What is Bean Curd?
Bean curd originated in China over 2000 years ago! Until this day, it remains a staple in many Asian cuisines and continues to grow in popularity worldwide. It's certainly a staple in our household.
Bean curd is a very versatile food made from soybeans. It's exactly as its name suggests - curds of beans, in this case soybeans. Dried soybeans are soaked, ground, then boiled. The soy milk is then strained to remove the pulp and the liquid is boiled again. A coagulant is added and the curdled soy milk is then strained a second time to separate the curds from the whey. The curds are pressed into blocks and bean curd is born.
Why Should I Cook with Bean Curd?
Bean curd is a healthy meat alternative, high in protein and low in calories and carbohydrates. Due to these properties, it can accommodate vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, and keto diets or simply a weight loss diet.
On its own, bean curd has a very mild and slightly nutty flavor and come in a variety of textures. Some may call it bland but what makes tofu shine is its ability to absorb any sauce it's cooked in without overpowering the flavor. It can be made sweet or savory and everything in between.
It's versatility is one reason why bean curd remains ever popular. It can be stir fried, steamed, braised, grilled, deep fried, pureed, stuffed, just to name a few. It can be eaten raw straight out of the package. These are just a few reasons why it's a great ingredient to add to your meals.
Variations of Bean Curd
Bean curd comes in many different forms. The process of making it has been compared to cheese making. Soymilk is coagulated to form curds, which is then strained. It's at this point where the different variations are formed. Whether it proceeds to being pressed, dried, fried or stewed, each form of tofu brings its own unique flavors and textures to a dish. Here are some of the most common types.
- Tofu (Doufu, 豆腐)
- Pressed Bean Curd (Doufu Gan, 豆腐干)
- Bean Curd Sheets (Fu Pi, 腐皮)
- Bean Curd Skin (Doufu Pi, 豆腐皮)
- Stinky Tofu (Chou Dou Fu, 臭豆腐)
- Preserved Bean Curd (Fu Ru, 腐乳)
- Fried Bean Curd Puffs (You Doufu, 油豆腐)
Tofu (Doufu, 豆腐)
Tofu is the most widely used and can be found in most grocery stores, including those that don't specialize in Asian products. You can even find it at Costco. Soy milk is curdled, strained to remove excess liquid, then pressed into blocks. The firmness of tofu depends on the duration of the pressing process.
There's no standard measurement for firmness, but they're typically categorized as silken, soft, medium, firm, or extra firm. Silken tofu is not pressed after curdling, while soft tofu is pressed briefly and still contains a lot of liquid. As you move up the firmness scale, extra-firm tofu is pressed for a longer amount of time and has a firmer texture with less moisture content. Which tofu you use depends on application and preference.
Pressed Bean Curd (Doufu Gan, 豆腐干)
Doufu Gan is a type of tofu that has been pressed beyond "extra firm." From here, it is stewed with spices or smoked to create the signature brown color. It's sometimes referred to as 5 Spice Tofu, Spiced Tofu, Baked Tofu, Smoked Tofu, Pressed Tofu or Tea Flavored Tofu. The texture is comparable to a semi-hard cheese.
Doufu Gan holds up nicely in a stir fry such as Shredded Pork with Bean Curd. It also tastes great on its own, straight from the package, with some soy paste, a drizzle of sesame oil and a few sprigs of cilantro.
Bean Curd Sheets (FU PI, 腐皮)
Bean curd sheets are delicate sheets made from soy milk. They're created by boiling soy milk and adding a coagulating agent. This causes the liquid to form a skin on the surface. The thin layer of semi-solidified soy milk (skin) is lifted and hung to dry and firm up. They're then cut into sheets and either packaged fresh or dried for a longer shelf life. The fresh version needs to be kept in the freezer. The dried version can be stored in the pantry but must be rehydrated before use.
Fu Pi is often used as a wrapper and filled with minced shrimp or pork. You might recognize it in some fried or steamed dim sum dishes.
Tofu Skin (Doufu Pi, 豆腐皮)
Tofu skin is a type of tofu that's been pressed until it's very firm and thin. It's usually no more than a few millimeters thick. What remains contains very little moisture, with a firm texture. It tastes similar to pressed bean curd without the spices. It's commonly used in salads but can hold up to braising.
Stinky Tofu (Chou Dou Fu, 臭豆腐)
Often compared to blue cheese, stinky tofu is a fermented tofu that's wildly popular in Taiwan. It's made by soaking tofu in a mixture of brine and spices, from several days to several weeks. The brine mixture is left to ferment, which results in the characteristically strong and pungent odor unique to stinky tofu. An acquired taste to some, a delicacy to others, it all depends on who you ask. Not surprisingly, my Taiwanese wife considers stinky tofu one of her top favorites.
Fermented Bean Curd (Fu Ru, 腐乳)
Fu Ru falls into the same "acquired taste" category as stinky tofu. It has a strong, concentrated briny flavor with a cheese-like quality. A little goes a long way with fermented bean curd.
Fu Ru is made by fermenting small pieces of tofu until the enzymes break it down to a soft, highly concentrated nugget of flavor. Since it has such a strong flavor, it's often used as a base to a condiment or dipping sauce. It can be added to sauces or used to flavor an ong choy stir fry. It's also delicious eaten as is with a bowl of porridge.
Fried Bean Curd Puffs (You Doufu, 油豆腐)
Fried bean curd puffs are made from block tofu that's cut into smaller pieces, then deep fried until they develop a nice golden crust. Instead of a dense or soft texture commonly found in tofu, these are light, airy and spongy on the inside.
Since there's so much moisture in tofu, the golden skin doesn’t get crunchy but rather a bit chewy in a good way. Due to its sponge-like quality, they're great used in braises where they can soak up sauces. When cut in half and hollowed out, they're perfect for making stuffed tofu.