November 8 marks the annual observance of Cook Something Bold Day. This holiday encourages the discovery of adventurous, daring dishes as we approach the chilly winter months.
What better way to commemorate the special day than to venture into some authentic Chinese cuisine?
STINKY TOFU (臭豆腐)
First up is an eccentric dish known as “stinky tofu,” or 臭豆腐 (chòu dòufu). This pungent dish may seem off-putting from its distinctive scent, but it is a popular delicacy enjoyed throughout China.
The dish was first conceived by a scholar known as Wang Zhihe, who sold tofu in Beijing. One day he had a surplus of unsold tofu so he stored the excess in a jar, which fermented the tofu over several days. Despite the odor, Zhihe found the dish to be quite delicious. He began to sell it at his store, gaining popularity over time.
Stinky tofu is usually sold at night markets or as a side dish. But it is also relatively easy and inexpensive to prepare at home.
To begin, you will need the titular ingredient: stinky tofu. You can purchase it directly from most Chinese supermarkets. You can also start with firm tofu and ferment it on your own.
14 oz firm tofu
4 oz stinky fermented bean curd, mashed
1 teaspoon white vinegar
600 ml warm water
First combine the warm water, stinky fermented bean curd and white vinegar. Add the tofu to the combination and let it soak for 1-2 days, or to taste.
Some say the stinkier the tofu, the better the taste, so the soaking duration is entirely up to you! When you’re ready to prepare the dish, drain the tofu and it’ll be ready to go.
If you purchased the stinky tofu, you can start immediately from this step.
Fry the tofu in a wok with the oil of your choice. I prefer sesame, peanut or vegetable oil, but any will work. Make sure the tofu is a golden-brown color before removing from heat.
Sauce Ingredients (measurements to taste):
1 tsp fennel powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp oyster sauce
2 minced onions
1 tbsp red chili peppers
1 tbsp chicken bouillon
Now it’s time to prepare the sauce.
This is the most fun step and the ingredients are entirely up to you! However, fennel powder, chili sauce, oyster sauce and garlic are some commonly used ingredients. They immensely enhance the flavor of the tofu.
Fry the garlic with the oil of your choice until fragrant. Add fennel powder, oyster sauce and additional ingredients you like. Other great ingredients are onions, peppers, ginger and chicken bouillon. For spice, I like to add chili or cumin powder or both!
After combining the ingredients, pour the sauce over the stinky tofu. From here, the dish is ready to serve. You can also garnish with parsley and serve with soy sauce, chili sauce or hoisin sauce.
CENTURY EGG (皮蛋)
Another unique and widely enjoyed Chinese delicacy is "century egg" or 皮蛋 (pídàn).
Because of how long this dish has been around (several centuries!), the conception of the century egg is relatively unknown.
The most commonly accepted story is that a man discovered duck eggs that were preserved in water and slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) during the construction of his house. After tasting the eggs, he sought to recreate the dish with some salt to add flavor. Thus, the century egg was born.
This dish is quite easy to prepare but requires some patience. To begin, you’re going to need duck eggs, though chicken and quail eggs are popular options as well.
I personally prefer duck eggs for the saltier flavor, but I used chicken eggs this time for convenience.
50mL food-grade sodium hydroxide
Duck, chicken or quail eggs
To prepare the solution, you need 1L of water, 50mL of food-grade sodium hydroxide and 50g of salt.
It is incredibly crucial to wear gloves when handling sodium hydroxide and take care to not splash the ingredient into any open orifices.
Add all three ingredients into a plastic container and add the eggs into the solution.
I added about 20, but you can prepare as many as you desire. Seal the container tightly and let it sit for 3-4 weeks in a cool, dark area at room temperature.
Preserving the eggs in this manner will cause the egg whites to turn brown with a jelly-like consistency. The egg yolk will have a creamy, more flavorful taste.
This recipe can also be modified to include tea bags for a more aromatic fragrance and taste.
After the wait, the century eggs will be ready to eat!
Century eggs can be eaten on their own or served with a dipping sauce and seasoning. They can also be added to a plethora of dishes including salad, tofu, meat and congee.
My personal favorite is adding it to congee with pork, which is a dim sum dish known as “century egg and pork congee,” or 皮蛋瘦肉粥 (pídàn shòu ròu zhōu).
With the number of eggs you’ll have at the end of the preserving process, experiment and add them to your regular cooking routine for a new flavor or recipe.
With these two new recipes at your disposal for Cook Something Bold Day, let’s get cooking!