Monday, May 3, 2010

Cooking the Book – Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook – Peng’s Home-Style Bean Curd

On a recent search of my website, I noticed a rather disturbing trend. Through various visits to Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Korean restaurants, I often write about tofu, but I haven’t actually cooked any tofu in quite some time. Even though my constant ravings about the glories of meat would say otherwise, I have a real fondness for a well cooked piece of tofu. It really is the perfect vehicle for flavors, be it the tofu and ginger syrup at Fung’s Kitchen or simply fried tofu and Sichuan peppercorns.

When looking for guidance in cooking tofu, I immediately turned to Fuchsia Dunlop, imagine my surprise at the lack of tofu dishes in her “Land of Plenty” cookbook. Of course, you don’t look for the word tofu, apparently it’s only called bean curd in the Chinese world. Hoping to have better luck, I found my copy of “Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook” and found a pretty decent selection. Flushed with pork tenderloins from Paul Anthony’s and tofu from the Van Hung Asian market, I set about making Peng’s Home-Style Bean Curd.

Always important to wok cooking, I set about getting my prep work done and my mise-en-place ready.

From the top left, there is 3 oz of pork tenderloin thinly sliced and marinated in 1 tsp of shaoxing wine and ¼ tsp of salt, working to the right, 3 tbsp of rinsed black beans is next, then 3 scallions (green parts only) thinly sliced on the diagonal. On the second row is 1 cup of everyday stock, ¼ tsp potato starch mixed with 1 tbsp cold water. The last row has ¼ tsp dark soy sauce, 2 sliced red chilies (Thai chilies in this instance), and 1 tbsp chopped garlic. Lastly, there’s a ½ tsp of sesame oil on its own.

Of course it wouldn’t be bean curd without the tofu.

One block of firm tofu is drained.

And then cut into roughly ½ inch thick slices.

From there, the slices are fried in batches in 375 degree peanut oil.

According to the recipe, I was looking for a roughly gold color. On a side note, I was surprised at how well tofu fries on its own. I figured it would need to be coated in starch to get at all crispy.

With the tofu fried and the ingredients at the ready, I was set to start stir-frying.

The chilies and garlic went into 3 tablespoons of smoking peanut oil first. Take care not to burn them, it only takes a few seconds.

The marinated pork went in next. As soon as the raw color was gone, I threw in the black beans.

Once the smell of black beans permeated the kitchen, it was time to add 3 more items.

The stock, the fried bean curd, and the dark soy sauce was all dropped in the wok and the whole mixture was brought to a boil.

Everything was reduced to a simmer and left to its own devices for a few minutes. The idea was to let the full flavor of the sauce penetrate the bean curd.

When a few minutes had passed the potato starch and scallions were added and thoroughly mixed in. Once in, the wok was taken off the heat and the sesame oil was stirred in as well.

After that, here was the end result.

It may not be that photogenic, in fact looks pretty terrible, but don’t let its humble looks deceive you.

Served over some fresh white rice, this was a superb dish. The rich sauce and the still slightly silky texture of the tofu made for a wonderful combination. In the preface to the recipe, Dunlop relates the story of how Peng Chang-kuei made this dish so popular in his restaurant. It was purely by accident, the customer’s saw him eating it and wanted some for themselves. In much the same way, I hope these pictures will make you want to go and make your own bowl of Peng’s Home-Style Bean Curd. After all, it never hurts to add a little bean curd to your diet.

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