Crispy Salt and Pepper Tofu (Air Fryer or Baked)

Denise Perrault
by Denise Perrault
4 servings
35 min

Crispy salt and pepper tofu with a distinctive salt-sweet spice mixture is an easy vegan recipe that you can make in the air fryer or oven.

Top crispy tofu with quick sauteed green onions, chili, and garlic for a deliciously easy, oil-free main dish.

Crispy salt and pepper tofu on a plate with brown rice and cooked green onions and sliced red chili.

Add this salt and pepper tofu recipe to your rotation of quick and delicious dishes like spicy Jamaican jerk tofu, crispy air fryer tofu with orange sauce, or cauliflower tofu stir fry with cumin.

⭐ Why You'll Love This Recipe

  • Easy prep and 35 minutes if you air fry tofu (and an extra 10 if you bake it).
  • An oil-free recipe that lets the hot air of the air fryer or oven do the crisping.
  • The salt and pepper tofu you love from Chinese restaurants made at home - without deep frying.

📋 Recipe Ingredients
Ingredients for salt and pepper tofu with labels.

Firm or extra-firm tofu. Use a big block of tofu. Press for 10-15 minutes, then cube or slice as desired.

Chinese 5-spice. This unique spice blend of warming spices gives homemade vegan hoisin sauce a distinctive flavor too!

Cornstarch. The secret to making crispy, oil-free tofu is tossing tofu cubes with cornstarch. You can also use potato starch or tapioca starch. Arrowroot is another vegan option; however, I find it gets slightly sticky when mixed with sauce or other wet ingredients.

White pepper. Ground white pepper is traditionally used in the spice mix. Use ground black pepper as a substitute.

Soy sauce. For gluten-free, use Tamari or coconut aminos.

Please see the recipe card at the bottom of this post for the complete list of ingredients with measurements plus recipe instructions.

📖 Recipe Variations

Make a Chinese 5-spice blend using:

  1. 2 tablespoons anise powder (6 ground star anise)
  2. 1 teaspoon ground fennel
  3. 1 teaspoon ground Szechuan pepper (or white pepper)
  4. 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  5. ½ teaspoon ground cloves

​Store any leftover spice mix in an airtight container or jar. Or whip up my delicious Asian kale salad. Yummy!

🔪 Step-by-Step Instructions
A block of tofu in paper towels is pressed between a plate and cutting board with cast iron skillet on top.

Step 1: Wrap the tofu block in paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. Place it between a plate with a weighted cutting board on top. Or use a tofu press.

Salt and pepper Chinese spice mix in white dish with spoon.

Step 2: Make the spice mix. Pour half into a small bowl and mix with cornstarch.

Tofu cubes coated in cornstarch and salt and pepper seasoning.

Step 3: Cube the tofu and lay it on a large plate. Toss with lemon juice and soy sauce. Then, with the cornstarch mixture.

Tofu cubes with salt and pepper seasoning in the air fryer basket.

Step 4: Add tofu pieces to a preheated air fryer (oven instructions below).

Green onions, sliced chili, and garlic is cooked in a cast iron pan and stirred with a wooden spoon.

Step 5: Saute green onions, chili, and garlic for 1-2 minutes.

Crispy tofu cubes in air fryer basket.

Step 6: Fry tofu until firm and golden brown. (10-12 minutes total).

How to Bake Salt and Pepper Tofu

  1. Prepare the tofu as directed. Preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C).
  2. Add the tofu to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake the tofu for 15 minutes, then flip.
  3. Bake another 10-15 minutes until the tofu is firm and brown.

💭 Pro Tips

  • Press tofu for 10-15 minutes to release excess moisture. This helps tofu absorb flavors and get firmer when you cook it.
  • ​Give soft tofu a few extra minutes to press until the block is firm.
  • ​Add the cornstarch right before baking. Use a spoon or your hands to toss the tofu so all the cornstarch is absorbed.
  • ​Individual air fryers and ovens vary in temperature. For this reason, check the tofu periodically and adjust the cooking time as needed.

🍴 Serving Suggestions
Salt and pepper tofu over rice with Brussels sprouts on plate.

