Maangchi's Korean tofu is a crunchy, sticky, spicy-sweet delight

  • Sweet, Spicy and Crunchy Korean Tofu.

    Sweet, Spicy and Crunchy Korean Tofu. Tom McCorkle for The Washington Post

Posted9/23/2020 6:00 AM

If you've followed along on my ongoing efforts to create the crunchiest, most flavor-packed tofu possible, you know that I'm a fan of using cornstarch to get that crust. Last year ago, I found what I thought was the uber-recipe, one that calls for you to press moisture out of the tofu before marinating it in a hoisin mixture, coating it in the starch and pan-frying.

As good as that was, as soon as I saw YouTube star Maangchi's recipe for Korean fried tofu a couple of months ago, I knew I was about to try something even better. She doesn't press the tofu, doesn't marinate it, but deep-fries and then glazes it. In the video, when I first saw Maangchi (an alias for Emily Kim) take a bite into the finished tofu and the crunch was not just audible but loud, I didn't waste any time. I stopped what I was doing, placed an online order for the ingredients I didn't have and was frying tofu for dinner within a couple of hours. How often does that happen?


If you're not a fan of frying, you might not like the looks of this - because one of the keys to Maangchi's technique is that you do it twice. Her choice of coating, potato starch, gives you an even crustier result than cornstarch, especially when you let it cool a bit after the first frying session and then go again. In between rounds, you make a very simple sauce out of ketchup, gochujang and rice syrup (or honey or sugar). Maangchi uses the double-fry technique and a similar sauce for her popular fried-chicken recipes, too.

By using two cups of oil in a very deep skillet (or, better yet, a Dutch oven), you can avoid much of the splattering mess. And after you've coated the twice-fried tofu in the sticky, spicy, sweet sauce and served it (or, let's be honest, devoured it all yourself), just let the oil cool, then strain it for reusing.

And reuse it you will. If you're like me, you'll get your hands on more tofu within a matter of days, just so you can heat up the oil again and fry, fry away.

Sweet, Spicy And Crunchy Korean Tofu

14 ounces to 1 pound medium-firm or firm tofu, patted dry with a kitchen towel

¼ cup potato starch (may substitute cornstarch)

2 cups vegetable oil

¼ cup ketchup

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¼ cup Korean rice syrup (may substitute 3 tablespoons sugar or honey)

3 tablespoons gochujang (Korean chile paste)

1 tablespoon toasted pumpkin seeds

Cooked white rice, for serving

Cut the tofu into 1-inch dice and put the pieces in a zip-top bag. Add the potato starch, seal the bag and gently turn the bag over until the tofu is well coated. Remove each piece from the bag individually (to keep them from sticking together) and transfer to a large plate lined with plastic wrap, parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, leaving space between the pieces.

Set a cooling rack over a large rimmed baking sheet.

In a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat the oil to 340 degrees. Carefully add the tofu pieces, one at a time, making sure they don't touch. (Work in batches if necessary.) Reduce the heat to medium. Fry the tofu, using a long fork or slotted spoon to nudge the pieces apart if they start to touch (the potato starch is very sticky) and carefully turning the pieces as needed, until they are very lightly browned all over, 8 to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pieces to the cooling rack, keeping them from touching. Let the tofu cool for at least a few minutes while you make the sauce.

In another large skillet (preferably nonstick) set over medium-high heat, combine the ketchup, rice syrup and gochujang. Cook, stirring, until the sauce bubbles, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn off the heat.


Return the heat under the frying pot to medium-high, and heat until the oil reaches 350 degrees. Add all the fried tofu pieces; you don't need to worry about them touching this time. Fry the tofu, turning the pieces with a slotted spoon until they are golden brown and crunchy all over, 4 to 5 minutes. Using the same slotted spoon, transfer the tofu to the cooling rack.

Reheat the sauce over medium-high heat until bubbling. Add the hot fried tofu and gently toss to coat. Transfer to a serving plate, sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds, and serve hot, with rice.

Serves 4

Nutrition | Calories: 320; Total Fat: 19 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 480 mg; Carbohydrates: 31 g; Dietary Fiber: 2 g; Sugars: 19 g; Protein: 9 g.

Adapted from "Maangchi's Big Book of Korean Cooking" by Maangchi with Martha Rose Shulman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019).

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