Authentic kung pao meals like this kung pao tofu may seem more like a riff on American classics like General Tso’s Chicken, which was created by Chinese immigrants to appease American palates.
While Kung Pao may seem like a Westernized Chinese food staple, it is actually a real thing that people in China would recognize! The dish’s origin is the Sichuan Province, where chilies and numbing Sichuan peppercorns are universally regarded as the best flavors.
WHAT ELSE MAKES IT A KUNG PAO DISH? PEANUTS!
Although jalapeño peppers and Sichuan peppercorns are essential to any authentic kung pao, peanuts are the true hallmark of this cuisine. The peanuts aren’t the only thing that makes this kung pao tofu so delicious. With their crunch, buttery flavor, and nutty undertones, they pair wonderfully with the pan-fried tofu’s crispiness.
Researchers in the field of nutrition have recently given peanuts their stamp of approval, dubbing them a “superfood.” If you’re the kind to snack on peanut butter straight from the jar, this is great news for you.
Blanched peanuts in their shells are the traditional starting point for preparing kung pao. To bring out their full flavor, peanuts are toasted in a skillet or a wok before being added to the dish. When the peanuts for this kung pao tofu are toasted, the oils they produce flavor the pan they are cooked in, which in turn flavors the tofu.
The time spent on this stage is well worth it because the meal now has a pronounced roasted peanut flavor. However, roasted unsalted peanuts can be substituted for the blanched variety if you can’t find any at your grocery store.
- 400g of firm tofu
- 1/3 cup of cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon of salt
- 1/4 cup of water
- 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon of onion powder
- 1/8 teaspoon of five spice powder
REST OF THE DISH:
- 3-5 de-seeded dried chili peppers (and cut into segments)
- 3 cloves of chopped garlic
- 3 diced scallions (white parts only)
- 2 medium carrots (chopped into the size of the peanuts)
- 1 cup of blanched shelled and skinless peanuts
- 2/3 cup of warm water
- 1/4 cup of peanut or vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon of minced ginger
- 2 teaspoons of sugar
- 2 teaspoons of cornstarch
- 1 1/2 teaspoons of rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon of Sichuan peppercorn powder
- ½ teaspoon of sesame oil
- ½ teaspoon of dark soy sauce
- ¼ teaspoon of salt
- Take the tofu out of the plastic container and place it on a dish, then give it 10 minutes to drain. The next step is to lay the tofu out on a clean kitchen towel or paper towel-lined level surface and pat the sides dry. Move to a plate or chopping board.
- You can continue to drain the tofu for a few more minutes after you’ve cut it into 1/2-inch cubes.
- Prepare a thick batter by mixing 1/3 cup cornstarch, garlic powder, onion powder, 5 spice powder, salt, and water. Stir in the tofu and gently toss until evenly coated with the batter.
- You may make the sauce by combining light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sugar, salt, rice vinegar, sesame oil, 2 teaspoons of cornstarch, and 2/3 cup warm water in a bowl and stirring until smooth. Stir the sauce to incorporate all of the ingredients.
- Over low heat in a medium to a large nonstick frying pan, add 1/4 cup of peanut oil (or vegetable oil) and 1 cup of the blanched shelled peanuts. For 5 minutes, while stirring constantly, toast the peanuts to a golden brown in a wok. The peanuts will begin to release more oil into the pan.
- Put the peanuts in a bowl and put them aside, but don’t drain the oil from the pan.
- Turn the stove’s heat to medium and add the tofu cubes one by one. Five minutes should be enough time for the tofu to brown on the bottom. Flip the tofu and cook for 5 minutes more, until golden.
- Now is the time to use a spatula to gently separate any clumps of tofu. Take out the tofu and put it aside.
- Brush the wok with the residual oil from frying the peanuts and tofu, about 1 1/2 teaspoons. Stir-fry the carrots for a minute over medium heat. Put in the dried chili peppers and ginger.
- After around 20 seconds, add the garlic and scallions to the toasted ginger and chili peppers. Add another 20 seconds of stir-frying time. The cornstarch in the pre-mixed sauce will have settled, so stir it up with a chopstick or spoon before adding it to the wok.
- Crank up the stove to high and let the sauce simmer. After the sauce has reduced and thickened, stir in the tofu and peanuts.
- Stir the peanuts and tofu around in the sauce until the tofu is well coated. Keep cooking the tofu and peanuts in the wok until the sauce has decreased and is sticking to the ingredients. If using Sichuan peppercorn powder, now is the time to either mix it in or sprinkle it on top.
- Rice, preferably steamed, should be served alongside.