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This Vegan Tofu Karaage recipe will absolutely blow your mind! It’s seasoned to perfection, dredged in a simple breading, then double-fried until golden and extra crispy. Serve alongside lemon, and shredded cabbage, and drizzle with vegan mayo for an umami flavor punch. No one will believe this Japanese fried “chicken” is made from plants.
What is the difference between karaage and fried chicken?
Karaage is often referred to as Japanese fried chicken. And although Japanese karaage and American fried chicken look very similar at a glance, these two foods differ in a number of ways. First and foremost, fried chicken is seasoned in the breading, whereas karaage is seasoned in the meat (or, in this case, tofu!). Karaage is also seasoned with popular Japanese ingredients like soy sauce, mirin, ginger, cooking sake, etc. American fried chicken is seasoned with spices such as Italian seasoning, paprika, mustard powder, and black pepper.
Finally, the two are of course served differently. It is common to find karaage served alongside popular Japanese foods like white rice, shredded cabbage, and soup and finished with kewpie mayo. Fried chicken is popularly served with mashed potatoes, and collard greens, and dunked in things like vegan ranch dressing or buffalo sauce. Once you give this tofu karaage recipe a try, you’ll be hooked on this Japanese favorite!
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Tofu: We recommend using a medium block of tofu. It’s soft enough to remain juicy and moist, but will still be chewy after freezing. If needed, use a firmer block of tofu, but not a softer tofu – it will be too moist and not hold up well.
- Flour + cornstarch: These two ingredients make up the tofu karaage breading and help give the tofu a nice and crispy exterior. If you are allergic to corn, you can substitute potato starch. We have not tested a gluten-free flour substitute, but if you’d like to try it a gluten-free flour blend will likely work the best.
- Oil: Any neutral oil will work best for frying. Vegetable oil is our personal go-to, but check. out this extensive list from Taste of Home: The Best Oils for Frying.
- Soy sauce: The base ingredient in the tofu marinade. If preferred, opt for tamari or coconut aminos for a lower-sodium option.
- Cooking sake: Cooking sake is essentially a Japanese rice wine that adds acidity and umami flavor to the marinade. It also helps tenderize the tofu, giving it a meatier texture. If needed, rice vinegar will work well in a pinch!
- Mirin: Mirin is similar to cooking sake but is sweeter and less acidic. It is a great ingredient to stock in your pantry when adding flavor to marinades or Asian-inspired dishes.
- Ginger + Garlic: We highly recommend using fresh ginger and garlic for the best flavor, but you can substitute 1/2 teaspoon each of dried, as needed.
- Ziplock bag or large mixing bowl
- Small mixing bowls
- Deep pot or pan
- Fryer strainer
- Wire rack for cooling
How to Make Vegan Tofu Karaage
- Prep the tofu. Double freeze the block of tofu, then drain and pat it dry. Break the tofu into about 2-inch pieces. Pat the tofu pieces dry once more.
- Make the tofu marinade. In a large ziplock bag or mixing bowl, add the soy sauce, cookie sake, mirin, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, and salt and pepper. Mix until well combined.
- Marinade the tofu. Add the tofu pieces to the marinade and gently shake to coat and mix. Marinate for at least 30 minutes.
- Dredge the tofu. Place the flour in a small, shallow bowl and the cornstarch in another. Dredge each tofu piece in the flour, dust off the excess, then dredge it in the corn starch and tap off the excess once more. Set aside and continue until all tofu pieces are coated.
- First, deep fry. Heat oil in a deep pot or pan until hot. Deep fry the tofu pieces for 90 seconds or until the outside of the tofu is golden. Transfer to a wire rack to drain the excess oil. Repeat with all tofu pieces and discard any crumbs between batches.
- Second deep fry. Increase the heat of the oil until 350ºF. Put the tofu pieces back into the oil in batches and fry from about 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until golden brown and crunchy. Transfer to the wire rack to drain the excess oil. Repeat until all tofu is fried.
- Serve. Serve the fried vegan tofu karaage immediately while hot as desired.
Japanese karaage is often served with a wedge of lemon, shredded lettuce or cabbage, karashi mustard, and Japanese mayonnaise, such as Kewpie. This classic mayonnaise is made with egg yolks, but you can find vegan Kewpie mayonnaise online or make a homemade Vegan Japanese Mayonnaise with a few simple plant-based ingredients.
As with most fried foods, this vegan karaage recipe is best enjoyed fresh while the tofu is crispy. However, leftover tofu karaage can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Reheat leftovers in the air fryer at 375ºF for about 4-6 minutes or until crispy again. Alternatively, you can reheat the fried tofu in the oven at 400ºF for 10-15 minutes or until crispy.
We have not tested freezing this recipe and are unsure if it would defrost and reheat well.
Tofu can be frozen directly in the package or removed and transferred to a freezer-safe bag or container. Place the tofu in the freezer for about 12-24 hours, or until frozen solid, then transfer to a freezer to thaw. Once thawed, transfer it again to the freezer and repeat the process. Once thawed again, drain any excess moisture and pat the tofu block dry with a clean paper towel or tea towel.
If your fried tofu is not crispy, this is most likely a result of the oil not being hot enough. If the frying oil is not heated to the proper temperatures recommended, it is more likely to be absorbed by the tofu and breading as opposed to forming a crispy, fried exterior. For best frying results, it is beneficial to invest in a thermometer. Or, at the very least, toss in a breadcrumb before adding in the tofu pieces. If it bubbles to the surface immediately, the oil is hot enough.
Freezing the tofu is essential for two reasons. First, it helps improve the texture and makes it chewier and chicken-like. Second, it helps drain any excess water in the tofu block and makes it very dry. This is crucial for allowing the breading to stick to the tofu and fry safely. You never want to put wet food in frying oil – oil, and water do not mix and can be dangerous! We highly recommend freezing the tofu and following the recipe as closely as possible.
More Japanese-Inspired Vegan Recipes You May Enjoy:
- Vegan Miso Soup (5 Ingredients + 15 Minutes) – A classic that’s so easy to make from scratch!
- Tofu Katsu – Restaurant-style crispy tofu. Serve over rice and curry for the ultimate katsu curry bowl.
- Vegan Japanese Curry. – The perfect pair for our tofu katsu.
- Easy Teriyaki Tempeh (Gluten-Free + 6-Ingredients) – A comfort food staple!
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