbing combo is a great place to start.
I’m so impressed with this recipe. I felt like I was producing the kind of flavour they give you in Chinatown, San Francisco. The ease of this dish makes you understand a good base of Sichuan cooking without being overwhelmed. Perhaps a little bit of extra effort shopping around to acquire all the ingredients, but the results certainly were worth it.
Using whole Sichuan peppers and peppercorns really made this stand out. The aroma it gave off as soon as they began to sizzle filled the house in a delightful fashion. Five-spice tofu is a new ingredient for me, the flavour was there, yet more subtle than I expected. If made with original flavoured tofu, it would be incredible as well—the firmness is key for ease in the stir-fry. Even subbing meat would be fantastic, just marinate a touch longer.
Very potent, beautiful sauce. I did, and would recommend, adding 1/2 -1 cup more water at this stage if you want more sauce. The strength of the sauce can stand more liquid without doubling the ingredients. This adds a nice treat if adding to rice. If eating on its own, no more liquid would be needed.
Whole family loved it apart from our youngest who can’t do any spice at all. I served with jasmine rice and homemade egg rolls and will be making again. Gung Hay Fat Choy! Bring on the Year of the Ox!
I wasn’t able to meet the recipe requirements with equipment or ingredients but it still came out great.
I used Gekkeikan Sake instead of Shaoxing on the marinade. For the sauce, I could not find dark soy sauce and used Worcestershire sauce. I’m not sure how that would change the flavor. I could not find black vinegar so I used white rice vinegar. My plain extra firm tofu was packaged at 14oz. I substituted 3-bean Tempe for the peanuts. I deep fried the Tempe to add a crispy texture. The peppers I used were found in the dried pepper section of Big Y supermarket but not specifically labeled “Sichuan.”
I may have heated the oil too much and got a lot of splatter when I added the sauce. I could have used less oil since I didn’t have to cook peanuts having pre-fried the Tempe. I added the chiles until they puffed. The tofu became crispy as I stirred around the pan to coat. My sauce clung to the tofu and dried to the bottom of the pan. Again, maybe the pan was too hot.
I suppose 4 servings could be done. I thought it was more like 3 servings with plain white rice. In spite of my goofs I thought it was very good. I can see subbing chicken, beef or shrimp for tofu.
Originally published February 18, 2021