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Tea-Smoked Tofu with Pepper and Pork (Yan Dou Fu Gan Zhao Cai)

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Tea-Smoked Tofu with Pepper and Pork (Yan Dou Fu Gan Zhao Cai)

Tea-Smoked Tofu with Pepper and Pork (Yan Dou Fu Gan Zhao Cai)
Maren Caruso
Provided by:
total prep

Recipe courtesy of Asian Tofu: Discover the Best, Make Your Own, and Cook It at Home by Andrea Nguyen, 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

In China, pressed tofu is sometimes set on a rack and smoked. To mimic that at home, you need a 14-inch wok, its lid, and a round cake rack that fits into the wok; an inexpensive mesh splatter screen (about 11 inches wide) works too, if you break off the handle with pliers.


  • 10 ounces Tea-Smoked Pressed Tofu or Seasoned Pressed Tofu (see recipes below), or purchased brown (baked) pressed tofu
  • 1 red bell pepper (5 to 6 ounces)
  • 5 ounces boneless pork shoulder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dark (black) soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn, toasted and ground
  • 1 pound super-firm tofu
  • 3 cups water, filtered or spring preferred
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons light (regular) soy sauce
  • 2 star anise (16 robust points total)
  • Chubby 3/4-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 
3 slices and bruised with the side of the knife
  • 1 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 14 ounces Seasoned Pressed Tofu, baking in the oven as directed in the recipe
  • 1 tablespoon packed light or dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup black tea (Lapsang Souchon yields extra-bold smokiness)
  • 1/3 cup raw white rice, any kind


  • Cut the tofu into sticks, each about 2 inches long, 1/4 inch wide, and a good 1/8 inch thick. Trim and cut the bell pepper to match the tofu. Set both ingredients aside. Cut the pork about the same length but slightly thicker than the tofu, which swells a bit during cooking. Put the pork in a small bowl and mix it with the dark soy sauce. Set aside.
  • Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add the pork, spreading it out into one layer. Let it sear for about 30 seconds, undisturbed, then give it a turn or two. Let it sear on the other side for another 15 to 30 seconds, until it no longer looks raw. Add the bell pepper and stir-fry for about 1 1/2 minutes, until the bell pepper has just started to soften. It will release some liquid.
  • Add the tofu, stir to combine, then sprinkle in the salt and sugar. Stir-fry for about 2 more minutes, until the bell pepper has cooked through and the tofu has softened a bit from absorbing moisture from the other ingredients. If that doesn’t happen, splash in 1 tablespoon or so of water.
  • Sprinkle in the Sichuan peppercorn, stir and/or toss to combine, then transfer the stir-fry to a serving plate. Enjoy hot.

  • Seasoned Pressed Tofu
  • Cut the tofu into slices that are roughly the size and thickness (a generous 1/2 inch thick) of a deck of playing cards. However, let the block of tofu determine the size. You may have 6 to 10 pieces total.
  • To press excess liquid from the tofu, use 2 baking sheets (or other flat-bottomed implements). Lay a non-terry dishtowel (or a double layer of paper towel) on one of the sheets and arrange the tofu slices on top, then lay another non-terry dishtowel (or more paper towels) atop the tofu to absorb moisture. Place the other baking sheet on top to create a sandwiching effect. Finish with a 4-pound weight (I use two 28-ounce food cans). Set aside at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours. The tofu is ready when it is only slightly moist to the touch and feels very firm—you can hold a piece on one side and wiggle it without fear of it falling apart.
  • In a medium saucepan, combine the water, salt, sugar, both soy sauces, star anise, and ginger. Put the tofu in the pan in two layers. They should be covered by liquid. Over medium-high heat, bring the water to a simmer. Lower the heat to medium or medium-low and gently simmer for 15 to 20 minutes to allow the tofu to absorb the seasoning liquid; the tofu will expand slightly. Remove from the heat and set aside, uncovered, to completely cool. Some of the liquid will evaporate, concentrating the flavor. Once cooled, cover and refrigerate the pan overnight to marinate the tofu.
  • The next day, remove the tofu from the marinade; discard the marinade. Air-dry the tofu for about 15 minutes, leaning the pieces up against the rim of a plate. This also helps take the chill off the tofu. Meanwhile, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Right before baking, put the sesame oil on a small plate. Put each piece of tofu in the oil, then flip it over to coat the other side. Put the pieces on the baking sheet as you work.
  • Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the pieces are gently sizzling and have darkened at the edges; the longer time yields slightly drier results. Use a spatula to turn each piece over. Bake for another 5 minutes to further brown. Remove from the oven and put the baking sheet on a rack to cool. (If you are making the smoked tofu, transfer the just-baked pieces to the wok for smoking.) When cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes, lean the tofu pieces up against the rim of the baking sheet to facilitate airflow and form a nice skin on the bottom. The tofu will firm up, dry, and darken with a lovely rich patina as it rests. Once completely cooled, it is ready to be used or refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

  • Variation: Spicy Lemongrass Pressed Tofu
  • You can infuse pressed tofu with different kinds of ingredients to create new flavor combinations. In the refrigerated section at health food markets and specialty food stores you’ll see a broad range of seasonings, from classic soy sauce and five spices to Thai and barbecue. To do it at home, you create a strong-flavored marinating liquid to infuse the tofu with lots of flavor. For a Southeast Asian twist, combine chile, lemongrass, and kaffir lime. The result is great on its own as a snack, added to fried rice, and showcased in a tart-spicy laap.
  • Begin by following the instructions for Seasoned Pressed Tofu. To prepare the marinade, in a saucepan, combine 31/4 cups water (filtered or spring), 11/8 teaspoons salt, 2 teaspoons packed brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon turmeric, 1 tablespoon light (regular) soy sauce, 3 large cloves garlic (smashed), 1 hefty stalk lemongrass (cut into 3- to 4-inch lengths and smashed), 6 to 8 kaffir lime leaves, and 4 Thai or serrano chiles (halved lengthwise). If kaffir lime leaf is unavailable, double up on the lemongrass. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover, and let steep for 30 minutes. Remove the lemongrass and lime leaves before using the marinade to simmer the tofu. Substitute canola oil for the sesame oil before baking.

  • Tea-Smoked Pressed Tofu
  • While the seasoned pressed tofu bakes, line the wok with aluminum foil, making sure the foil tightly lines the pan or the tea mixture won't smoke.
  • Stir together the smoking mixture of sugar, tea, and rice. Pour it into the foil-lined wok, spreading it out evenly. Place the cake rack over the tea mixture.
  • When the tofu is done baking, remove it from the oven and let the sizzling subside. Use a metal spatula to transfer the hot tofu pieces to the rack. Loosely cover the wok with its lid and set the wok over high heat. After a few minutes the tea mixture will start to smoke. At that point, press down on the wok lid to secure it in place. Reduce the heat slightly and smoke the tofu for 3 minutes. Longer, and the tofu may turn bitter. Remove the wok from the heat.
  • Carefully remove the lid turning it away from you. Use the spatula to transfer the tofu back to the baking sheet or to a plate to cool. When the wok has cooled, remove the foil and discard. Store just like regular seasoned pressed tofu.