Why It Works
- Soaking the tofu in boiling water, then patting it dry, draws out excess moisture more effectively than draining.
- Using the dried shiitake soaking liquid in the sauce enhances its flavor.
There are two things I look forward to during the Chinese Lunar New Year. First are the red envelopes, handed out by married couples to unmarried friends and other couples' children, stuffed with crisp new banknotes. Second is the Reunion Dinner. Held on the eve of the Lunar New Year, it's basically Thanksgiving with twice the amount of food. Sadly, my years of collecting red envelopes have come to an end, but thank goodness there's still the reunion dinner.
From steamed whole fish to roast pig, the reunion dinner is a feast that celebrates family coming together and welcoming a new year. One of the dishes my parents always make is abalone, dried oysters, and shiitakes with black moss. Like most food served on the holiday, the dish symbolizes good fortune and prosperity. It's made by simmering the abalone, dried oysters, and shiitakes in a rich sauce; then the black moss, which is a type of algae, is added towards the end, and everything is poured on top of a bed of Shanghai bok choy or mustard greens. It's a luxurious dish and especially great with a bowl of white rice.
For this recipe, I wanted to create something similar but with ingredients that are easier to find if you don't have an Asian supermarket nearby. I also wanted to make it suitable for vegetarians. The result is this dish of mushrooms cooked with pan-fried tofu in a glossy, soy-based sauce.
The most important ingredients in this recipe are the mushrooms, especially the dried shiitakes. Those show up twice: Rehydrated mushrooms are one of the main ingredients, but the water used to rehydrate them also flavors the sauce. When buying dried shiitakes, look for ones that are plump and meaty, and avoid ones with thin caps.
You can use a variety of fresh mushrooms to complement them. Creminis are great if you can't find shimeji or portabello, and so are oyster mushrooms if there's no maitake at your supermarket. When prepping them, keep the pieces big—you want to cut the mushrooms into meaty chunks.
The same goes for the tofu. Slice it into thick slabs and make sure they are thoroughly dry before pan-frying. To do this, I blanch the slabs in boiling water for a few seconds, drain, and then pat dry with paper towels.
Even though there's no seafood in this dish, when the mushrooms, the tofu and the sauce all come together, it is just as tasty as the original.
2 ounces dried shiitake mushrooms (about 10 mushrooms)
12 ounces firm tofu, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/4 cup plus 5 teaspoons cornstarch, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons canola, vegetable, or peanut oil, divided
1 pound Chinese mustard greens (gai toy; see notes), leaves separated, smaller ones left whole and larger ones halved, and stalks cut into thick slices
3/4 cup vegetable stock
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons Shaoxing wine, or dry sherry
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 1/4 pounds mixed fresh mushrooms, such as portabello, maitake, king oyster, shimeji, enoki, and cremini, cut into thick slices, torn into large pieces, or separated into strands (depending on type of mushroom)
Rinse dried shiitakes under cold running water to remove any grit. Place shiitakes in a heatproof bowl and pour 1 1/2 cups hot water on top. Soak the shiitakes until fully rehydrated, at least 2 hours or up to overnight. Lift mushrooms from water, squeezing any excess water back into the bowl. Line a fine-mesh strainer with paper towels or cheesecloth and strain mushroom soaking liquid through it into a clean bowl and reserve. Discard shiitake mushroom stems.
Place tofu in a clean heatproof bowl and carefully pour enough boiling water on top to cover. Let stand for 30 seconds, then drain and transfer tofu to a paper towel-lined plate. Press gently on tofu with paper towels to dry thoroughly.
Mix together 1/4 cup of cornstarch and 1/4 tsp of salt on a plate. Dredge tofu slices in cornstarch to evenly coat, tapping off excess and transferring them back to a clean, dry plate.
Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Working in batches if necessary to avoid crowding the pan, cook tofu slices until crisp and golden on both sides, about 7 minutes. Transfer cooked tofu to a paper towel-lined plate.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add Chinese mustard greens and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and place greens in a large deep serving plate.
In a bowl, combine vegetable stock, 3/4 cup of the shiitake mushroom soaking liquid, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, toasted sesame oil, and remaining 5 teaspoons cornstarch. Mix well and set aside.
In a large pan or wok, heat up remaining 2 teaspoons oil. Add shiitake mushroom caps along with all the fresh mushrooms except the enoki, if using. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until mushrooms release their water and the water evaporates.
Add vegetable stock mixture and stir well. When the sauce begins to bubble and thicken, gently mix in tofu slices. Lower heat to a gentle simmer, then cook for 5 minutes. Add the enoki mushrooms, if using, and simmer until the mushrooms are tender and coated in a glossy sauce, about 5 minutes longer. Scrape mushrooms and tofu, along with any sauce, on top of mustard greens and serve with white rice.
If you can't find Chinese mustard greens, baby bok choy or Shanghai bok choy are great alternatives.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 13g||17%|
|Saturated Fat 2g||11%|
|Total Carbohydrate 26g||9%|
|Dietary Fiber 7g||24%|
|Total Sugars 4g|
|Vitamin C 54mg||268%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|