Crispy outside, tender tofu on the inside and coated with the most amazing spicy, savory umami, and just a touch of sweet sauce. Korean Fried Tofu is super addicting and will totally wow you to switch it up for your typical protein.
Helloooooo to my new love….Korean Fried Tofu. This stuff is SO DARN GOOD. And if you're a tofu naysayer but love spicy things, I say hear me out.
If you already love tofu - hey friend! - you're extra gonna want to read down (or scroll, you do you) and get this recipe.
When we opened Bonefish Harrys we had a few gochujang-based sauces on the menu and, oh man, so good. That coupled with watching a replay of America's Test Kitchen inspired this plant-based take on Korean fried chicken.
I spend most of my junior year in college eating a plant-based diet. While eventually, I worked out that it wasn't for me, it did expose me to plant-based proteins and a variety of veggies and for that, I'm super thankful.
This chipotle aioli? Totally delicious and totally plant-based . This banana bread? Probably the most tender banana bread you'll ever have and vegan. Creamy butternut squash soup? Luscious and all plants.
I'm just saying don' knock it.
All the praise to gochujang…
It's packed with so much flavor other than just heat and it's going to be the star of our sauce here.
What is it?
A common ingredient in Korean cooking, gochujang is a deep red paste made from red chile pepper flakes, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, and salt.
As the paste is aged over time the glutinous rice transforms into sugars and adds sweetness to the combination while the fermented soybeans bring that coveted umami flavor. Paired up with the spice of the chile it's just flavors all over the place while also fitting perfectly together.
It does have quite a bit of heat though so if you're super sensitive to spice go a little at a time when taste testing!
How to make Korean fried tofu
While it's not a lot of work, it does take a little bit of prep. For the best results with your fried tofu, be sure to press it before cooking.
It's easy! Just take your firm or extra firm tofu and wrap it in a clean kitchen towel then place something heavy - like a cast iron skillet - on top of it. This will extract the extra moisture from the tofu. You'll want to press it for 30 to 60 minutes.
Alternatively, you can press the tofu between two plates lined with paper towels with something heavy on top of it. I tried to use a toddler but she wouldn't sit still long enough.
While the tofu is pressing you can prepare your sauce and just set it off to the side.
Once the tofu is ready, just sliced it into bite sized cubes and coat with corn starch. Then we pan fry it golden brown on all sides before tossing with the sauce and eating it ravenously.
Tips for perfection…
As mentioned before…press your tofu! You can use firm or extra firm tofu.
Use cornstarch or arrowroot powder to coat the tofu cubes. Cornstarch is my go to and what's usually always available in my pantry.
My favorite mess-free way to coat the tofu is to place the cubes in a large Tupperware or storage container with the cornstarch and shake it. You can also do this in a zip bag. Just leave air in the zip bag so it mixes easily. Then dump in out into a strainer and shake off the excess cornstarch.
Important - use a large nonstick or cast iron pan for pan frying the tofu.
Something where all the tofu can go in at once and isn't on top of each other.
If you fry with the cubes on top of each other they'll get stuck, which isn't the worst thing because two nachos stuck together equal one nacho, right? But, seriously, having space in the pan allows for even cooking on all the sides.
What do you serve with it?
In the pictures, it is served coconut rice and sautéed bok choy with garlic and sesame oil. That would be my highest recommendation - so delicious and great texture balance. This roasted beet salad with flavors of ginger and sesame oil is a solid option, too.
Any sauteed veggies and rice combo would be a good fit or on top of a salad, in a wrap, there are quite a few possibilities.
You can also serve Korean fried tofu as it is. It makes for a great appetizer or plate to share!
If you made this recipe, let me know in the comments? What is your favorite part?
Korean Fried Tofu
- 1 block firm tofu
- ¾ cup cornstarch
- ½ cup canola oil
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon garlic (minced)
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger (grated)
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons gochujang
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- ¼ cup water
- Wrap the tofu in a clean kitchen towel. Press using a heavy cast iron pan or heavy canned goods between two plates for 1 hour. After pressing, remove from the towel and cut into 1" to 1½" cubes.
- While the tofu presses, make the sauce. In a small saucepan, combine the sesame oil, garlic, and ginger. Heat over low heat for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the brown sugar, gochujang, soy sauce, and water. Whisk until well combined. Set aside.
- Coat the tofu pieces in cornstarch, covering all sides. I like to use a storage container or zip bag for this and then shake off the excess in a strainer.
- In a large deep sided skillet or cast iron pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Drop one tofu piece in the oil to check the temperature. It should be rapidly bubbling on the sides of the tofu. Add the remaining pieces, spreading throughout the pan so they are not touching if possible. Turn the pieces every 2 to 3 minutes, cooking for about 10 minutes until golden brown on all sides. Transfer to paper towels to drain excess oil. In a large bowl toss with the sauce and serve.
- After tossing the crispy tofu with the sauce, there may be a little extra sauce in the bowl. Depending on how spicy and saucy you like things you can serve it alongside the Korean fried tofu or leave the extra sauce in the bowl.
- Press your tofu! You can use firm or extra firm tofu.
- Use cornstarch or arrowroot powder to coat the tofu cubes.
- My favorite mess-free way to coat the tofu is to place the cubes in a large Tupperware or storage container with the cornstarch and shake it. You can also do this in a zip bag. Just leave air in the zip bag so it mixes easily. Then dump it out into a strainer and shake off the excess cornstarch.
- Use a large nonstick or cast iron pan for pan-frying the tofu. Something where all the tofu can go in at once and isn't on top of each other. If you fry with the cubes on top of each other they'll get stuck, which isn't the worst thing I suppose because two nachos stuck together equal one nacho right? But, seriously, having space in the pan allows for even cooking on all the sides.