Warming Up with Korean Braised Tofu

Slices of firm tofu get cooked in a sweet soy sauce with onions and mushrooms for comfort in a bowl.
Slices of firm tofu get cooked in a sweet soy sauce with onions and mushrooms for comfort in a bowl.

Over the holidays, with my husband and I both slogging through our first bouts of Covid ever (we escaped it for nearly four years, so I guess it was only a matter of time), and then with him experiencing a rebound case right after, I half-joked that I needed a hazmat team to come to my house to rid the premises once and for all of every germ in sight.

Or maybe we just needed some spicy tofu.

Homey, comforting, and with enough Korean chili pepper and fresh slices of jalapeno to rev and warm the immune system and every other part of the body, it sure hit the spot.

But you don’t have to be ailing to thoroughly enjoy “Braised Tofu (Dooboo Jorim).” Because this easy dish will leave you contented no matter what.

It’s from “Sohn-Mat” (Hardie Grant, 2023) of which I received a review copy.

This collection of Korean home-cooking recipes is by Monica Lee, owner of Beverly Soon Tofu, and co-author Tien Nguyen, who has written several cookbooks, including the “The Red Boat Fish Sauce Cookbook.”

When Beverly Soon Tofu opened in 1986, Lee says it was the only one of its kind in Los Angeles serving soon tofu stew in Koreatown. So, this is a woman who definitely knows her tofu dishes.

Lee makes this dish with a 19-ounce package of medium or firm tofu that’s cut into slices. I used a 14-ounce container of firm tofu. Just know that even if it’s firm, there is still some fragility to it. So, some of the slices may crumble a little in the handling/cooking. Don’t fret because the dish will still look and taste fine.

She also makes a seasoned or sweet soy sauce for this dish. I’ve included the full recipe from her book for that seasoned soy sauce, though it will make way more than is needed for this dish. I decided to reconfigure that recipe to get closer to what’s needed for the tofu. So, I simmered 1/4 cup soy sauce plus 1/4 cup water, 3 tablespoons sugar, and 3 tablespoons corn syrup in a small pot, which gave me about the amount needed.

The same goes for the blended garlic (gahreun mahneul) that’s used. The recipe for it in the book makes nearly 2 cups of what is essentially garlic cloves blended with enough water to create an applesauce-like consistency. What I ended up doing was blitzing 4 cloves of garlic plus 1 tablespoon of water in a mini blender. If you don’t have that, you could also grate the garlic cloves, then stir in the water.


Once you have all that, simply stir together the seasoned soy sauce, blended garlic, sesame oil, cooking wine (I used leftover sake), black pepper, sesame seeds, and the dried chili pepper known as gochugaru that has a sweet-fruity moderate heat, and a splash of water. Set it aside.

Carefully place the tofu slices in a large pan and fry on both sides until golden. Then, pour in the sauce, along with sliced onions, beech or enoki mushrooms, and jalapenos. The directions say to spoon the sauce over everything continuously to help all the ingredients cook. I found that it was easier to just cover the pan for a couple minutes. Then, remove the cover and continue cooking for another minute or two so the sauce reduces a tad.

The tofu soaks up all those savory flavors, and takes on an almost eggy texture. There’s a decent amount of heat, so if you’re sensitive to that, just dial back the amount of gochugaru and skip the jalapenos.

This dish begs for a bowl of fluffy, steamed rice.

Together, they make for one satisfying salve.

Korean braised tofu.
Korean braised tofu.

Braised Tofu (Dooboo Jorim)

(Serves 4)

1/2 cup Mat Ganjang or Seasoned Soy Sauce (recipe below)

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon Gahreun Mahneul or Blended Garlic (recipe below)

2 teaspoons rice cooking wine

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse gochugaru

1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 tablespoon vegetable or other neutral oil

1 (19-ounce) package medium or firm tofu, preferably House Foods brand, drained and sliced into pieces 1/2-inch thick

1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced

1/2 cup white beech, enoki, or button mushrooms, sliced

1 jalapeno or other chile pepper, sliced (optional)

3 tablespoons chopped green onions, green and white parts, for garnish

Toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

To make the sauce: Place the seasoned soy sauce, 1/4 cup water, sesame oil, garlic, cooking wine, gochugaru, sesame seeds, and black pepper in a medium bowl and mix. Set aside until ready to use.

To cook and serve the tofu: Place a large pan over high heat and add the vegetable oil. When the oil begins to smoke, carefully add the tofu. Pan-fry until the tofu is light brown, then flip. Fry on both sides until the tofu takes on a golden hue. Pour the sauce over the tofu. Add the yellow onions, as well as the mushrooms and jalapeno (if using).

Lower the heat to medium and spoon the sauce over the tofu and vegetables to coat. As the liquid gently boils, continue to spoon the sauce over the tofu and vegetables, adding water as needed to maintain its consistency as the liquid evaporates, 2 to 3 minutes. (Or conversely, place a cover over the pan, allow to simmer for 3 minutes, then uncover and cook an additional 2 minutes until mushrooms and onions have softened and sauce has reduced slightly.)

Tun off the heat and sprinkle the green onions and sesame seeds over the tofu. Transfer the tofu, vegetables, and braising liquid to a serving bowl or platter. As you do this, the green onions will cook slightly in the residual heat. By the time you set the tofu on the table, all the components will have come together, and it will be perfect with a bowl of rice.

Seasoned Soy Sauce (Mat Ganjang)

(Makes about 2 cups)

1 cup soy sauce

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup light corn syrup, plus more to taste

Combine 1 cup water with the soy sauce, sugar, and corn syrup in a small pot. Turn the heat to high and stir continuously as you bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the temperature to medium and simmer for about 5 minutes. Taste. If you’d like it sweeter, add more sugar or corn syrup, a little bit at a time until it’s as sweet as you like.

Turn off the heat and remove the pot from the stove to cool. Once cooled, the sauce is ready to be used. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 month.

Blended Garlic (Gahreun Mahneul)

(Makes 1 1/2 to 2 cups)

2 cups whole peeled garlic cloves

Slice off the root ends of the garlic cloves and discard. If any of the cloves have sprouted, slice the clove in half lengthwise and remove and discard the green germ.

Place the garlic in a blender and add 3/4 cup water. Blend until smooth or until it has the consistency of applesauce, adding up to 1/4 cup more water if necessary to reach that consistency. It’s now ready to use. Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Adapted from “Sohn-mat” by Monica Lee and Tien Nguyen

More Korean Recipes to Enjoy: Slow-Cooked Beef Ribs in Korean BBQ Sauce

And: Spicy Korean Rice Sticks with Shrimp and Vegetables

And: Korean-Inspired Pork Chops

And: Korean Scallion Pancakes

And: Joanne’s Mom’s Omelet

Plus From the “Red Boat Fish Sauce Cookbook”: Red Boat Pasta Marinara with Herbed Bread Crumbs

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