Spicy Korean Fried Tofu
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Sometimes you just need to eat something fried! Am I right?! I don't indulge in fried foods often, but when I do, I prefer to fry the food myself, simply because I know what kind of oil my food will be cooked in and I know that no other animal products were in it beforehand.
Gone are the days of Southern fried chicken in my life (thankfully!), and since, tofu has stepped up as my favorite go-to replacement. Some new vegans struggle with the idea of having fried foods because most of us have been taught that the only way to properly bread something (in preparation for the fryer), is to coat it with some sort of egg-based batter. But, believe it or not, that's simply not the case! There are a lot of ways to create a great batter without using the embryo of some sweet hen. You can use flax eggs, Chia seeds, Vegenaise, vegan butter…trust me, there are plenty of cruelty-free options out there. For this recipe, however, I just used plain old soy milk and flour. Then, substituting panko bread crumbs in place of regular bread crumbs really helps to deliver that perfect, restaurant-quality crunch.
Another thing to consider is that Korean Gochujang sauce is quite spicy! This dish is not for the faint of heart, so proceed with caution! Gochujang is made from chili powder, sticky rice, and fermented soybean powder. There is a subliminal sweetness to it naturally, but we're going to increase that sweetness, and level out the heat a bit, by adding some coconut sugar. I'm a big fan of spicy foods in general, but I think adding the coconut sugar makes this recipe more suitable for a variety of palates.
Alright, let's start cooking! The first thing you'll want to do is press your tofu to remove the moisture. If you haven't added a tofu press to your cooking arsenal, I highly recommend purchasing this one. This thing is a major time-saver and it helps preserve the shape of your tofu block. I probably use mine 2-3 times per week, so it was definitely a worthwhile investment for my kitchen!
After about 15 minutes, remove your tofu block from the press and pat it dry with a paper towel. Slice up the tofu into bite-sized pieces, however you would prefer. I cut my tofu into big squares this time, but you can really do whatever you’d like! Sprinkle a small amount of salt on the front and back of each piece and let it all sit for a about 5 minutes. This step will help draw out even more moisture.
For the batter, you'll want to place some flour, soy milk, and bread crumbs into three separate bowls, then dip each piece into each bowl, in that order – flour, soy milk, bread crumbs. Repeat this until all the tofu pieces are battered. To make your tofu even crispier, you can also give each piece a second dip in the soy milk and bread crumbs, but not the flour.
Heat up some grape seed oil in a pan, then gently place your battered tofu bits in and fry those suckers for 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown!
While that's cooking, you can mix up your sauce ingredients and start heating that up in a separate pan over LOW heat. Be careful not to burn it…like I did…the first 4 times I made this (hangs head in shame). After you remove the tofu from the oil and drain it on a paper towel for a few moments, toss them into the sauce to coat everything thoroughly and heat evenly.
Serve with some rice and stir-fry veggies for a fantastic Korean-inspired meal! Believe me…it's better than take-out!