Chichi's Chinese: Tofu Skin, Part One


The last time I wrote about tofu skin, it was for our now-defunct column. (Sorry, folks! I just wanted to write about Chinese food, all the time!)

Like tofu, tofu skin is high in protein and low in fat; unlike tofu, it keeps indefinitely in the cupboard.

To use, just soak in water. It will take a few hours for tofu skin to soften, after which it cooks up in no time. One thing I love about it is its taste. Just as tofu has its own distinct flavor, tofu skin tastes sort of egg-y to me.

For this installment, we'll look at tofu skin when it's bundled up - often called bean curd sticks on the package. (But wait! What about tofu skin in sheet form, you ask? Next time we'll discuss how to turn those sheets into noodles, rolls, and more.)

Segments of beancurd sticks, simmered in a pot of red-braised pork, is still one of my favorite ways to eat them. The sticks absorb the porky stock, the soy sauce, the wine, the sugar, and whatever else you put in (cinnamon sticks, star anise, cloves, chili peppers, and so on). I used to pick all the beancurd sticks out of the pot, annoying my mother, my family, whoever else happened to be partaking of the dish, until one day I realized that I could make the same dish using pork stock, and no pork. That was sort of an epiphanic moment in my relationship with bean curd skin.

Anyway, moving forward, here are some other ways to cook up beancurd sticks:


Red-braised: No, not with pork, but beef. The Sichuanese "red-braise" beef with chili bean paste and Sichuan peppercorn, instead of loads of sugar and soy sauce. You can use beef or not—either way, the bean curd sticks will absorb the spicy simmering liquid.


Stir-fried: Cut up the sticks, and add it to a stir-fry with vegetables, meat, seafood, or even tofu, actually. Stir-fry all the other ingredients first, then use the tofu skin as a sponge to absorb residual wok liquor.


Boiled, then broiled: Boil the sticks to soften them up a little more, then glaze them in soy sauce, honey, ginger, and garlic. A few minutes under the broiler makes the surfaces browned and a little crispy.

Beancurd sticks are such a versatile ingredient. How do you use it?

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