This is tofu skin, also called yuba, dried beancurd, or soybean skin.
Tofu skin is a misnomer; it is actually soybean milk skin, made by lifting away the sheet that forms on the surface of heated soy milk. The sheet can be dried in flat form, or bunched up into bundles. In Chinese cuisine, the skins are a mainstay of the vegetarian diet, though I've never known a meat eater who didn't like the half-tender, half chewy texture of the product.
Like tofu, bean curd skin is great for absorbing flavors from a braise or stew.. I grew up eating tofu skin alongside red-braised pork. The bundles were a great addition to the pot, so much so that I picked out all the segments of tofu skin and left the fatty pork for my parents.
Eventually my mother caught onto my devious ways and cut down on the pork shoulder, red-braising more and more of the bundles of skin instead. She simmered the sticks in stock, along with soy sauce, sugar, and wine. Sticks of cinnamons, cloves, and star anise were added for good measure. The sticks were juicy, flavorful, likeable treats.
- 1/2 package of dried beancurd sticks, about 5 ounces
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons rice wine, such as Shaoxing
- 1 inch-chunk ginger
- 1 star anise
- 1 2 inch stick of cinnamon
- 3 to 4 dried red chilies, optional
The day or night before, rehydrate the sticks by placing them in a container with water to cover. Let sit at room temperature for at least 6 hours and up to a day.
Cut the sticks into 3 inch chunks and place them into a medium-sized pot along with the rest of the ingredients. Pour enough stock or water into the pot to fully cover the sticks (about 2 cups, depending on the size of your vessel.) Simmer for 30 minutes, or until sticks are tender and flavor. Serve warm or tepid.