The versatility of bean curd is astonishing: it's sold fresh (in varying degrees of firmness), freeze-dried, fermented, fried and as delicate sheets. It has a subtle taste (detractors would call it bland), but it's great at absorbing the flavours of whatever ingredients it's prepared with.
Pan-fried bean-curd-skin rolls with minced pork, water chestnuts and Chinese sausage (pictured)
You're probably familiar with fu pei (bean-curd skin) as a wrapper for Shanghainese 'mock goose', but it can be stuffed with any flavourful filling.
500 grams slightly fatty minced pork
8-10 water chestnuts
2 laap cheung (Chinese wind-dried sausages)
15ml soy sauce
15ml rice wine
?tsp fine sea salt, or to taste
?tsp sugar, or to taste
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
1 slightly heaped tsp cornstarch
1 tsp sesame oil
Fresh or dried bean curd sheets
Oil, for frying
Shanghainese brown vinegar
Finely shredded ginger
If using dried bean-curd sheets, soak them in warm water until pliable. Peel the water chestnuts then rinse them thoroughly. Dry them with paper towels, then cut them into small dice. Cut the laap cheung into small dice.
Mix the minced pork with the soy sauce, rice wine, salt, sugar, white pepper, cornstarch and sesame oil. Heat a little oil in a skillet and pan-fry a small amount of the mixture to check the seasonings and adjust, if necessary. Gently mix in the water chestnuts and laap cheung.
Drain the dried bean-curd sheets and squeeze out the excess water. For both fresh or dried bean-curd sheets, dry them with paper towels then cut them into rectangles that are about 15cm by 10cm. Lay down a strip (about 2.5cm wide) of the filling close to one of the long edges of the bean-curd sheet. Fold up the long edge and the sides over the filling then continue rolling the bean curd sheet to enclose the stuffing. Lay the 'sausages' seam-side down on a baking sheet lined with cling-film while using up the rest of the filling.
Heat oil to a depth of 1cm in a skillet. When the oil is hot, put the rolls, seam-side down, in the skillet and pan-fry them until the bean-curd skin is medium-brown and crisp. Flip them over and pan-fry the other side. Drain on paper towels then cut the rolls into pieces. Serve with the brown vinegar mixed with the julienned ginger.
This recipe is based on one in Fuchsia Dunlop's first book, Sichuan Cookery. Dunlop is a friend, and she often stays with me and my husband when she's in Hong Kong. If she's coming from Sichuan, she brings gifts of dried chillies and Sichuan peppercorns, which are so fragrant I can smell them before she even opens her suitcase.
10 grams Sichuan peppercorns
500 grams firm bean curd
4 fat spring onions
100ml peanut oil
150 grams minced beef
30 grams Sichuan chilli bean paste
1 tbsp fermented black beans
Ground Sichuan chillies, to taste (optional)
250ml plain, home-made chicken stock
5 grams granulated sugar
10ml light soy sauce
25 grams potato flour mixed with 60ml cold water
Heat an unoiled wok over a low flame. Add the Sichuan peppercorns and stir constantly until they're hot, toasted and just starting to smoke. Cool them then crush them in a mortar. Strain the peppercorns through a fine sieve to remove the uncrushed husks and stalks; discard these but reserve the fine powder. Measure out half a teaspoon of the powder and store the remainder in a tightly sealed container in the fridge.
Rinse the bean curd under cool water, then drain it and cut into 2cm cubes. Put the bean curd in a bowl and pour lightly salted simmering water over it so it's submerged. Slice the spring onions on the diagonal into 3mm-thick pieces.
Heat a seasoned wok over a high flame then add the peanut oil. When the oil is very hot, add the minced beef. Break up the meat with a spatula and stir-fry it until it's light brown. Reduce the heat to medium then add the Sichuan chilli bean paste and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add the black beans and ground chillies (if using) and mix briefly, then stir in the chicken stock, sugar and soy sauce. Taste the ingredients and adjust the seasonings if necessary.
Drain the bean curd then add it to the wok, mixing gently to keep the pieces intact. Adjust the heat so the ingredients are simmering, then cook for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Gently mix in the spring onion. Stir the potato flour with the water then add just enough of this mixture into the wok, stirring gently, so it thickens the sauce sufficiently to lightly coat the ingredients. Sprinkle with the ground Sichuan peppercorns before ladling into a bowl and serving with steamed white rice.
Cold bean curd with century egg and pork floss
If you eat this dish in a really good Chinese restaurant, the bean curd will be very thinly sliced before being fanned out. This takes a lot of skill (and a razor-sharp knife), because the bean curd is very tender and therefore difficult to slice without breaking. Home cooks can serve it much more simply, by putting the block of bean curd on a plate and topping it with the other ingredients.
Use top-quality century eggs for this dish - the kind where you can see the beautiful layers of colours in the firm (but not rubbery) 'white' and the soft yolk.
250 grams soft bean curd
45ml light soy sauce
10ml sesame oil
1 century egg, peeled then cut into eight pieces
1-2 spring onions, minced
A small handful of pork floss
Drain the bean curd then put it on a shallow plate. Pour the soy sauce around it and the sesame oil over it. Put the pieces of century egg on the bean curd then scatter the spring onion and pork floss on top. Serve immediately.
Styling Angel Hon