Five Spice Tofu with crispy seasoned tofu tossed in a sticky sauce is an explosion of flavours. It's the perfect combination of sweet, savoury, spicy and tangy and is really quick and easy to make.
This recipe involves crispy seasoned tofu tossed in a sweet, sticky, spicy, tangy and fragrant sauce. All the good stuff! And it's really quick and easy to make too.
Here's the rundown on what you need to make my Five Spice Tofu recipe and why:
- Tofu - For the best results it should be extra-firm and pressed. It's sturdy and will hold up to being tossed around and pan-fried. It will also give you the best texture.
- Chinese Five Spice - A spice blend that you should easily be able to find at most grocery stores. It has the most unique, fragrant and complex flavour. More details on what it is, (including a recipe to make the blend yourself from individual spices) are included in the FAQs. Once you've got some be sure to make my Tofu Quinoa Stir Fry too.
- Cornstarch - Known as corn flour in the UK. We use this to thicken the sauce and dredge the tofu. It makes sauces nicely shiny and clear in a much more visually appealing way than using regular wheat flour. It also makes tofu way crispier than regular wheat flour does. Important warning - Do not swap the cornstarch for arrowroot when dredging your tofu cubes. It will not work and you'll end up with a sticky, gluey mess in your skillet when you try to cook it.
- Rice vinegar – For the necessary touch of tang. It has a distinct flavour and is what works best. If you don't have it though use apple cider vinegar instead.
- Ketchup - The base of the sauce. It adds lots of flavour as well as sweetness and makes this sauce extra delicious!
- Maple syrup - For the sweet in the sauce with a slight caramel note. You could use brown sugar instead but you will need to add a little extra water to thin things out a bit.
- Toasted sesame oil – For a wonderful hint of sesame flavour. Omit to make the recipe oil-free.
- Soy sauce – For depth of flavour and savouriness. Any kind will do and you can use Tamari or coconut aminos instead if you are gluten-free.
- Garlic, ginger, salt - Essential for lots of flavour! I always keep some fresh ginger root in my freezer and simply grate it with my microplane straight from frozen when I need it. I don't even bother peeling it.
- Chilli flakes – For a hint of spiciness in the sauce. You could use a bit of chili paste, sriracha, Gochujang or Sambal Oelak instead if you prefer. Adjust the amount to suit your heat tolerance!
How to make Five Spice Tofu
This is a really quick and easy meal to bring together. Here's how it's done:
- Press the tofu
- Add the sauce ingredients to a pan and warm through until thick and glossy.
- Coat the tofu in five spice seasoned cornstarch then fry, oven bake or air fry until crispy.
- Toss in the sauce and serve.
For the best results when making this recipe, take note of these tips:
- Use extra-firm tofu. Don't try using a different type as you won't get the best results.
- For a really great tofu texture press the tofu. For anything to get crispy it needs to be dry, so by removing as much water from your tofu as possible, you set yourself up for success. A tofu press makes the job easy, but is not necessary. Just wrap it in a clean dish towel then use something heavy like a stack of cookbooks or a cast iron skillet with some cans in it to weigh it down.
- Do not swap the cornstarch for arrowroot when dredging your tofu cubes. It does not work in the same way as cornstarch and you'll end up with a sticky, gluey mess in your skillet when you try to fry it.
- Although I include details in the notes for how to bake the tofu oil-free, I highly recommend pan-frying it if you can for optimum flavour, crispy edges and texture.
- If you don't have a non-stick pan it is better to bake the tofu (or air fry it) rather than pan-frying it.
Serve Five Spice Tofu with the rice of your choice. Plain steamed rice is great, or try it with coconut lime rice, mushroom fried rice or oven-baked garlic mushroom rice. It's also good with noodles or quinoa.
On the side, steamed or stir-fried greens, bok choy, green beans, broccoli, edamame beans, or a fresh salad are nice. Finish with some sliced raw green onions and a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds.
I don't recommend making the crispy tofu ahead, but the sauce can be made in advance and stored in the fridge or freezer. It keeps well for up to 1 week in the fridge and 3 months in the freezer. If frozen, defrost overnight in the fridge, then reheat gently in a pan on the stove.
Five Spice Tofu is best eaten fresh, but leftovers can be refrigerated in a sealed container for up to 3 days and warmed through gently in a skillet before serving. Leftover sauce will keep in the fridge for a week and in the freezer for up to 3 months.
According to traditional Chinese medicine, the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water) are manifested in different parts of the body and if there are imbalances in these elements, then disease can occur. For thousands of years, different herbs and spices have been used to bring balance to these elements and that is how five-spice powder is thought to have originated.
Chinese Five Spice is a spice blend that usually contains star anise, fennel seeds, Szechuan peppercorns, cloves and cinnamon, although ingredients can vary slightly. The blend contains all five taste elements: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty and creates a perfect balance of warm, aromatic flavours and heat. A little goes a long way so use it sparingly.
You can find Chinese Five Spice in the spices section of most grocery stores, or if you have the individual spices you can also make up your own blend. Here is a homemade Chinese Five Spice recipe.
Arrowroot is a good sub for cornstarch when thickening, but it does not work in the same way when used to dredge something like tofu. It will end up a sticky, gluey mess in the pan and ruin your meal.
Wondering what to do with the leftover Chinese Five Spice? It's great in stir-fries or stir fry sauces, used to season flour when coating tofu, seitan or vegan chick'n, in cocktails, for seasoning vegetables and roasted nuts, and also added to baked goods and desserts. Try it in any recipe that calls for pumpkin pie spice. It's really good in my vegan pumpkin pie!
If you try this recipe, let me know how you like it by leaving a comment and rating below! And be sure to join my mailing list for more deliciousness!
Five Spice TofuAuthor:
For the sauce
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- ¼ cup (60 mls) rice vinegar , or apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup (120 mls) tomato ketchup
- ¼ cup (60 mls) maple syrup
- 1 cup (240 mls) water
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce , or tamari or coconut aminos for GF
- 2 large cloves garlic , minced or grated
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger , grated finely
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil (omit to make free)
- ½ teaspoon Chinese five spice
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon chili flakes
Press the tofu
- Press the tofu for at least 30 minutes. Either use a tofu press or wrap the block of tofu in a clean dish towel and stack some heavy things (like cookbooks and canned foods)on top of it. While it's pressing make the sauce.
For the sauce
- Add the cornstarch to a small pan and slowly add the vinegar, stirring as you go to work out any lumps.
- Now add all of the other sauce ingredients and stir well.
- Place over medium-low heat and keep stirring until it becomes thick and silky. Don't stop stirring as it will get lumpy. It will take about 10 minutes. Once thick turn down to the lowest setting possible and keep warm while you make the tofu. Or turn it off completely and reheat again when you are ready.
For the tofu
- Cut the pressed tofu into ½ inch cubes.
- In a large bowl, mix the Chinese five-spice and salt into the cornstarch.
- Add the tofu cubes to the flour mixture and toss to coat every cube. I find fingers the best option for doing this as you are less likely to break the tofu pieces.
- Heat a non-stick frying pan or skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil. (to oven-bake or air fry the tofu with no oil see recipe notes)
- Once it is very hot, add the tofu. Cook until golden brown and crispy on all sides, tossing frequently. It will take 5 to 10 minutes.
- Add enough sauce to the pan to coat the tofu, allowing it to cook for a couple of minutes until sticky, then serve immediately with the remaining sauce.
This recipe was originally published on March 1st, 2016. The post has been updated with new information and a video and now I am republishing it for you. The recipe itself remains the same. I hope you enjoy it. Thank you for following A Virtual Vegan!