Pork & Tofu Tangsuyuk
- Prep time 4 hours 30 minutes
- Cook time 1 hour
- Serves 4
When Chinese food first arrived in Korea in the late 1800s, it was in full service of feeding the Chinese men who, following their country’s militia, settled down in Korea for reasons centered around labor and international trade. After independent fluctuations in population and consumer behavior, it was in the late 1950s that Chinese food solidified as a mainstay embraced by the Korean people. If you go to a South Korean metropolis today, you’ll find that every neighborhood has at least one junggukjip (Chinese restaurant). Menus have slightly diversified since the founding days of the cuisine—teetering between being more Chinese or more Korean, or somewhere in between. Yet, there’s a classic trifecta of dishes you’re guaranteed to find anywhere: jjajangmyeon (noodles in black bean sauce), jjampong (spicy seafood noodle soup), and, my personal favorite, tangsuyuk (sweet and sour meat).
Tangsuyuk is based on tang cu li ji, a fried meat dish from China’s Shangdong province, where many of Korea’s original Chinese settlers came from. It has two primary components: slurry-coated, twice-fried meat (typically pork or beef), plus a jammy sauce made of soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar. The result is a dish that’s decidedly crispy and saucy. You can either dip each piece into the sauce as you go or pour the sauce all over the pieces prior to eating. This is a rather polarizing debate in Korean food culture, much like how dressing a scone with cream or jam first has England divided. I’m a devout dipper, but pour your heart out if you please!
Similarly, the meat easily adapts to preference. I use a mix of pork tenderloin and firm tofu because, in my household, everyone’s level of meat consumption differs. If you run with a vegetarian/vegan crowd, you could use all tofu, or half tofu and half rehydrated dried shiitake mushrooms—these versions are just as satisfying.
For all-pork tangsuyuk, replace one block of tofu with another pound of pork tenderloin. For all-tofu tangsuyuk, replace 1 pound of pork tenderloin with one more block of tofu. For tofu and shiitake tangsuyuk, replace 1 pound of pork tenderloin with an equal volume of dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated, drained, dried, stemmed, and halved.
In my family, we chow down on tangsuyuk as a dinner entrée with danmuji (pickled yellow radish) on the side. For a more elaborate Korean-Chinese dinner, you could make some jjajangmyeon to eat alongside the fried platter. If not, steamed rice is just as nice. —Justine Lee
1 1/2 cups
soy sauce, divided
vegetable oil, plus more for deep-frying
(16-ounce) block extra-firm tofu, drained, cut into 1-inch cubes
small yellow onion, quartered
large red bell pepper, roughly chopped
Persian cucumber, cut into ½-inch-thick moons
block danmuji, cut into ½-inch moons (optional)
- Cut the pork into ¼-inch-thick medallions. Now slice each medallion into ½-inch strips.
- Prepare the potato starch slurry and marinate the pork: In a large bowl, combine the potato starch with 1½ cups of water. Stir to combine fully. In another large bowl, combine the pork, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, and ground ginger. Massage each pork piece to make sure it’s fully coated in the marinade. Cover both bowls and refrigerate for 4 to 8 hours. (This gives the starch time to absorb the liquid.)
- In a large Dutch oven or wok that is at least 6 inches deep, add enough vegetable oil to rise halfway up the pot. Heat the oil over high heat until it reaches 375°F, 8 to 10 minutes.
- Drain the excess water that’s floated to the top of the potato starch mixture by tipping the bowl over the sink. Using a spoon, stir the mixture until it forms a loose paste. Transfer about 4 tablespoons worth of slurry into a small bowl and set aside—you’ll use this later for the sauce.
- Add the 2 tablespoons of oil and the egg to the slurry and stir to fully combine. Add the pork to the slurry, mix to coat, then return to its large bowl. Season the tofu with salt, then add to the slurry.
- Add half of the tofu cubes to the oil (working in batches prevents overcrowding and sticking). Fry, occasionally turning the pieces and separating any stuck-together ones, until pale yellow, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, carefully pile the fried tofu onto one side of a paper-towel-lined sheet pan or a wire rack. Let the oil come back to 375°F, then repeat with the remaining tofu.
- Once all the tofu is fried and the oil has returned to 375°F, add a quarter of the pork pieces, shaking off the excess slurry beforehand. Fry, occasionally turning the pieces and separating any stuck-together ones, until very light brown, 3 to 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the fried pork to the empty side of the sheet pan or wire rack with the tofu. Repeat with the remaining pork pieces, ensuring the oil temperature comes back to 375°F between batches.
- Onto the double fry: Add more oil to the Dutch oven to fill it back to halfway and use a slotted spoon to remove any brown bits from the oil. Now bring the oil to 450°F, still over high heat. Carefully add as much tofu as you can fit. Fry just until crisp and golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Pile the twice-fried tofu onto one side of a large serving plate, keeping space open for the pork. Let the oil return to 450°F, then repeat with the remaining tofu. Now add as much pork as you can fit. Fry just until crisp and golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Let the oil return to 450°F, then repeat with the remaining pork. Pile the twice-fried pork onto the remaining side of the serving plate.
- When the oil has returned to 450°F, carefully dump in the onion, bell pepper, and cucumber. Fry for just 5 seconds. Scoop out immediately with a slotted spoon and transfer to a large saucepan.
- To the large saucepan with vegetables, combine 2 cups of water with the sugar, vinegar, and remaining 2 tablespoons of soy sauce. Stir to dissolve. Bring to a boil over medium heat. When it starts to bubble, stream in 3 tablespoons of the reserved potato slurry, stirring frequently with a wooden spatula. Reduce the heat to low and let cook just until it thickens, 30 seconds to 1 minute. (If you’d like it thicker, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of reserved potato slurry and keep cooking.) Turn off the heat.
- If you’re a dipper, transfer the sauce into a bowl or gravy boat and serve on the side of the tangsuyuk platter. If you prefer a thick pour, ladle the sauce on top of the tangsuyuk platter. Either way, serve with sliced danmuji on the side, if you'd like.
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