Vietnamese Lemongrass Chili Tofu (Dau Hu Chien Sa Ot) is a popular vegan Southern Vietnamese dish. Tofu is marinated with a lot of minced lemongrass and bird’s eye chili before being fried until golden, crispy and fragrant.
Tofu can sometimes be plain and boring. With the addition of lemongrass and hot chili pepper, the fried tofu becomes aromatic with a nice kick. You can serve this dish with some soy sauce on the side as an appetizer or as a light main dishes to eat with rice.
To cook Lemongrass Chili Fried Tofu, you will need the following main ingredients: tofu, lemongrass, bird’s-eye chili, shallot, and garlic.
I like to use medium-firm or firm tofu, which will result in a crispy crust and still soft interior when we pan-fry it. This type of tofu is what most Vietnamese home cooks use to make dau hu chien sa ot (or this fried tofu with scallions and fish sauce) at home.
Some restaurants in Saigon use soft or silken tofu to make Lemongrass Chili Tofu, and it is also very tasty. However, with soft or silken tofu, you will need to dust it with some cornstarch and then deep-fry it. Another disadvantage of using soft or silken tofu is it is impossible to marinate and infuse it with the fragrance of all the aromatics.
Lemongrass and bird’s-eye chili can be found at Asian grocery stores and they both freeze well. These two ingredients, especially lemongrass, are used in a lot of Vietnamese Southern dishes. For example: Vietnamese grilled pork chops or Vietnamese grilled beef in wild betel leaves.
How to Cook Vietnamese Lemongrass Chili Tofu
Step 1: marinate the tofu with aromatics and chili pepper. You will need to mince the lemongrass as finely as you can and use the tender part only. You will soon see why :).
It is a common practice to weigh the block of tofu down with some objects to remove excess water. This step can reduce splashing when frying as well as help the tofu crisp up faster.
Is it a must to press tofu though? I’d say it depends on the block of tofu. I personally find that tofu from some brands don’t need to be pressed. So do what you know would work for your tofu.
Step 2: time to pan-fry the tofu until golden and crispy after marinating it for 15 minutes (or longer for tastier results). Try to use your fingers to wipe away the minced aromatics from the tofu. We will toast the minced aromatics after frying the tofu.
Step 3: toast/fry the aromatics. When toasting the minced aromatics, use medium-low heat to avoid burning and be patient. It will take them a few minutes to turn golden.
The tricky part of this recipe is to make the minced aromatics crunchy. Therefore, when preparing the lemongrass, peel off the dry outer layer as well as discard the fibrous green part. Keep the white and very light green part only and mince as finely as you can, then they will turn crunchy once golden.
I only add the minced garlic at the last minute when toasting the minced aromatics because garlic can get burned easily and leave a bitter taste. Once the minced aromatics are golden and crunchy, spinkle them all over the fried tofu and serve immediately. Detailed instructions are in the recipe card below.
Other Tofu Recipes to Try
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Vietnamese Lemongrass Chili Tofu
- Pat dry and slice tofu into 1/2 inch thick slices. If your tofu has a lot of excess of water, you may want to weigh the whole block of tofu with heavy objects for a few minutes before cutting into slices.
- Add tofu slices, minced lemongrass, minced shallots, minced bird’s-eye chili and about 1/2 teaspoon of salt to a mixing bowl. Gently mix to coat tofu with minced aromatics evenly. Set aside for 15 minutes or longer for tastier results.
- Place a pan over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add cooking oil. Use your finger to wipe away minced aromatics (reserve these in the mixing bowl) from the tofu slices, then add the tofu slices to the pan in single layer. It is fine if some aromatics still stick to the tofu slices. Fry until golden and crispy, flip once or twice.
- Transfer tofu slices to a clean plate (you may want to line it with paper towel to absorb excess oil). Discard all the oil and all the black bits in the pan.
- Place the pan back over medium low heat. Add the minced aromatics used to marinate the tofu to the pan. Stir and toast until lightly golden, then add minced garlic and a pinch of salt (to taste). Continue to toast until the minced aromatics are deep golden and crunchy. Adjust heat as needed to avoid burning them. It may take a few minutes.
- Place tofu slices on a serving plate and sprinkle all the toasted minced aromatics on top. Serve immediately.