Wok with me: from crisp noodles to savory tofu

By Charleen - September 28, 2019

With the support of fellow wok aficionados, I tried two new recipes from Grace Young's The Breath of a Wok, adding new favorites to my cooking repertoire!

Pan-fried noodle cakes with a scrumptious Pork Shang Palace topping.
Cousin Judy's Tofu with Black Bean Sauce.
Each month, we cook two new dishes from this award-winning cookbook, and share our photos, thoughts and suggestions on the Wok Wednesdays Facebook page for a chance to win some fabulous cooking prizes. Without this group, I would never have discovered that I actually like tofu, which I assiduously avoided growing up, nor would I have sought out a hand-hammered pow wok to recreate a favorite childhood dish using traditional cookware. 


Pan-fried noodles with Pork Shang Palace

Pan-fried noodle cakes can be made with a variety of noodles, from the thin, yellow squiggly egg noodles favored in the south of China to a more substantial egg white noodles used on the east coast in Jiangsu, Shanghai and Fujian. When done properly, it should not be deep-fried all the way through, but retain a soft interior to soak up the sauces. 

The current recipe is a real treat -- one of several featured in The Breath of a Wok from Chef Ip Chi Cheung of the Michelin-starred Shang Palace restaurants in the Shangri-la hotels. The Pork Shang Palace sauce is simple, but deliciously colorful and flavorful served on top of the noodle cakes.
Ingredients for the Pork Shang Palace
The recipe calls for fresh, thin egg noodles that are the thickness of angel hair pasta. As I could not find this ingredient, I used dried egg white noodles made in Los Angeles, a family staple for more than 40 years. Click here for the recipe for making and flipping "both faces gold" using dry noodles and a frying pan. Instead of one big noodle cake, I made two smaller Double Gold noodle cakes using a pow wok, which fit better on my elongated serving platter.
Then, using the same wok (no washing needed as the noodles cook cleanly with no sticking), the sliced pork and garlic were allowed to brown together using Grace Young's method of leaving the meat undisturbed until browned -- a technique to maximize flavor from underpowered home stoves.
After setting the partially cooked, browned meat aside, I chose to wok-roast the peppers in a similar fashion, before proceeding to add the broth and seasonings. The pork was then added back to finish cooking as the sauce reduced.
This method of first dry roasting, and the open "braising" everything as the sauce thickened resulted in bell peppers that melted in the mouth. The light soy-based sauce enveloped the meat, vegetables and the deliciously softened central noodles. Even after soaking in sauce, many of the browned noodles still retained their crunch as we went back for second and even third servings.



Cousin Judy's Tofu with Black Bean Sauce

As a child, one of my least favorite foods was the quivering, cream-colored tofu or soybean cake, typically cooked in a soy based sauce. Just a year or so ago, I would not have been excited to try this dish, but through a cookbook that I won from one of the Wok Wednesdays monthly contests, I learned how to properly pan fry tofu, which is so good that I have trouble keeping my daughter from popping them into her mouth plain before I can finish the sauce. 

Look for the dishes that transformed my view of tofu in a different post, along with my favorite products and recipes for tofu beginners! With new tofu successes behind me, and armed with fabulous photos of Cousin Judy's dish posted by other Wok Wednesday members, I was eager and ready to try out this recipe. 

So what are black beans 豆豉 (dòuchǐ)? These are not the same as the black beans used in oxtail soups and black bean chilis from the south Pacific region of Mexico. Rather, they are soybeans salted and fermented until they develop a rich, unami-laden flavor. When we were cooking our way through Grace's Stir-frying to the Sky's Edge, I had learned the trick of briefly rinsing the excess salt away before crushing the fermented black beans with a spoon. The resulting flavor elevates her version of Beef and Broccoli above all other recipes that I have tried for that ubiquitous Chinese dish.
Fermented black soy beans, further preserved by salting and drying, lasts indefinitely. I use the bagged Mee Chun brand, storing it refrigerated in a glass jar.
Cousin Judy's recipe starts with cutting squares of firm tofu, and pressing out some water.  I did not add salt, as I found my method of cutting the rest of the ingredients over the cutting board "sandwich", and then placing 28 oz cans of tomato sauce on top until ready to cook, gives great results without the need for salting to draw out the water.  
The tofu is drained, cut into pieces and wrapped in a dish towel, sandwiched between two cutting boards.
I use the top cutting board to prep the rest of the ingredients. Then 3 or 4 large 28-oz cans of tomatoes are placed on top to continue pressing the tofu while other dishes are made.
When all ingredients were prepped, I started by cooking the baby Shanghai bok choy side dish with a shake of Penzey's Forward! seasoning, which my family loves with spinach and other tender, slightly bitter greens.
The same pan is then used to brown the ground turkey or pork (these two meats substitute well for each other depending on your preferences). When mostly cooked, the meat is set aside.
The tofu squares are then pan-fried to a golden hue on both sides, before adding the black beans.
Chicken broth containing seasonings are brought to a boil, before everything is "braised" together, without a lid, until the sauce reaches the desired thickness for serving. The braising step results in loss of the crisp contrast between the browned surface and the inside of the tofu. Because of this, my husband did not like it quite as much as other tofu dishes that are rapidly tossed with sauce at the end of cooking.

I loved this dish spooned over brown rice, and found that it was even better as a leftover, after the tofu had a chance to fully absorb the sauce. Somehow the tofu squares disappeared before the rest of the meat sauce, which we enjoyed with rice and the last of the vegetables a few days later for lunch.

Green Tip: 

🍃 Use a clean dishtowel instead of single-use paper towels. The dishtowel absorbs a lot more water so you can get away with a single pressing/blotting event instead of having to change out wet paper towels that are falling apart. The tofu browns a lot quicker without splattering. Plus, it is easy to wash in your next load of laundry!



Pick up a copy of "Breath" from your bookstore or library and come join us in the Facebook Wok Wednesday group! It's a fun, supportive and informative community for both beginners and experienced wokkers. 

by Grace Young with Alan Richardson
Simon & Schuster, 2004
·       ISBN-10: 0743238273
·       ISBN-13: 978-0743238274
Inducted into the IACP Cookbook Hall of Fame, May 2019.

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