Tamal Ray’s recipe for crisp fried tofu and tempura spring onions with spicy barbecue sauce

This is a recipe for Saturday nights, when you need something fried, crisp and dripping in delicious, hot, sticky-sweet sauce. The inspiration came from our incredible local Korean fried chicken shop, though I’ve bowed to my boyfriend’s challenge to cut down on meat and produced a recipe that vegetarians can enjoy. The use of vodka in the batter (a tip I picked up from J Kenji López-Alt) might strike you as strange, but it’s crucial to the final texture: the alcohol rapidly boils away, leaving the crispest batter you’ve ever had.

Crisp tofu and tempura spring onions with spicy barbecue sauce

Prep 10 min
Cook 20 min
Serves 2

I’m quite happy to have this as a meal on its own, but if you’d prefer some extra carbs, the rich sauce goes well with plain white rice, noodles and even chips.

For the sauce
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
40g gochujang
50g dark soy sauce
150g maple syrup
50g cider vinegar

For the batter
75g plain flour
75g corn
¼ tsp table salt
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 medium eggs
ml vodka

For frying
1 x 280g block firm tofu
1 bunch spring onions
, plus 1 spring onion extra, trimmed and thinly sliced, to garnish
600ml vegetable oil

To serve
2 mild red chillies, stalks and seeds discarded, flesh finely sliced
Plain white rice or noodles

To make the sauce, put the garlic, gochujang, soy, maple syrup and cider vinegar in a saucepan. Cook, stirring occasionally, on a low-medium heat for about eight minutes – the sauce will bubble up, reduce, then thicken. Leave to cool while you get on with the frying.

Cut the tofu into rectangular chunks roughly 1cm thick and 2cm tall and wide. Top and tail the spring onions, then chop in half widthways to give batons roughly 12cm long.

Put the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan on a medium heat until it reaches 180C on a kitchen thermometer. Meanwhile, start the batter. Sift the flours, salt and bicarb into a large bowl, and whisk the eggs and vodka in a second bowl. Pour the eggs into the flour mix, and use a fork to mix them in quickly, until just combined.

Drench a few chunks of tofu in the batter, shake off any excess, then carefully lower into the hot oil. Use a fork to separate any pieces that stick together, and use tongs to give them an occasional turn so they cook evenly. After about three minutes, when the tofu is well browned all over, use a slotted spoon to transfer it to a wire rack or plate lined with kitchen paper, then repeat first with the remaining tofu and then finally with the onions, dipping them in batter, too – the latter will cook much more quickly, so give them about a minute on each side. When you’re frying the last batch of onions, gently reheat the sauce.

Arrange the fried tofu and onions on a large platter, pour over the sauce, sprinkle over the sliced chillies and reserved onion, and serve with rice or noodles.