Braising is just about my favorite way to prepare chicken because it’s so simple and gets such great results. I’ve posted some braises before, like here for example, so braising isn’t new to this blog, however this is the first time I’ve posted about tofu skins. If you haven’t used tofu skins in your own cooking, I hope this demystifies them a bit and encourages you to try them.
In the picture above, the tofu skins are the light brown crinkly bits. They’re made from the thin sheet that forms on the top of boiling soy milk. The soft sheets are gently lifted off the soy milk and sold directly or else hung to dry. Dried tofu skin, or 腐竹 (fǔzhú) is sold in packages like this:
The tofu skins look like the picture below when you take them out of the package. The shape shows clearly that they were hung vertically to dry.
The sticks are crispy and will snap into pieces if you don’t handle them carefully. You should rehydrate them before using, which is easily done by resting the skins in hot water for about a half-hour. If you have a large enough container, you can put the skins into the water whole. If not then simply break them into smaller pieces before soaking. After soaking they’ll be soft, and you can slice them neatly into the final size that you’re looking for.
Tofu skins have a pleasantly robust texture and have been used as a meat substitute in China for hundreds of years. They have a pleasantly nutty flavor, but more importantly, they carry the flavor of whatever liquid you cook them in.
Start by browning the chicken on both sides in a little oil. I used chicken legs with the bone in.
When the chicken is pleasantly brown, toss in the garlic and the spices and stir-fry for a few moments until the spices become fragrant. Take care not to burn anything. (The dried chiles burn especially quickly, so be careful.)
All that’s left is to add the braising liquid of chicken stock, soy sauce, and Shaoxing rice wine (绍兴酒), and the tofu skins. Cook gently for another hour and a half, until the meat can be pulled off the bone with chopsticks.
INGREDIENTS and PREP:
- 1.5 lbs chicken legs, bone-in
- 10-15 dried Thai chili peppers, 4 star anise, 5 pieces cassia bark, 6 cloves garlic (peeled and crushed)
- 4 cups chicken broth (or to enough to cover the legs in the braising pot), 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup Shaoxing rice wine
- Tofu skins, reconstituted in hot water for about 30 minutes and then cut into bite-sized pieces, to make about 1/2 cups total
- Heat 2 Tbsp peanut oil in your braising pot until shimmering. Swirl it around and then add the chicken legs (#1). Brown the chicken lightly on both sides.
- Toss in the chiles, star anise, cassia bark, and crushed garlic (#2) and stir-fry for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Don’t let the chiles burn.
- Then pour in the braising liquid (#3) and boil gently for about an hour and a half, until you can pull the meat off the bone with chopsticks. Add the tofu skins (#4) to the pot when there’s about 45 minutes left.
- Garnish with chopped scallions; serve with rice and contrasting dishes.
VARIATIONS: When you taste this dish, you’ll love the texture of the tofu skins and how they carry the flavors of the sauce. Therefore, one simple variation would be to change the ratio of the tofu skins to chicken depending on your personal preference. You can even make a fully vegetarian version of this recipe by eliminating the chicken altogether, switching to vegetable stock, and adding enough tofu skins to make a good-sized finished dish.
The essential Chinese pantry is here.