Korean Mapo Tofu
This Korean mapo tofu is a simple dish made with tender cubes of tofu simmered in a silky, spicy and savory bean sauce. With each bite, you also get bits of minced pork, crunchy shallots, and green bell peppers. In just 30 minutes you can make a delicious, one-pan meal with deep and bold flavors.
Mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐) is a popular Chinese tofu dish originating from the Sichuan province. The base for the sauce is made with a spicy, fermented bean paste called doubanjiang. Since doubanjiang isn’t a common staple in the Korean pantry, Koreans instead use a mixture of Korean fermented soybean paste (doenjang, 된장) and Korean red chili pepper paste (gochujang, 고추장).
This Korean version (마파 두부) tastes pretty similar although you don’t get that characteristic, tongue-tingling sensation from the Sichuan peppercorns in the authentic Chinese recipe.
It’s an easy, one-pan meal to make with most items ready to go in your pantry and fridge. This 30-minute recipe is perfect for a busy or lazy weeknight. It’s also a cozy meal with plenty of sauce to enjoy with some freshly steamed rice.
“Chili oil” & Aromatics
Just as with Chinese mapo tofu, this recipe starts by making some form of chili oil. However instead of using just any type of dried chilies, we use Korean red chili pepper flakes (gochugaru, 고춧가루). The gochugaru is fried in cooking oil with other aromatics such as garlic, green onions, and shallots.
Although most Korean mapo tofu recipes add yellow onions, I like to use shallots. I prefer their slightly sweet and more delicate onion flavor.
Minced pork is commonly added for meat protein in mapo tofu. Beef is another popular option. However, I find that the taste of beef can be a bit overpowering in this particular dish. The pork not only imparts a rich depth of flavor, it also deeply infuses the sauce and bold spices for some extra flavorful bites.
For a vegetarian option, you could substitute the minced pork with thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms. They have a meaty texture and are full of umami.
Chinese mapo tofu is made with a soybean paste called doubanjiang. In Korean mapo tofu, this doubanjiang is substituted with a mixture of gochujang and doenjang. The salty and spicy, fermented soybean doubanjiang is effectively replaced with Korean fermented soybean paste and spicy Korean red chili pepper paste.
I also add a bit of coconut sugar to the sauce. Sugar is not always added in Chinese mapo tofu. However, it is commonly used in Korean cuisine to round out spicy and savory flavors.
Adding green bell peppers is also unique to Korean mapo tofu. I like to include them for their crunchy textural contrast, and for its mild pepper flavor.
Chicken broth is then poured in to loosen up the so far thick paste of a sauce. While water is an acceptable alternative, the chicken broth does add rich and complex flavor to this dish.
Korean mapo tofu is definitely milder than authentic Chinese mapo tofu. To add a sharper kick of spice, I like to stir in slices of long red hot pepper. They also give the dish a nice pop of color. Alternatively, you could add a couple whole dried chili peppers.
Toward the end of the cook time, a cornstarch and water slurry is stirred in. It helps to slightly thickens the sauce and keep the tofu and other ingredients well-coated for flavorful bites.
Toasted sesame oil is finally drizzled into the sauce at the very end. Although subtle, it adds a mild nutty flavor.
Vegetarian option: Replace the pork with finely chopped shiitake mushrooms. Omit the oyster sauce. Use water or vegetable broth instead of chicken broth.
What kind of tofu to use in mapo tofu?
The more common types of tofu are silk, soft, firm, and extra firm tofu. Soft tofu is usually the tofu of choice for mapo tofu. I decided to use firm tofu in this recipe since I don’t always have soft tofu at my local grocery store. I also find that firm tofu can more easily infuse flavors from the sauce.
Blanching the tofu in salted, simmering water is recommended. Blanching the tofu helps to keep it from crumbling apart while cooking and dries out the tofu so that it can soak up more of the sauce. The salted water also lightly seasons the tofu.
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Mise en place
If you make this Korean Mapo Tofu I would love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to leave a comment and/or recipe rating at the bottom of this page. And if you have a photo of your food, be sure to tag me on Instagram!
Korean Mapo Tofu
- 14 oz soft tofu, cubed
- 3 tbsp cooking oil
- 2 tbsp garlic, crushed
- 2 green onions, finely chopped
- ½ lb ground pork
- 3½ tbsp gochugaru
- ⅓ cup shallot, finely chopped
- ½ green bell pepper, finely chopped
- ½ tbsp gochujang
- 1 tbsp doenjang
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp coconut sugar
- 2 cups chicken stock (or water)
- 1 tbsp cornstarch (mixed in 2 tbsp water)
- 1 tsp ginger, julienned
- 1 long red hot pepper, sliced thinly
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Add the shallots, garlic, half of the green onions, and gochugaru and oyster sauce for about 2 minutes or until fragrant.
- Stir in the ground pork, breaking it up into small pieces, and saute until no longer pink.
- Stir in the soy sauce, doenjang, gochujang, and coconut sugar until well incorporated with the meat.
- Add the green bell peppers and saute for about 30 seconds.
- Add the chicken stock to the skillet. Stir in the ginger, long red hot pepper, and oysters sauce and let it come to a boil.
- Slide in the cubed tofu and gently stir them in so they are well immersed in the sauce. Let it simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the tofu from sticking to the pan.
- Stir in the cornstarch and water slurry and let the sauce simmer until reaching your desired sauce thickness.
- Drizzle in the sesame oil and turn of the heat.
- Garnish with the reserved green onions and serve immediately with some freshly steamed rice.