growing up in canada, I never understood why my friends were disgusted by tofu. but then I realized that their version of tofu was often flavourless, dry, and firm. the tofu I grew up with was always a massive flavour bomb - this silky, soft vessel used for absorbing velvety, meaty sauce, turning any bowl of plain white rice, into the ultimate comfort food. reid was a tofu convert when he first ate this, and I think you will be too. the chili bean paste (doubanjiang) and the black bean paste can be found at your local chinese supermarket in the sauce aisle. just double check that it doesn’t have wheat as some of them do.
this recipe is a spin off of fuchsia dunlop’s in every grain of rice. as a writer who was the first foreign student to ever attend the sichuan institute of higher cuisine, fuchsia dunlop has made chinese food incredibly approachable for the western population and cbc kids (canadian born chinese) like me!
her recipes stay true to the roots and straightforwardly explain the different techniques and ingredients found in chinese cuisine. we love the simplicity of her books and highly recommend them if you want to get into chinese cooking. her books are distinguished by different regional cooking styles found throughout china.
1 package (400g) tofu, medium firmness
1/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 tbsps. sichuan chili bean paste (doubanjiang - read ingredients on the label, some contain wheat)
1 tbsp. fermented black soybeans / paste (also, make sure it is wheat-free)
2 tsps. cayenne or any ground chili (optional)
100g rehydrated dried shiitakes, chopped (for vegan option) or ground pork
1 tbsp. ginger, minced
1 tbsp. garlic, minced
1/2 cup vegetable (vegan) or chicken/pork stock
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
2 tsps. cornstarch with 2 tbsps. cold water, made into a slurry
2 green onions, sliced on a bias
small handful of cilantro, chopped
sichuan peppercorn, cracked
If making vegetarian, rehydrate your dried shiitakes in cold water. You could easily use fresh mushrooms, but dried have a deeper, concentrated flavour. Ignore this step if using pork.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. While waiting for your water to boil, cut tofu into bite-sized cubes (size is your preference). Once your water is boiled, turn off heat and blanch tofu while you prepare the rest of your ingredients.
Heat a wok over high heat. Once the pan is hot, add oil and fry chili bean paste, black soy bean paste and ground chili until fragrant (just a couple seconds - it’s quick). Add your mushrooms or ground pork and fry until barely cooked through. Add ginger and garlic and stir fry for a few more seconds.
With a slotted spoon, remove tofu from hot water and place gently into the wok. Gently push tofu with the back of a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to avoid breaking. You’ll want to gently wiggle from now on, do not mix aggressively. Add stock, white pepper, and salt to taste. Bring back to a boil and turn down to a simmer.
Mix your cornstarch and water into a slurry and pour into the wok. Simmer until the liquid thickens and clings to the tofu. Gently wiggle a bit more to combine. Add more slurry if you want a thicker sauce.
Pour tofu into a deep bowl or dish and garnish with green onions and cilantro! For a tongue-numbing experience, add cracked sichuan peppercorns.