Home-Style Tofu

Home-style tofu is a standard menu item in just about all Chinese restaurants and family homes around the world. It might be called tofu hotpot, combination hotpot, tofu and vegetable stir-fry or red-cooked tofu. In many households, it would be served with plain or garlic stir-fried green vegetables and perhaps a basic soup. To save myself from preparing additional dishes, I usually throw in a healthy amount of vegetables and have home-style tofu as my only accompaniment to rice.

I find that by adding chicken, oyster sauce and sugar in this recipe, I can avoid using flavour enhancers such as MSG (mono-sodium glutamate) which can lead to excessive thirst and headache in some sensitive individuals if used in excess. I always make sure that I only buy soy and oyster sauces that do not contain MSG or flavour enhancer E621 as I am a little sensitive to it.

Mentioning MSG reminds me of me and my sister’s experience.  During our student days, my sister and I used to be hopeless cooks who had just about zilch cook’s instinct and turned out barely edible foods week after week. We then suddenly produced amazing stir-fries for a period of time. Our confidence-bubble was quickly burst upon finding out that the amazing-ness of our foods was from the MSG in the new soy sauce we bought. Suffice it to say that our stir fries promptly returned to their previous forms after we ran out of the ‘new’ soy sauce. Thanks to our Mom and brother’s tips, we have been using sugar (in moderation) and real meats in place of MSG since then.

While the chicken meat and oyster sauce make this version of home-style tofu very tasty, it can be easily turned into a healthy and tasty vegetarian meal by omitting these two ingredients and using vegetable stock in place of water. You can also use regular/firm tofu instead of pre-fried tofu. You will just have to be a little gentle when stirring the ingredients to avoid breaking the tofu too much. For those who have grown up with dishes similar to this version of home-style tofu, the texture and flavour of firm/regular tofu are simply incomparable to those of pre-fried tofu, which are characteristic of such dishes. Whichever versions you fancy, it will still be a nice one-pot (sort of, in Chinese/Asian sense) solution for everyday meals.


Chinese home-style tofu with chicken, mushroom and vegetables
Chinese home-style tofu with chicken, mushroom and vegetables

Home-Style Tofu

Inspired by a recipe in Chinese Cooking for Beginners by Huang Su-huei (1994)
Serves 4-6

1 tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Small piece (~2-3cm) ginger, sliced finely
4 dried shiitake mushrooms, quartered & soaked

Meat & marinade:
1 chicken thigh fillet, sliced
½ tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp cornflour
1-1½ cup water
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp cornflour (dissolved in a little cold water)
½-1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
White pepper to taste
500g/1 lb 2 oz fried tofu or regular-firm tofu, chopped
2-3 heads broccoli, chopped
2-3 carrots, cut into batons
3-4 spring onions, sliced

Marinade the chicken with the soy sauce and cornflour for 15-30 minutes. If using store-bought fried tofu, soak with hot water and drain.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic & ginger. Stir-fry until fragrant. Add the mushrooms. Stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the marinated chicken. Stir-fry for about 5 minutes.

Add the seasoning. Mix well. Bring the mixture to the boil. Add the tofu. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Add the broccoli and carrots. Cook for another 4-5 minutes. Stir in the spring onion. Serve warm with steamed rice.

© 2012 L. Njo


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