From Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, by Fuchsia Dunlop
Like General Zuo's chicken, this dish is the creation of one of the most famous of all Hunanese chefs, Peng Chang-kuei, who has lived in Taiwan since he fled the Chinese Mainland at the end of the Chinese civil war. Although it was invented in Taiwan, its Hunanese roots are plain to see in its rich, savory taste and the pairing of black bean and chili, and, of course, because it's a variation of the traditional home-style bean curd on the previous page. Mr. Peng, who started making it in the late 1960s or 1970s, never intended to serve such a humble dish in his restaurant. "I used to sit at the front of the restaurant, and although the customers knew my name they didn't recognize me," Mr. Peng told me when I met him in 2004. "One day I was hungry, so I called my chef over and asked him to make me some bean curd, giving him detailed instructions on how to cook it. I ate it with a bowl of rice, mixing them together as I went along. Every customer who entered the restaurant had to pass by my table, and soon someone asked a waiter if they could have the same dish, which wasn't on the menu. The dish arrived, and another customer saw it and wanted some, too, and soon it spread like a rash over the whole restaurant. In that one day, we sold 23 portions of 'Peng's home-style bean curd!'" Like many of Peng Chang-kuei's dishes, this one has been imitated far and wide: Not long ago I saw it on the menu of a fashionable restaurant in Hong Kong. The version below is my attempt to re-create the dish as I was taught it by the head chef of Mr. Peng's current restaurant, the Peng Yuan, in Taipei.
3 oz. lean pork, thinly sliced
1 tsp. Shaoxing wine
1/4 tsp. salt
1 block firm bean curd, drained (about 1 1/4 lb.)
3 scallions, green parts only
2 fresh red chilies
1 tbsp. finely chopped garlic
3 tbsp. black fermented beans, rinsed
1 cup stock
1/4 tsp. dark soy sauce
3/4 tsp. potato flour mixed with 1 tbsp. cold water
1/2 tsp. sesame oil
2 tsp. chili oil (optional)
1 cup peanut oil for deep-frying
1. Put the pork in a bowl, add the Shaoxing wine and salt, and mix well; set aside.
2. Cut the bean curd into oblong slices, about 1/2-inch thick. Cut the scallion greens and chilies into thin diagonal slices, discarding the chili seeds as far as possible.
3. Heat the oil for deep-frying over a high flame until it reaches 350 to 400 degrees F. Add the bean curd in 3 or 4 batches, and fry until the slices are just tinged with gold; drain and set aside on kitchen paper.
4. Pour off the oil, reserving 3 tablespoons. Clean the wok, then reheat it over a high flame until smoke rises, add the reserved oil, and swirl it around. Add the garlic and chilies and sizzle for a few seconds until fragrant. Add the pork, and as it becomes pale, throw in the black beans, stirring all the time. When all is hot and fragrant, pour in the stock, add the bean curd and dark soy sauce, and bring to the boil.
5. Reduce the heat and simmer for several minutes to allow the flavors of the sauce to enter the bean curd. Add salt to taste, if necessary.
6. Add the potato flour mixture and stir as the liquid thickens, then stir in the scallion greens. Finally, stir in the sesame and chili oils, if using, and serve.
Vegetarian Version: Vegetarians can omit the pork and use a vegetarian stock.
From Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, by Fuchsia Dunlop. Copyright (c) 2007 by Fuchsia Dunlop. Published by W. W. Norton. Reprinted with permission.