hakka-style stuffed tofu two-ways

for as long as i’ve known G, he’s been going on and on about his mum and aunt’s wonderful stuffed vegetable and tofu recipe.  and when i stopped by to celebrate christmas with his family two years ago in kuala lumpur, come supper time, his mom and aunt produced a massive plate filled with stuffed okra, peppers, eggplants and tofu, as pictured above.  pretty amazing, no?  and yes, i begged for the recipe, but was told that it was strictly a family secret.  bummer!

that said, i’ve been toying with making stuffed tofu for the past 10 years or so, although it’s usually something i make only for a special occasion…like this past thanksgiving.

most stuffed tofu recipes that i’ve seen, fry the stuffed object directly.  that technique works well only if using pre-fried tofu (yes, they sell this sort of thing in supermarkets).  i prefer to use fresh tofu, which has a tendency to fall apart if fried directly, plus the high water content of the silken tofu really muddles up the frying oil.  so, to counteract all this, i steam my tofu first, and then when it’s cold, i fry it in oil.

now, this past thanksgiving, about 2 hours before my guests showed up, i finally admitted that my turkey day menu had been a bit too ambitious (i can hear hubs’ “i told you so” refrain in the background), and decided to skip the frying and just serve the tofu steamed. it actually worked out great in retrospect, because steaming enabled me to just plop the entire basket from the steamer directly onto the “buffet” table — no plating required (not that i would have undertaken any fancy plating to begin with) — plus, i was able to serve the dish hot when guests arrived.

a few days later, when i found the box filled with leftover steamed stuffed tofu, i decided to fry those babies up.  it was like serving an entirely new dish that no one would think was made from leftovers!

Hakka-Style Stuffed Tofu 2 Ways
(makes about 24 stuffed tofu cubes)

Firm Tofu 2-3 boxes (some places package 1 large tofu block per box, some do 3 smaller tofus per box, some do 2 pieces; i recommend buying a Japanese or Chinese brand.  I’ve had mixed success with Korean tofu makers.  I bought a box of soft tofu once, and it was in fact equivalent to a Japanese or Chinese firm tofu.)
Lotus Leaf or Napa Cabbage A few pieces to be used for lining the bamboo steam basket
Stuffing
Lean Ground Pork ½ pound
Shrimp ½ pound, raw, peeled and deveined
Dried Shitake Mushrooms ½ cup, soaked and softened
Chinese Leeks ½ cup, washed, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Soy Sauce 1 tbsp
Shaoxing Wine 1 tbsp
Sesame Oil 1 tbsp
White Pepper 2 tsp
Cornstarch 2 tsp
Sauce for Steamed Tofu
Light Soy Sauce 1 cup
Cilantro ¼ cup minced
Thai chilis 2-3 stems, minced
Sauce for Fried Tofu
Chicken stock 1/3 cup
Shaoxing Wine 1/3 cup
Oyster Sauce 2 tbsp
Ginger 1 tsp minced
Shallots 1 tbsp minced
Cornstarch 1 tsp
  1. In the bowl of your food processor, drop in all ingredients.  Pulse a few times until just combined.  Transfer to a bowl.
  2. Cut tofu into roughly 1-inch cubes. Arrange in a bamboo steam basket lined with lotus leaf or napa cabbage.
  3. Use a melon baller to scoop out the center of the tofu.  (it’s just a quick twist using the melon baller. you’re leaving most of the tofu intact).
  4. Pick up a tablespoon or so of stuffing and roll it into a small ball. Place the ball into the center of the tofu you just scooped out.  Repeat until all tofu as been filled.
  5. Steam for at least 20 minutes, or until the stuffing is cooked.  (It’s hard to over-steam!)
  6. To make the sauce for the steamed tofu, just combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and mix together with a spoon.  Serve on the side in a small bowl.
  7. To fry the leftover tofu, heat about 2 cups of canola oil in a medium sized saucepan.  When the temperature reached 380ºF,  drop in one piece of tofu to test if the temperature is right.  Then, drop in a few more.  The temperature will dip each time you introduce a new piece of tofu, so only fry a few at a time.
  8. To make the sauce for the fried tofu,  heat about 1 tbsp of canola oil in a pan.  Drop in ginger and shallots and fry until golden brown.  While the shallots of browning, dissolve cornstarch into the chicken stock.   When the shallots have lightly browned, pour in shaoxing wine, followed by chicken stock/corn starch and oyster sauce.  Reduce until thickened to the consistency of gravy. Then, pour over fried tofu. [Note: in the picture above, I ran out of shallots and ginger, and substituted with black beans.  Personally, I prefer the shallots and ginger more].
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