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


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


  • 2 (16-ounce) packages of firm tofu, drained and sliced into thin (1/2-inch thick) rectangles
  • canola/vegetable oil


  1. Combine all the marinade ingredients in small bowl. Allow to sit out for 10-15 minutes—or while you prepare the tofu.
  2. Drain and remove the 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!

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sushi rice

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