Anyone who doubts the versatility of bean curd needs only to look at fu yu and naam yu. The flavour and texture of these fermented bean curds are very different from the mild taste and sometimes jelly-like texture of the fresh varieties, of which there are many. Fu yu (which is off-white) and naam yu (which is red) are made by soaking fresh tofu in rice wine brine for a denser and creamier texture.
Because fermented bean curd gains a mild, funky smell in the process, it is sometimes called “Chinese cheese”, although it don’t contain dairy products. Small squares of fu yu or naam yu can be served as a simple but nutritious accompaniment to rice. You can use either fu yu or naam yu for this dish.
In Chinese cuisine, spare ribs are usually cut through the bone into smaller pieces, which makes it easier to eat with chopsticks. Have the butcher cut the ribs into 3cm-4cm (1¼ in to 1½ in) pieces: cutting the ribs yourself at home requires a very sturdy meat cleaver and thick cutting board.
My favourite coating for this is water chestnut flour, because it gives a crunchy texture, but you can use cornstarch or plain (all-purpose) flour.
As with many of the foods I fry, I double-fry these ribs. The first frying is to cook the meat; the second is to crisp up the crust. The first frying can be done up to several hours in advance, but do the second just before serving.
In a small bowl, mash the fermented bean curd with the brine to a smooth paste. Mix in the sugar, soy sauce and rice wine.
Finely mince the garlic cloves. Cut the chillies into thin rings, shaking out and discarding the seeds as you go. Stir the garlic and chillies into the fermented bean curd mixture.
Dry the spare ribs with paper towels, then put them in a medium-sized bowl. Pour the marinade over the ribs and mix well. Leave at room temperature for 30 minutes to one hour, or refrigerate for up to six hours.
Sprinkle about 100g (3½ oz) of the water chestnut flour, cornstarch or plain flour over the ribs and mix thoroughly. The coating should be matte and sticky, without excess liquid. Mix in more of your starch of choice, if necessary.
Pour cooking oil to a depth of about 3cm (1¼ in) in a medium-sized skillet. Heat the oil to 170°C (340°F). When the oil is hot, start frying the ribs in batches – do not crowd the pan. Fry until the ribs are cooked through (about five minutes, depending on how meaty they are). Drain them on paper towels.
Increase the flame and heat the oil to 180°C (350°F). Briefly fry the ribs a second time, to heat them through and brown the crust.
Drain the ribs on paper towels and serve them hot with steamed rice and stir-fried green vegetables.