This Korean-inspired fried tofu with gochujang sauce is super tasty, extra spicy, and is so finger-licking good that you’ll want it as a perfect snack or a dish to go with a bowl of rice!
“Tofu is bland” or “Can you really make tofu taste good?” is what I hear all the time when I tell someone I love tofu. While a block of tofu may not look exciting, it actually is. You can turn tofu into a delicious dish with proper preparation and seasoning.
Tofu is made from one of my favorite humble ingredients – soybean! This bean is mighty! Why? It can be turned into soy milk, yuba, tofu, and much more. Tofu comes in many different forms, such as silken or firm. The difference in them is the water content, the softer the tofu, the higher the water content is, and vice versa.
There are also many ways to prepare tofu. Today, you’ll see how to air fry it using the ‘frozen then thawed’ method similar to my crispy tofu katsu recipe. Once they are air-fried, these tofu sticks are tossed into a spicy and sweet sauce inspired by the popular Korean fried chicken recipe from Maangchi.
I really love this sauce so much, it has all the components that I crave, sweet and salty with a touch of tang. It’s definitely a great recipe for tofu and non-tofu lovers for sure. Don’t forget to make the ‘chicken mu’, also known as pickled radish that can tame down the spiciness and add extra crisp.
How to make Korean-inspired fried tofu
Before you start the cooking process, you should have thawed the tofu to room temperature. If not, you can microwave it to speed up the thawing. Then, squeeze the tofu with both of your palms to remove excess liquid. Check the recipe section on how to freeze and tofu.
Now, cut tofu into 1/2″ thick match sticks. If you are like me who fancies new tofu shapes, then cut yours into trapezoids (refer to pictures below). Season them generously with salt and pepper.
Next prepare the batter by mixing the flour and seasoning in a bowl until combine. The batter should be thick and able to coat the tofu without much drippage. If the batter turns runny in the middle of cooking from the tofu’s moisture, then add more rice flour to thicken it up.
To cook the tofu sticks, preheat the air-fryer to 390°F (200°C) for 3 minutes. Grease the inner rack with oil. Then, dredge the tofu sticks in the batter and place them on the greased rack, slightly apart. (Air fry in multiple batches if necessary.)
Air fry for 6 minutes, then pause the air fryer. Remove the rack and brush sticks with oil to create a crispy top. Return the basket to the air fryer and air fry for another 6 minutes until golden brown. Transfer tofu to a wire rack to keep it crispy. Repeat until you’ve cooked all the tofu pieces.
Next, make the sauce by sautéing the garlic and chile in a heated wok with oil over medium-low heat until fragrant, about a minute or so. Chile burns quickly so watch the heat. Then, add in the sauce and cook until the sugar has dissolved. Tip: Cook the sauce until you see large bubbles. This means the sugar has dissolved and it will start to caramelize.
Now, add in all the tofu sticks and quickly toss to combine until the sticks are well coated. Fold in the cashews and give it a final toss.
Right before serving, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and enjoy them immediately with a side of chicken mu (pickled radish).
Korean-inspired Fried Tofu FAQs
1. Bake method – If you don’t have an air fryer, you can bake them instead. The color may not be as golden but they taste equally tasty. Heat the oven to 425°F. Lay the battered tofu sticks on a foil-lined, greased sheet pan, and spray or dab the tofu with some oil. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, then broil for about 5 minutes to crisp up. Please note the color is less brown using this method but it tastes equally delicious.
2. Fresh firm tofu vs this tofu – yes, firm tofu works but I highly recommend that you press out the liquid as much as you can. This way, the batter will not be diluted with moisture. If you haven’t tried the freeze-thawed tofu before, it has an amazing spongy texture that is so addictive especially when you season them well. Note: The frozen tofu will take about 1 day to thaw in the fridge, so plan ahead.
3. Flour – I used a mix of all-purpose and rice flour, but you can use potato or cornstarch to replace the rice flour for a crispier texture. Don’t forget to use ice-cold water in the batter. For a gluten-free version, sub the all-purpose flour with your favorite 1:1 gluten-free blend and adjust the water to get a thick batter.
