Tofu Char Siu

July 19, 2021
7 Ratings
Photo by WoonHeng Chia
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 25 minutes
  • Serves 2
Author Notes

What are some dishes that come to mind when you think of Cantonese cuisine? I think of wok-tossed stir-fries, dim sum, and char siu. Char siu is a Cantonese phrase, also spelled as char siew, or cha shao in Mandarin, which translates to “fork roast.” It refers to a type of barbecued pork where the meat is marinated in a sweet, savory sauce until all the flavors meld. Then it’s roasted to perfection, creating that signature charred exterior. Today, I’m sharing an effortless vegetarian dish inspired by char siu. It involves less time than the original, but keeps all the same umami savoriness. First, the tofu is coated with a thick layer of cornstarch, then pan-fried until golden brown. This crispy crust is much needed for the char siu look and texture. After coating with a savory sauce, it’s ready to be served as is. Or you can add a bonus sweet sauce and pair it with fragrant rice.
WoonHeng Chia

What You'll Need
  • Tofu
  • cups water
  • tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon vegan oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • ½ tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • teaspoons thick dark soy sauce (optional)
  • 1 pinch freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 pound firm tofu, drained
  • Kosher salt
  • ¼ cups cornstarch
  • Neutral oil (such as canola or grapeseed), for cooking
  • Cooked rice (such as Jasmine or short-grain), for serving
  • Sweet sauce (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar or maple syrup
  1. Combine the water, soy sauce, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, maple syrup, sesame oil, ground pepper, dark soy sauce (if using), and pepper in a bowl and whisk to combine.
  2. Pat the tofu dry. Cut it lengthwise into 3 slabs, then season with salt. Rub all over with the cornstarch, patting to adhere if needed (you might have a bit of excess).
  3. Heat a nonstick 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil, then tilt the skillet so the oil coats the bottom. Pan-fry the tofu until golden brown on all sides, 3 to 5 minutes per side, lowering the heat if needed along the way; don’t flip the tofu until a crust has formed.
  4. Add the sauce and simmer, basting and turning the tofu, until the sauce reduces to a nice, glossy glaze, 3 to 5 minutes.
  5. Remove the tofu from the pan and let cool.
  6. While the tofu is cooling, make the sweet sauce (if you’re including it) by mixing all the ingredients in a bowl. Or you can cook the sauce in the pan with the remaining oil for about 1 minute over low heat.
  7. Slice the tofu, then spoon the sweet sauce on top. Serve with rice, if you’d like.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Melissa Bartell
    Melissa Bartell
  • KKD
  • kikimm
  • Licole Paroly
    Licole Paroly

6 Reviews

K April 8, 2023
Very easy to make for a quick lunch and has a wonderful mouth feel. I would definitely make this again.
Melissa B. December 14, 2021
Delicious. I used extra firm tofu, and pressed it for about 20 minutes before cooking it. I also doubled the recipe and it still cooked fine in my cast iron pan, the sauce just took a little longer to reduce down.
KKD August 28, 2021
Thank you for this! Very good and also easy to put together.
kikimm August 12, 2021
This was better than I expected, and even reheated pretty well the next day. The only change I made was to bake the tofu instead at 450 for about 40/45 minutes. I wish that maybe it was a little more saucy, but it really was delicious.
Licole P. July 23, 2021
This was so delicious! Made it a few hours after reading the recipe on an impulse and wow was that a good idea. The sauce is sticky and addictive.

Instead of seasoning the tofu and then patting with cornstarch, I seasoned the cornstarch heavily with salt and pepper and dunked the tofu in it before pan-frying. It was wonderful and I will certainly be making this again.
Mary L. July 21, 2021
The food looks delicious. And healthy. I'm looking for a good healthy diet with good food and cheap. And this looks what I'm looking for.