Saturday, November 6, 2010
So this is the Buddha's chicken post. I know of this dish from two separate sources: Bryanna Clark Grogan's Authentic Chinese Cuisine, and my friend Fi. Both describe a fairly similar dish, and where these authorities differ, I'll say so. Fi can give me her critique on Monday, but as yet I haven't heard it, so as far as I'm aware, I'm doing everything right...
Bryanna has posted her recipe, with helpful pictures, here. I followed her recipe as to ingredients and mostly as to method, so you can go there for details if you're interested in making this dish. Here is my experience with it:
First, you have to buy the right kind of yuba. If you're browsing through your local oriental market, this can be confusing. There are so many kinds of yuba! (Yuba, for the uninitiated, is exactly like the skin from boiled milk except that it's from soymilk, lifted off the boiling liquid and dried or partially dried by wonderful arcane methods.) The best kind of yuba to use for this recipe is fresh-frozen. It looks like this in the package:
I have to digress for a moment and apologize for the wretched quality of some of the photographs in this post. I am experimenting with a new lighting system, and in it, white-on-white is giving me a lot of grief. Sorry in advance. Someday I will know all these things!
So, anyway, this packet contains four very large sheets of yuba, folded in half. Fresh yuba is soft and rubbery, much like it looks. For this recipe you could also re-constitute sheets of dried yuba, but if you possibly can, get the fresh stuff. It's more robust, less likely to crumble to powder as you take it home from the store.
You make a little sauce of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, sherry, sugar, and mushroom-soaking water (over to Bryanna's post for the exact directions), and, after you've cut the large sheets of yuba in half, you layer them, brushing the sauce over each layer, much like brushing olive oil between phyllo layers for spanikopeta. Brush from side to side to get out as many bubbles as you can. Do this with all eight layers. Now you can roll it or fold it up in different ways. I elected to fold mine over and over:
Until I achieved this:
Now wrap this up in a few layers of cheesecloth or a piece of old sheeting (my choice), and tie the ends off:
Here's the main place Bryanna and Fi differ. Fi says you need to squish it under heavy weights for some time. I did this, leaving it for about 3 hours (in a plastic bag):
Bryanna, however, wants to fry it. In fact, she wants to deep fry it. I deep fry only reluctantly, but I did shallow fry two pieces to see if there was any difference. This stuff fries in record time, so you only need a minute for each side. Depending on what your plans are for it, I'm not convinced that frying makes much of a difference. Today I ate it plain, with a Vietnamese cucumber/carrot salad and some sweet potato cut into interesting shapes with cookie cutters (and a hammer) and baked in canola oil and lemon pepper.
So to debrief the "chicken"--the final taste is rather bland, but still pleasant. I get the impression from Fi that her ex-mother-in-law used a lot more sesame oil than Bryanna's recipe calls for, but I'll report back on that. I think next time I would, though. It firmed up very nicely in the steaming process, and I loved the texture. I need to practice getting it firmer, and perhaps making it into other shapes. The process was pretty easy to do, and it was mainly the idea of deep frying that kept me away from it before. I won't be so shy next time!