Traditional Korean Braised Tofu

traditional korean braised tofu

Have you ever had a delicious dish from a restaurant and wished, with all your might, that you could make it in your own kitchen whenever your {hungry} heart desired?  I’m sure we’ve all been there.  This recipe is the epitome of that to me.

sliced tofu

This traditional Korean dish was first introduced to me not in a fancy well-regarded or 5-star restaurant, but rather, at my favorite local sushi spot.  And then repeatedly consumed once I discovered it in the prepared foods section of my favorite Asian supermarket H-Mart.

My attempt to discover the secret of the dish directly from the source–simply by asking the waitress to describe the ingredients and hoping that my clear adoration would woo her into sharing all of the details–was unsuccessful.  Fast forward a few years later, many failed at-home attempts, and nearly giving up hope, I think I’ve finally figured it out!

My rough guideline as to how to put the dish together actually came from looking at the basic label on the prepared food container.  That part was easy—the hard part came from experimenting and figuring out the right quantities of each ingredient.

korean red pepper powder

The key lies in Korean red pepper powder, ground extremely fine, which adds heat and the main flavor profile behind the dish.

I must admit, I kind of hate that I’m sharing a recipe that calls for a somewhat difficult-to-find ingredient (although you can find it in almost any Asian supermarket), but unfortunately, it’s not substitutable. 

Amusingly enough, red pepper powder seems to only come in massive quantities (in other words…bags), which means I have about a pound’s worth of this spice sitting in my pantry—thankfully at the affordable price of $5 dollars. This specific powder is actually what they use to make traditional kimchi.  I either have a lot of homemade kimchi in my future (unlikely) or this tofu dish–more likely.  If only I could share my bounty of pepper with you all, but that would probably be a bit weird! 

traditional korean braised tofu

Can I make up for this by saying that the rest of the recipe is really straight-forward?  I promise, it really is. 

Basically it involves combining all of the ingredients for the marinade and pouring it over seared, pan-fried tofu, and then allowing it to chill out in the fridge for several hours to marinate and let the flavors develop.

seared tofu

The final product is a little bit spicy, satisfyingly salty from soy sauce, and full of fresh flavor from lots of chopped scallions, a hint of lime, and toasted sesame seeds.  Though I rarely use sugar in savory preparations, a small amount of brown sugar in the marinade helps even out the strong flavors.

So happy to share this dish with you all!

traditional korean braised tofu

Traditional Korean Braised Tofu

Yield: 4 Servings

Prep Time: 20 minutes (plus 6-7 hours marinating time)

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

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Ingredients:

Marinade (yields roughly 2 cups)

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon (Korean) fine red pepper powder (**available in Asian supermarkets**)
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon canola/vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 cup scallions, finely sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon lime juice
  • 1/8 cup toasted sesame seeds

Tofu:

  • 2 blocks of firm tofu, sliced into thin rectangles
  • canola/vegetable oil

Directions:

  1. Combine all the marinade ingredients in small bowl. Allow to sit out for 10-15 minutes—or while you prepare the tofu.
  2. Remove tofu from package. Slice into rectangles—roughly 1/2-inch in thickness. Lay out a thick layer of paper towels or kitchen towel on your counter and place the tofu slices on top to absorb any excess water (for this recipe, you don’t need to press the tofu).
  3. Heat large non-stick skillet over medium heat with a thin layer of canola or vegetable oil. Once hot, add tofu, spreading out in the pan so they are not touching each other. The tofu should sizzle when it hits the pan. You can do this using multiple skillets, if available, to make the process go faster, or pan-fry them in batches.
  4. Sear tofu on each side for roughly 3-4 minutes, until light brown on both sides. Remove and place on paper-towel lined plate to absorb any excess oil. Repeat until all tofu is seared. Allow to cool to room temperature.
  5. Spread out the tofu on a baking dish or any other container with a large surface area (and relatively high sides)–you can do this in two layers, if necessary. Pour over the marinade, cover, and refrigerate for roughly ~6-8 hours. Turn the tofu once or twice during this time, so that each piece gets marinated properly.
  6. Best served chilled by itself, or with some sushi rice!

Be sure to use authentic, finely ground Korean red pepper powder—available in almost every Asian supermarket!

sushi rice

You don’t even want to know how long it took to clean up that little impulse photo idea… #foodbloggerproblems

   

12 Responses to “Traditional Korean Braised Tofu”

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    1
    britainknee — December 7, 2012 @ 3:14 pm

    That looks incredible. I prefer tofu to most non-vegan proteins, and I love anything with scallions and sesame seeds- yum. Wishing I could have this for lunch instead of my typical salad!

    • Laura replied: — March 5th, 2013 @ 3:17 am

      Thanks so much!! I generally prefer tofu as well…I have yet to experiment with tempeh that much.

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    Meghan — December 7, 2012 @ 3:27 pm

    Whoa that sauce looks great! I totally struggle to do anything with tofu besides stir fry. I'd be down to buy the red pepper powder if that means I can make kimchi too! I've wanted to try that for awhile, so double bonus. Saving this recipe. Thanks!!

    • Laura replied: — March 5th, 2013 @ 3:17 am

      Thanks! Let me know if you try it out. Maybe I should consider making kimchi! :)

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    3
    ila — December 8, 2012 @ 9:49 am

    Love love love your recipe…I am going to try this soon.

    • Laura replied: — March 5th, 2013 @ 3:18 am

      So glad to hear that you might make this! Definitely let me know what you think if you do.

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    4
    Tasha — December 12, 2012 @ 7:16 pm

    That marinade sounds amazing. Can I use it with meat? (YES offense to tofu).

    • Laura replied: — March 5th, 2013 @ 3:18 am

      Haha, don’t worry. I don’t know about using it as a marinade for REAL meat, although I would think it would be delicious. I definitely think it would be a great dip for dumplings! :)

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    Laura @ Blogging Over Thyme — December 15, 2012 @ 2:33 pm

    Britainknee — Thanks so much!! I generally prefer tofu as well…I have yet to experiment with tempeh that much.

    Meghan — Thanks! Let me know if you try it out. Maybe I should consider making kimchi! :)

    Ila — So glad to hear that you might make this! Definitely let me know what you think if you do.

    Tasha — Haha, don't worry. I don't know about using it as a marinade for REAL meat, although I would think it would be delicious. I definitely think it would be a great dip for dumplings! :)

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    Batya — December 22, 2012 @ 10:14 pm

    I am so happy to have stumbled upon your blog and this recipe. I recently discovered an H-Mart not too far from my house– holy Korean culinary treats, spices, noodles and rice cakes! I was thinking of Bimbimbap, but this braised tofu looks so delicious. Tomorrow I will pick up the pepper powder. Hooray! Thanks for the recipe.

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    Ashley — December 25, 2012 @ 3:51 am

    Thank you so much for this recipe! I love finding ways to use the Korean ingredients in my pantry, and this one was awesome! I love that I could make it in the morning and it was just ready for us whenever we were ready for dinner. I posted this over on my blog with a link back to yours. Thanks for sharing :)

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    Andrew — March 6, 2014 @ 4:33 pm

    Try substituting the brown sugar for hone or maple syrup for an interesting flavour!

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