I like to separate the tofu into equal portions and serve it over rice or noodles with cooked spring onions and pepper on top. Sprinkle with more of the spice mix. Toasted sesame seeds make a nice garnish if you want something extra.

💬 Frequently Asked Questions

How long does salt and pepper tofu last?

Store leftover salt and pepper tofu in an airtight container. It will last 3-4 days in the refrigerator.

What is the best way to reheat salt and pepper tofu?

To reheat salt and pepper tofu, wrap it in foil and add it to a hot oven. Open the foil for the last few minutes to crisp it. Alternatively, add it to a preheated air fryer (425 F/ 220 C). Air fry tofu for 2-3 minutes. Check it after each minute so it doesn't get hard.

Why is my tofu stuck to the bottom of the air fryer?

To prevent tofu from sticking to the bottom of the air fryer or parchment paper (if baking), first be sure you preheat. Gently test a tofu piece. If it sticks to the bottom, don't force it to flip. Let it cook for another 1-2 minutes, then try flipping it again.

🧾 More Crispy Tofu Recipes
A bowl with noodles, baked tofu, radishes, cucumber, scallions, cilantro, and limes.

Spicy Noodle Bowls with Baked Tofu Recipe

Savory Baked Tofu Bowls with Sweet Corn Relish

Strips of Buffalo tofu on a plate with a small dish of ranch dressing.

Crispy Vegan Buffalo Tofu

A bowl of sweet and sour tofu with rice and vegetables.

Vegan Sweet and Sour Crispy Tofu

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👩🏻‍🍳 Recipe
Crispy Salt and Pepper Tofu (Air Fryer or Baked)
Recipe details
  • 4  servings
  • Prep time: 20 minutes Minutes Cook time: 15 minutes Minutes Total time: 35 min
Show Nutrition Info
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  • ▢ 16 ounces tofu - firm or extra firm
  • ▢ 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • ▢ 2 teaspoons soy sauce - tamari or coconut aminos for gluten-free
  • ▢ 1 teaspoon salt
  • ▢ 1 teaspoon coconut sugar - or date sugar
  • ▢ 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • ▢ 1 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice - see notes
  • ▢ 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ▢ 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ▢ 4-6 medium green onions - sliced, white and green parts
  • ▢ 3 cloves garlic - minced or pressed
  • ▢ 1 medium chili - red or green

Press the tofu using a tofu press. Alternatively, wrap it in paper towels and place it between two flat surfaces. Add a heavy object to the top. Press for 15 minutes.
While the tofu presses, mix the salt, sugar, pepper, 5-spice powder, and ground ginger in a small bowl.
Cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes or slice it into squares.
Preheat the air fryer to 375 F (190 C). For Baking, set the oven to 425 F (220 C).
Toss the tofu cubes with lemon juice and soy sauce.
Mix half the seasoning mix with 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and toss with the tofu. Cover all sides of the tofu.
Air Fry. Add the tofu in a single layer to the bottom of the air fryer basket. Fry for 10-12 minutes, flipping after 6 minutes.
Bake. Add the tofu in a single layer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, flip and bake another 15 minutes.
The tofu is done when it's firm and slightly brown.
While the tofu cooks, heat a small skillet or frying pan. Cook the green onions, chili, and garlic for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.
Serve salt and pepper tofu garnished with the green onion mixture and the remaining spice mixture.
  • Add 15 minutes to the cooking time to oven-bake.
  • Store leftover salt and pepper tofu in an airtight container. It will last 3-4 days in the refrigerator.
  • Reheat tofu wrapped in foil in the oven. Unwrap the last few minutes to crisp the tofu. Alternatively, reheat in the air fryer for 2-3 minutes. Check the tofu each minute to ensure it doesn't dry out.
  • Make Chinese 5-spice blend by combining 2 tablespoons anise powder (6 ground star anise), 1 teaspoon ground fennel, 1 teaspoon ground Szechuan pepper (or white pepper), 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and ½ teaspoon ground cloves. Store any leftover seasoning in a jar or airtight container.
Denise Perrault
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