4. Spicy – This is a spicy dish, so adjust the type of chiles or amount used accordingly.
Check out other Tofu recipes that make you drool
- Lemongrass tofu rice (inspired by Vietnamese lemongrass chicken)
- Mapo Tofu (love this numbing and spicy dish)
- Teriyaki tofu balls
- Crispy Tofu Katsu with Japanese curry
This Korean-inspired fried tofu with gochujang is
- Easy to make
- Perfect as finger food or meal by itself
- Spicy and YUMMY!
If you try this recipe, I would love to hear your feedback and see your beautiful re-creation. Leave me a comment, rate it, and tag @woon.heng and #woonheng to your photos on Instagram or Facebook. Happy cooking, friends!
Korean-inspired Fried Tofu with Gochujang
- 2 lb firm tofu drained, frozen, then thawed
- 90 g [¾ cup] all-purpose flour
- 90 g [¾ cup] rice flour
- 1 teaspoon salt plus more to taste
- a few shakes of black pepper
- 1 cup water
- oil for brushing and cooking
- 3 garlic cloves finely minced
- 8 dried chiles seeds removed
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons vinegar distilled or rice
- ¼ cup water
- 1 tablespoon gochujang
- ¼ cup toasted cashews
- Toasted sesame seeds for sprinkling
How to freeze tofu*
- Remove the tofu from its package and drain out the water (but save the package!). Wrap the tofu with paper towels or a clean dishcloth. Place on a cutting board and top with a plate. Now top this plate with something heavy, such as cans or cartons. Let the tofu drain for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Unwrap the tofu. Halve the tofu lengthwise into two slabs. Return the tofu to its package. Freeze for at least 6 hours or overnight.
- The day before you’re ready to eat, thaw the tofu in the fridge. (To speed things up, you can transfer it to the counter or microwave it as needed.) Squeeze the tofu slabs between your palms or drain them on paper towels to remove as much liquid as possible.
Prepare the tofu
- Pat-dry one of the prepared tofu blocks, then place on a chopping board. Cut crosswise so you have 5 equal pieces.
- Now slice each piece crosswise at a slight diagonal to make 2 trapezoids. Repeat with the remaining tofu block (you should get 20 tofu pieces in total). Season generously with salt and pepper.
- Now, preheat your air fryer to 390°F (200°C) while you prepare the batter. Check the FAQ section above for the bake method. Combine the all-purpose flour, rice flour, and salt in a large bowl. Then slowly add in the water and stir until no large lumps are evident.
- Once the air fryer is ready, brush a thin layer of oil on the inner air fryer rack. Dredge the tofu sticks in the batter and place them on the greased rack, slightly apart. (Air fry in multiple batches if necessary.)
- Air fry for 6 minutes, then pause the air fryer. Remove the rack and brush another thin layer of oil on the tofu to get a crispier top. Continue to air fry for another 6 minutes until the tofu turns golden brown and crispy. Remove and transfer tofu to a drain rack to keep them crispy. Repeat until you are done with all the tofu pieces.
Make the glaze and serve
- To make the sauce, heat a non-stick skillet over medium-low heat and add about 2 teaspoons of oil. Then, sauté garlic and chile peppers for about 30 seconds or so.
- Next, add in the soy sauce, maple syrup, sugar, vinegar, water, and gochujang. Stir to combine and cook until the mixture is bubbly and sugar has dissolved.
- Turn down the heat and add the tofu then quickly toss to combine until tofu is coated with the glaze.
- Fold in the cashews and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Serve immediately. Don't forget the chicken mu (pickled radish) – see notes for recipe.
- *Skip the ‘How to freeze tofu’ section if you prefer to use fresh firm tofu instead. I do highly recommend giving this freeze-thawed method a try if you have time. A quick note if you are using fresh firm tofu is to drain out as much water as you can or you’ll have a less crispy outer layer.
- Use store-bought or homemade Chicken mu (pickled radish) – check Maangchi’s recipe. I followed loosely using 1 part sugar, 1 part vinegar, and 2 parts water with a little salt. Then, soak the radish cubes while I prepare the tofu. This pickle can be refrigerated for up to a week.