Easy, Delicious Home-Style Tofu 家常炖豆腐
Tofu gets a totally undeserved bad rap. Everyone knows that tofu is healthy; it’s low carb, high protein, and high calcium. But today’s recipe is proof that it can be delicious too. If you’re convinced that there’s no such thing as tasty tofu, I promise this Chinese home-style braised tofu will change your mind. Plus it’s a quick and easy choice for weeknight dinner or lunch while working from home.
Picking the right type of tofu
The first thing we need to discuss is the choice of tofu. Usually tofu is sold in several different varieties from barely-solid silken tofu used in Korean soondoobu to the dense extra firm tofu usually used as a vegan substitute for chicken breast.
Silken tofu 嫩豆腐 (nèn dòu fǔ, “delicate tofu”) and soft tofu 滑豆腐 (huá dòu fǔ, “slippery tofu”) have their place. But today we’re using firm tofu 老豆腐 (lǎo dòu fǔ, “old tofu”). The different types (firmness) of tofu refer to the amount of residual liquid when the tofu was molded and pressed. Firm tofu has visible curds, and because it’s less fragile, it’s also the easiest to work with for tofu beginners. The most common complaint about tofu is that it’s bland, but I promise my home-style tofu is rich, flavorful, and filling.
Firm tofu should be readily available in well-stocked conventional groceries or any Asian grocery. My preference is Vitasoy 山水 (shān shuǐ) or Nature’s Soy 大田 (dà tián) brand firm tofu 老豆腐. This trip all I could get was House Foods medium firm tofu, which has more moisture than I prefer for this dish. (All three brands are non-GMO and have organic options). Read on below for how to transform medium tofu into firm tofu.
The key to tofu prep: use your hands, not a knife
First, a little tofu prep hint: cut a slit along the side of the lid to drain the liquid before your remove the lid — it’s a lot less messy this way! I like to rinse the whole block under cold water to reduce the beaniness, 去腥 (qù xīng).
How to press tofu
If you can only find “medium firm” or “all purpose” tofu in your local store, you can press out some of the moisture to get firm tofu! For my House Foods brand medium firm tofu, I placed both blocks into a deep plate, and balanced a sheet tray on top. I weighted the sheet tray with a 6-pack of beer cans, and left it there for 30 minutes. After pressing, the tofu expelled 4-5 oz of water, and the end result was way more successful than cooking the medium tofu directly.
Break the tofu along the curds
The secret to cooking firm tofu is to gently break it into chunks with your fingers, instead of cutting it with a knife. This will cause the tofu to break along the curds, exposing more surface area, which equals more flavor absorption.
Cut the tofu block in half on the shortest side, then use your fingers to gently break it into ~3/4″ cubes. It’ll be a little craggly but should still hold together well. Don’t worry if the pieces aren’t totally even. Let the tofu drain in a colander or on a paper towel while you’re prepping the other ingredients.
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The key to cooking: braise
I used two boxes of tofu and a strip of thick-cut bacon for flavor. You could use Chinese sausage 香肠 (xiāng cháng)/腊肠(là cháng), Italian sausage, diced leftover ham, ground beef, or ground pork. To make it vegetarian, use finely diced dried shiitake mushrooms 香菇 (xiāng gū) or just skip the meat entirely. Add ~1 Tbsp of oil to a wok or Dutch oven, render out the fat in the meat (if you’re using) on medium-low heat (240°F = 4.0 on my Duxtop induction), then turn the heat up to medium high (340° = 7.0 on my Duxtop induction), and add in the tofu.
This step is optional, but I like to fry to the tofu until golden brown, which gives it a nicer texture (5-7 minutes). If you’re in a hurry or would prefer to cut down the amount of oil, feel free to skip this step.
Cook firm tofu low and slow
The final secret to flavorful home-style tofu is to braise it. Firm tofu is quite sturdy, so it can stand up to a long cook time without falling apart. That also means that it doesn’t take on flavor as easily, so it’s best to let it braise for a while. No worries though, this step is super easy, and you can walk away while it’s cooking.
Add 1.25 cups of stock or broth, bring it up to a boil, and then turn the heat to low (220°F = 3.5 on the Duxtop induction). Add 1 Tbsp light soy sauce, and salt and white pepper to taste. Then let it simmer for 20-30 minutes. The amount of salt will depend on your liquid; I used 2 generous pinches with Trader Joe’s low sodium chicken broth concentrate.
In place of stock/broth, you can use leftover broth-based soup — a winter melon spare-rib soup 冬瓜排骨汤 (dōng guā pái gǔ tāng) would be amazing — or mushroom stock from soaking dried shiitake mushrooms (dice them and add them in to braise as well). I discuss stock/broth substitutes more in #SymonDinners Risotto with Ground Meat and Veg.
