In order to make Chinese style fermented tofu, firm bean curd is cut into cubes, inoculated with a mould, left to ferment, and then covered in brine. The process typically takes at least a couple of months, but as with cheese-making longer aging tends to produce a more flavoursome and umami rich product. Any halfway decent Chinese grocer will stock at least one variety.
You may have heard a lot of people talking about glutamates and umami flavour lately. Glutamic acid is an amino acid we use in building proteins, and it can be combined with a range of natural compounds that already exist in the foods we consume in order to form salts.
The unfairly maligned monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is probably the most well known of these salts. Many foods are naturally rich in glutamates, including mushrooms, soy sauce, and tomatoes. Fermented tofu is another foodstuff high in glutamates, which is partly why it imparts such a bold savoury flavour to recipes and why I love it so much.
Fermented tofu, Chinese furu, is a star ingredient in my kitchen and I think it should be in yours too. It’s inexpensive and a jar will last for a long while, given the pungency of even a small pinch of this fermented soy product. The consistency is soft and almost creamy with a flavour reminiscent of traces of Parmesan and anchovy.
Steamed and Fried Fermented Tofu
This steamed snack has a hint of funkiness imparted by the fermented tofu, enough to render it almost fish-like in flavour. The ingredients list seems extensive but it’s really a simple recipe to put together. You can make one or both sauces. Don’t fret too much over the size of the tray for steaming the tofu batter, but don’t use anything bigger than the 20 centimetre square tray specified or the end result will be too thin.
- 250 grams firm tofu
- 60 millilitres (¼ cup) water
- 30 millilitres (2 tablespoons) sherry
- 2 tablespoons cornflour
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon fermented white tofu
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- ¼ teaspoon black salt
- ⅛ teaspoon sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons finely minced red onion
- 1 tablespoon finely minced lemongrass
- 20 grams (¼ cup) frozen vegan mince
- Vegetable oil, for deep frying
Chilli sauce ingredients
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce
- 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 clove garlic, smashed and finely minced
Sour soy sauce ingredients
- 1 ½ teaspoon lime juice
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons soy sauce or vegan fish sauce
- 80 millilitres (⅓ cup) ice cold water
- 50 grams (⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon) all purpose flour
- 8 grams (1 tablespoon) corn flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon fine salt
- ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Place the tofu, water, sherry, fermented tofu, cornflour, vegetable oil, black salt, sugar, and black pepper into a blender and liquidise until completely smooth.
- Pour the contents of the blender into a 20 centimetre square tray. Mix the red onion, lemongrass and mince evenly through and level the contents by tapping the tray on a hard surface. If you don’t have a 20 centimetre square tray then use something vaguely that size that will fit into your steamer(s), or you can divide the mixture among different vessels if necessary. Place the tray in a large steaming device and steam for 10 minutes over rapidly boiling water. Once cooled, cover the tray with cling film and refrigerate for at least an hour.
- While the bean curd is steaming, make the sauces. Combine all of the ingredients of the chilli sauce together in one small bowl and the contents of the sour soy sauce in another.
- Once the bean curd is cold and set, remove it from the refrigerator and cut into 1-2 inch squares (I cut 36 pieces). It doesn’t matter if they’re perfectly even.
- Heat at least 1 inch of oil to a medium high heat. Once the oil is ready, combine all of the ingredients for the batter, mixing only to just combine (small lumps are okay). Coat the tofu squares in a thin layer of batter and deep fry until crispy and golden brown. Drain on crumpled kitchen roll and serve with either or both dipping sauces.
- Author: Kip Dorrell
- Yields: About 36 pieces
- Cuisine: Chinese fusion