Pipa tofu is a Chinese delicacy and a most delicious way to enjoy tofu. Each morsel is crispy on the outside and pillowy soft inside. It’s a real treat!
Traditionally, the recipe includes minced shrimps, but this can totally be omitted to make a vegetarian version with mushrooms and carrots. You can use any type of fresh firm mushrooms like bella or portobello but shitake works best for authenticity. For the sauce, we use dried shitake mushrooms for deeper flavor, and the water used to soak the dried mushrooms can be used to make the sauce.
The conventional way to prepare Pipa tofu is by deep frying. You can totally make a healthier version by air-frying. It’s important though not to over fry as it will dry out the tofu morsels.
Why is it called “Pipa” tofu?
The Pipa (pronounced as p’ee-p’ar) is one of the oldest Chinese wooden musical instrument with a pear-shaped body.
The Chinese tofu puffs are shaped like the traditional Pipa or Chinese lute. It’s a highly appreciated dish in Asia, but somehow can rarely be found on the Chinese restaurants menu in the USA.
The recipe can be made within 45 minutes, and it’s well worth it, as it’s really a luscious dish: the taste and texture are just perfect.
If you wonder why both light soy sauce and dark soy sauce are used, this is quite common in Chinese (and sometimes Japanese) recipes. The light soy sauce is made from the first pressing of fermented soy beans, and is used to enhance flavors when cooking. Double-fermented light soy sauce has a mellower, more complex flavor and is used primarily for dipping.
Chinese “dark” soy sauce is darker in color and slightly thicker in texture, but tend to be lighter in saltiness. The dark soy sauce is generally fermented for a longer period of time than the light version. The dark soy sauce is used solely for cooking, to add color to sauces.
Crispy Pipa Tofu
- Chinese spoons used as mould
- 9 oz 250 g white silken tofu
- 2 tbsp chopped mushrooms (Shitake for example)
- 2 tbsp chopped carrots
- 2 tbsp chopped cilantro
- 1 tbsp chopped green onions
- 3 tbsp minced prawns (omit for vegetarian version)
- 1 egg white
- Dash salt
- Dash white pepper
- 3 tbsp potato flour (or substitute with corn starch)
- 1 tbsp all purpose flour
- 1-1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 dried shitake mshrooms
- 1 stalk spring onion, sliced
- 1 slice fresh ginger, peeled
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine like Shaoxing or sherry
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1/2 cup vegetable stock or use the water to soak the dried shitake mushrooms
- 2 tspn potato flour mixed with 1 tbsp water
- 1 tspn sesame oil
- 2 cups Chinese vegetables like gailan or choi sum, rinsed and drained
- Steamed Rice
- Soak the dried shitake mushrooms in 1/2 cup of warm water for half an hour. Remove the mushrooms and chop them. Reserve the water to make the stock.
- In a food processor (or by hand) finely mash the tofu into a fine paste
- Chop the fresh mushrooms, carrots, cilantro and green onion
- Mix the mashed tofu with the chopped mushrooms, carrots, cilantro, green onion, egg white, salt and pepper, potato flour. Mix well till smooth and well blended.
- Scoop a tablespoonful and place on a chinese spoon used as a mould to form the pipa shape. Repeat with remaining mixture. Place the tofu balls in a lightly oiled microwave safe plate.
- Microwave the tofu balls for 2 minutes. Remove and let cool. When cool, dust each tofu ball with all-purpose flour.
- In the meantime, in a medium sauce pan, heat the oil till very hot (350 F or 175 C), deep fry the tofu till just golden (the crust should be crispy with a soft center), about 2 minutes, swirl the tofu so all sides are evenly golden. Remove and drain on a plate lined with kitchen paper towel.
- Instead of deep frying, the tofu can also be air fried. Preheat the air frier to 400F / 200 C. Gently spray each tofu morsel with oil (or lightly coat each tofu piece in oil with a pastry brush). Air fry for around 4 to 5 minutes, turn over and air fry for another 3 to 4 minutes till golden on both sides.
- To make the sauce: In a frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil, stir fry the ginger, sliced shitake mushrooms. Add the Chinese vegetables till just wilted. Add the light and dark soy sauce, Chinese wine or sherry, the vegetable stock or dry shitake soaking water and heat through.
- Mix the potato flour with a little water to make a slurry. Gradually add to the pan to thicken the sauce to the desired consistency (you may not need the full slurry amount).
- To serve, display the Chinese vegetables around the plate, put the pipa tofu in the center, and spoon the sauce over the tofu, and drizzle the sesame oil. Sprinkle the sliced scallion on top and serve hot with steamed rice.
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