The cook time is very forgiving. Just don’t let the liquid doesn’t cook off completely. After simmering, the liquid should have reduced by about half; that’s all delicious flavor that the tofu absorbed! Remove the lid, bring the heat back up to medium high, and let the liquid reduce down to about 1/4 cup.
Elevate home-style tofu with ingredients from your freezer
Head’s up: Nutrition Facts labels are approximate and provided for your convenience only. Values are generated using the USDA database and online calculators like MyFitnessPal and Spark People. Nutrition information can vary based on measurements, brands, and ingredients.
At this point, add shrimp (I used raw, peeled and de-veined shrimp from the freezer aisle) and frozen peas. Shrimp is very rubbery when overcooked, so stir in your frozen peas as soon as the shrimp start turning pink. It will take about 2 minutes total to cook the shrimp. The combination of shrimp, peas, and tofu in home-style tofu is very traditional, but you can skip both/either, substitute with frozen corn, or add fresh vegetables — use what you like and have!
Plate up the dish, and sprinkle the top with one chopped scallion to serve. Nutritious and delicious Chinese braised home-style tofu, done!
Bonus Ingredient Tip: How to keep your scallions fresh
With COVID-19 disrupting the food supply chain, I’m trying to make sure our food lasts for as long as possible — both to reduce waste and to take fewer grocery trips.
The scallions I used in this picture are just over 3 weeks old. The best way I’ve found to keep scallions fresh in the fridge is to put them upright in a mason jar of water, and loosely cover the whole thing in a clear plastic produce bag. Wash them first and remove any dry, papery bits around the root area. Change the water weekly, and snip off any wilted pieces. I’ve kept scallions fresh this way for 2 months.
When you’re using scallions, if you leave the last ~1.5″ by the root, you can regrow them. Simply place them in 0.75″ of water, and leave them on a sunny windowsill. You’ll start seeing new green growth within the next 2 days. When they get to be about 4″ tall, you can transplant them into a small pot of soil… world’s easiest garden!
Home-Style Braised Tofu 家常炖豆腐
- Wok or Dutch Oven
- 2 container firm tofu (28 oz total) 老豆腐，2盒
- 4 oz frozen peeled, de-veined shrimp 虾仁，100克
- 1¼ cup broth or stock, or broth-based soup 高汤，300克
- ½ cup frozen peas 冰冻豌豆，70克
- 1 scallion finely chopped 葱花，1根
- 1 strip thick-cut bacon or 1 Chinese sausage (optional) 培根或腊肠，1根
- 1 tsp light soy sauce 生抽酱油，15克
- salt to taste 食用盐，适量
- white pepper to taste 白胡椒，适量
- Drain water from containers of tofu, rinse under cold water, and pat dry. If using medium firm tofu, press tofu for 30 minutes under a weighted sheet tray (add ~5 lb of weight). 豆腐冷水冲洗，沥干水分。如果买不到老豆腐，可以用中等豆腐。在大盘子里放约5斤的重量，将中等豆腐在盘底压30分钟。
- Cut the tofu in half along the short side (along the height). Use your fingers to gently break the tofu into cubes, about 0.75" along each side. Set aside to drain in a colander or on a paper towel. 豆腐横刀切两半，用手指将豆腐撇成小块。
- Heat wok or Dutch oven to medium-low heat. Add the bacon and cook until lightly crisp and the fat has rendered. 锅烧中小火，将培根/腊肠炒香出油。
- Turn the heat to medium-high. Add the drained tofu, and fry until lightly golden (5-7 minutes). 转中火，将豆腐炒至金黄，约5-7分钟。
- Add stock, soy sauce, salt, and white pepper. Bring to a boil, and turn heat down to low to simmer for 20-30 min with the lid on but slightly ajar. 加入高汤，生抽酱油，盐和白胡椒。煮开后，盖盖（留一点缝）转小火炖熬制水分减半，约20-30分钟
- Remove the lid, turn the heat back up to medium-high, and allow the liquid to reduce to ~0.25 cups total. 开盖，转中大火，收汁。
- Stir in frozen shrimp, and cook until starting to turn pink (1-2 minutes). Add in the frozen peas, and cook until peas are heated through and shrimp are fully cooked (another 30 seconds). 加入虾仁，翻炒至7分熟再加入豌豆.
- Serve topped with chopped scallions. 炒30秒至虾仁和豌豆熟透即可出锅装盘，撒上葱花。
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