To fans of authentic Asian cuisine, the flavors & textures of this dish will feel as comfortable and familiar as an old friend. A steamed dish might not seem like summer food, but the preparation is quite easy and cooking time is only about 20 minutes. It won’t heat up the kitchen and can be enjoyed immediately while hot, or later, at room temperature. Our version of stuffed tofu, a venerable classic of many Asian cuisines, uses sausage made from ground turkey or chicken instead of the usual pork, making it lighter, far less filling and, since it’s lower in fat, healthier. After all, as Confucius said, “He that takes medicine and neglects diet, wastes the skills of the physician.” How can we argue with that?
The tofu is prepared for stuffing in a simple and clever way. It’s first cut into small rectangles with a hollow scooped out in the center, making a convenient “box.” Into this hollow is stuffed a tasty mixture of sausage, spices and chopped shiitake mushrooms. Steaming the filled tofu accomplishes two things: it cooks the filling, of course, but it also firms up the tofu slightly, while keeping it moist and delicately tender.
As in many Asian dishes, it’s the contrast of both flavors and textures that makes this dish so appealing. The firmness and bold, spicy flavor of the filling creates an interesting counterpoint to the soft, sweetly mild tofu, making each bite a mouth-satisfying experience.
The smoky-salty sauce that finishes this dish is full of what the Japanese call “umami,” a flavor that Westerners sometimes find difficult to understand. Think of it as “savoriness” and you’ll begin to get the general idea. It really does complete the dish and ties everything together. Classic Asian cooking recognizes that seasoning is guided by “the doctrine of five flavors,” wherein each meal contains, in varying and harmonious proportions, the five flavors of sweet, salty, spicy, sour and bitter. Tradition has it that the importance of the five flavors was recognized by the Chinese sages 3,000 years ago. Who are we to argue? This dish, indeed, has it all.
Sausage-Stuffed Tofu with Smoked Soy Sauce
- 14 oz extra firm tofu
- 3-4 oz ground chicken, pork or turkey sausage (we used mild Italian)
- 2 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water 30 minutes, squeezed and minced, soaking water reserved for the sauce
- 1 garlic, clove minced
- 1/2 inch fresh ginger, minced or grated
- 1/2 tsp finely ground black or white pepper
- 1 tsp smoked soy sauce
- 2 tsp Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
- 1 tsp garlic chives or green onions, minced, plus more for garnish
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp sesame oil
Mix all the stuffing ingredents in a bowl and put aside while prepping the tofu.
Cut the tofu into 1-1/2″ x 1-1/2″ x 1″ squares – about the size of a matchbox. Pat the tofu dry. Scoop out about 1 teaspoon tofu out of the center with a spoon or melon baller. Add the scooped out tofu to the stuffing and blend well.
Fill each “box” with the stuffing, pressing lightly to fill well, mounding it slightly. Place the filled tofu “boxes” onto a plate that will fit into your steamer of choice, either the traditional bamboo kind or a wide heavy-bottomed pan with a steamer basket and a tightly fitting lid.
Fill the pan with water so it doesn’t touch the bottom of the steamer and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat. Place the plate with tofu on top of steamer, put the lid on the pan and steam on high simmer for 15-20 minutes.
While tofu is steaming, make the sauce.
- 5 Tbsp oyster sauce
- 5 Tbsp smoked soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 tsp sugar
- 1/2 cup reserved mushroom-soaking water, or chicken stock
- 1/4-inch round of peeled ginger, the size of a nickel
- 2 tsp cornstarch mixed in 1 Tbsp water
Mix all the sauce ingredients, except the cornstarch mixture, in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Stir in the cornstarch blend and cook until the sauce thickens slightly and coats a spoon. Keep warm. Remove the ginger before serving.
When the tofu is done cooking, carefully remove it from the steamer, allow to drain for a second or two and serve on pretty plates or in bowls with the sauce spooned over the top. Garnish with chopped green onions or snipped garlic chives. This dish is also good served at room temperature!
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