Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Servings: Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as part of a multi-dish meal
Note: Relatively firm-yet-tender tofu, such as Trader Joe's, pan-fries beautifully with minimal splatter. This is not overly saucy. There should be some visible sauce but the tofu isn't swimming in it. Serve the tofu with rice. The fermented black bean stock is from Fuchsia Dunlop's "Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook."
Fermented black bean stock
4 cups water
1 tablespoon fermented black beans, unrinsed
In a small saucepan, bring the water and black beans to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Strain and use immediately or partially cover, cool and refrigerate for up to several days. This makes about 3 cups of stock, more than is needed for the remainder of the recipe; the stock will keep, covered and refrigerated, up to 1 week.
Hunan-style tofu and assembly
14- to 16-ounces firm tofu
1/4 teaspoon salt, more as needed
2 teaspoons light (regular) soy sauce
3/4 cup fermented black bean stock (or another vegetarian stock)
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 to 4 ounces fresh shiitake mushroom, trimmed and cut into ¼-inch-thick pieces
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons fermented black beans, unrinsed
Generous ½ teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 teaspoons fermented black bean stock or water
1 green onion, white and green parts, cut on the bias
3/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 to 1 teaspoon chile oil
1. Cut the tofu into chunky matchboxes, each about 1½ inches by 2 inches by ½ inch. Line a plate with a dish towel or double layer of paper towels, then place the tofu on top to drain for 5 to 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the one-fourth teaspoon salt, soy sauce and black bean stock to make the seasoning liquid. Taste and season with additional salt if desired. Set this seasoning liquid with the other ingredients near the stove.
3. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Blot dry the tofu, then pan-fry until golden brown and lightly crisp, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate, leaving the oil behind.
4. Reduce the heat slightly and add the chile and garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Scatter in the mushrooms along with 1 to 2 pinches of salt. Give things a turn, then splash in the rice wine and stir. After the wine evaporates, add the black beans. Continue to cook until the mushrooms have softened slightly, about 1 minute, stirring constantly.
5. Return the tofu to the skillet, gently toss to combine, then pour over the seasoning liquid. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, turning over the tofu midway. When about half of the liquid has been absorbed, stir in the cornstarch slurry. Cook, gently stirring, until the sauce thickens slightly and clings to the tofu, about 1 minute. Stir in the green onion and continue to cook just until the onion starts to wilt. Remove from heat, stir in the sesame and chile oils and transfer to a plate.