In Revolutionary Chinese, Fuchsia Dunlop admits that home-style bean curd is one of those humble recipes that has been "imitated far and wide," but that has as many variations as cooks. That's probably because it takes a bunch of simple ingredients and makes them taste robust, meaty, and much more filling than they have any right to be. Though Dunlop's version is completely worth trying, I took a cue from the writeup and decided it was my duty to make this recipe my own.
You'll immediately notice the intense meaty base of this dish, which seems to come as much from the fermented black beans as from the little bits of pork. (Could mushrooms add the same amount of umami to the party if you wanted a vegetarian dish?)
Thanks to the cornstarch slurry, the original already has some thickness to it, but I wondered if some of that could be replaced by even more vegetables. Enter spinach, which wilts down to form a nice creamy base. Who's to say whether this version bests the other version, or any of the other variations floating around, but it's certainly tasty, proving once again the power of fermented black beans.
- 1 block firm tofu (about 1 1/4 pounds), drained
- 3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
- 4 ounces button mushrooms, stems discarded, thickly sliced (about 2 cups)
- 3 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- 2 fresh red chilies (such as Thai bird), stemmed, thinly sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 scallions, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
- 3 tablespoons fermented black beans
- 1 cup low-sodium canned or homemade vegetable or chicken broth
- 1/4 teaspoon dark soy sauce
- 2 ounces baby spinach, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 3/4 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon of water in a small bowl
- 2 teaspoons chili oil
Dry the tofu slices with paper towels, and then cut into 1/2-inch thick rectangular slabs. Heat = oil in a large wok over high heat until just starting to smoke. Add the tofu slices tongs. Cook until golden, flipping occasionally, about 3 minutes. Transfer tofu to paper towel-lined plate to drain.
Return the wok to high heat and add the mushrooms. Cook, stirring and tossing occasionally, until mushrooms release their liquid and start to brown, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and chiles and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about fifteen seconds. Add the fermented black beans, and stir-fry until they are hot, about 30 seconds. Add the broth and soy sauce.
When mixture comes to a simmer, reduce heat to medium, add the spinach, and cook until it wilts, about 15 seconds. Season to taste with salt, if necessary. Stir in the cornstarch and water mixture, and cook until the liquid thickens. Add the scallions, stir well, and then remove from heat. Add the chili oil. Serve immediately with rice.