Category Archives: Pork

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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sichuan powder steamed pork (粉蒸肉)


so for thanksgiving, i decided to dig up an old family favorite: powder steamed pork ribs.  my grandmother makes it with gusto.  when she lived in the US, she used to have it at every meal when we visited.  after making it myself, i understood why.  it’s a dish that you can make ahead in large batches and then re-heat as needed. because it’s steamed, the pork rarely dries out.  it tastes as good re-steamed as it does fresh out of the steamer.  plus, the prep time is virtually nil when you buy all those pre-packaged mixes! (grandma used to make her version the old fashioned way from scratch, but even she has discovered the convenience of modern mixes).

grandma usually makes her steamed pork ribs in a porcelain bowl, and then just sets the whole thing inside a steamer.  for our festive gathering, i decided to steam everything inside a lotus leaf wrapper.  the pork ends up taking on a bit of that lotus leaf scent, but really, it’s the dramatic visual effect of the lotus leaf i wanted.

grandma uses pork ribs in her version, and so do i.  when i visited sichuan over the summer, the restaurant served up a version made with fatty pork belly, which really wasn’t my cup of tea.

Sichuan Powder Steamed Pork Ribs (粉蒸肉
(7-8 servings)

Pork Ribs 3 lbs, cut into 1 inch cubes (easiest to find these at a Chinese grocery store. I buy the super premium strips and then cut into cubes at home)
Sweet Potatoes, Yams, Carrots or Pumpkin 2-3 cups, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
5-Spiced Zheng Rou Fen (Steamed Pork Powder) 1 package.  See picture above
Lotus Leaf 2 leaves, soaked overnight
Fresh Garlic 4 cloves, finely minced
Rice Wine 2 tbsp
Canola Oil 2 tbsp
  1. The night before, soak lotus leaves overnight.
  2. The “5-Spiced Zheng Rou Fen” package contains 4 items: 2 packages of flavoring spice and 2 packages of a coarse white mealy substance that is the broken rice.
  3. The night before or at least one hour before, marinate the pork ribs using the 2 packages of the flavoring spice from the “5-Spiced Zheng Rou Fen” box, then add fresh garlic, rice wine and canola oil.  Mix everything well and leave in refrigerate to let it marinate.
  4. When ready to steam, line the bottom of a 10 to 12 inch round steamer with the lotus leaf, letting the edges of the leaf flow over the sides of the steamer.
  5. Place the sweet potato, carrots, pumpkins or yams on the bottom of the steam, on top of the lotus leaf.
  6. Sprinkle the rice powder (the other two packages inside the “5-Spiced Zheng Rou Fen” box) on top of the marinated pork.  And, pour the pork on top of the sweet potato.
  7. Fold the lotus leaf edges over to cover the pork.
  8. Place the lid on the steamer and steam for ~90 minutes, or until the pork and sweet potatoes are tender.

lion’s head stew (獅子頭)

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lion’s head stew is one of those things that i never really  appreciated growing up. in my mind, it was really a rather humble dish that my mom made when she ran out of ingredients in the fridge and had to cobble something together. a bunch of meatballs stewed over napa cabbage. nothing really that special. (although if you really squint your eyes, the meatballs surrounded by cabbage, kinda look like the mane of a lion — hence the dish’s name).

however, in my encounters with the dish later in life, i began to realize that lion’s head stew was a bit more than a throwaway dish.  in college, i recall reading ming dynasty texts, where the dish appeared in many banquet dining lists.  i always thought it odd that a dish as humble as meatballs in napa cabbage would make it onto grandiose chinese banquet tables. i settled on the explanation that electric meat grinders didn’t exist in the ming dynasty and so the meat was in fact chopped by hand.  the amount of work involved with chopping the meat with cleavers, thereby qualified it for the banquet circuit.

many years ago, when i lived in a tiny cramped nyc apartment, my friend F came over and cooked lion’s head stew for Y and i.  Y and i thought his version was rather good.  F revealed himself to be a bit of a lion’s head stew connoisseur.  he critiqued his own dish from a myriad of angles. but, from him i learned that the meatballs were supposed to be both fragrant and tender, and that the soup had to be flavorful and thickened with the starch of the napa cabbage.

the other day, i picked up cecilia chang’s book The Seventh Daughter and flipped to her recipe on page 123.  she makes her version with bean thread vermicelli, something i’ve never seen in lion’s head stew before.  i simplified her recipe quite a bit and replaced the pork with ground turkey. i was delightfully surprised in how it turned out.  for me, the true star of the dish, though, were not the meatballs; it was the napa cabbage — soft, stewed, imbued with the flavours of chicken broth and meatballs — that truly sung. while the dish might not qualify for a place on the tables of  grand banquet halls in this modern age of electric appliances, it definitely qualified for the chinese comfort food prize.

Lion’s Head Stew

Napa Cabbage                                       ~1.5 lbs, cut into 1 inch strips
Ground Turkey                                        1 lb (traditionally, made with ground pork instead)
Scallions                                                    2 stalks minced, white part only
Ginger                                                        1 tbsp minced
Salt                                                             2 tsp for the meatballs, 1 tsp for the cabbage
Soy Sauce                                                  1 tbsp
Rice Wine                                                  1 tbsp
Sesame oil                                                 1 tbsp
Pepper                                                       1 tsp
Veg Oil                                                      2 tbsp
Chicken Broth                                          2 cups

  1. Combine turkey, scallion, ginger, salt, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil and pepper in a bowl.   Mix the ingredients until well combined.
  2. With your hands, roll the meat mixture into meatballs about 2 inches in diameter. I got about 7.
  3. Heat the oil in a pot ( i used my 5 qt dutch oven) and brown the meatballs on both sides over high heat.
  4. Then, remove the meatballs from the pot and set aside.
  5. In the same pot, layer in the napa cabbage.  You should place the root ends of the cabbage on the bottom of the pot and the leafier layers towards the top.
  6. Arrange the meatballs back on top of the cabbage.  Add the remaining 1 tsp of salt. Pour in the chicken stock.
  7. Bring the stew to a boil and then turn down the heat to maintain a simmer until the cabbage has softened, and the stock reduced by 1/3 to 1/2.