Saturday, November 6, 2010

Buddha's chicken

First, I'll say that I'm saving my Chinese herbal soup until tomorrow, because as I was researching it today I realized that this post would be way too long and involved if I did both it and the Buddha's chicken, and also, they don't really go together.  So I didn't make it, and still don't know how it's going to turn out...

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):

Now steam it for 10-15 minutes.  It turns into this:

Looks done.  Fi says that at this point it is done:

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!


  1. I think this must be what our local vegan Chinese restaurant does, but they roll it into a tight cylinder, then cut it into 1-inch pieces. It's marinated and cooked in a hot pot with a thick (but not gloppy), spicy sichuan sauce with vegetables I can, and can't, recognize. It's so good I wish you could taste it. Next time I'm there I'll ask if they deep fry it. They also make a stuffed kind which they call "salmon." I have yuba sticks, which I normally use, and the flat yuba, which I just kind of look at. I tried to find fresh a few weeks ago and failed.

    Do you think it was worth the time and effort? Is it substantially better than the yuba sticks?

  2. Wow, Andrea, that method does sound good. I still have three pieces left and might try marinating them further and attempting this dish you describe.

    The effort honestly wasn't that great. But no, I have to admit, the results were not substantially better than marinated yuba sticks. The yuba itself (reconstituted dry or fresh) tastes exactly the same and has the same texture, and it would be how you prepared it or what you marinated it in that matters. What you did in your recent post with the soy sauce and peanut butter sounds super. I'm a big fan of the sticks, too...

  3. I've never seen anything like this before! I'll definitely bookmarked this.

  4. I really like buddha's chicken. I make a version called mock chicken that has a mushroom filling in the center. How funny, I actually posted about it for last year's vegan mofo. I didn't fry mine, just steam, I think it's fine and less of a mess. :-)

  5. Gorgeous, gorgeous gorgeous. I have to get some fresh yuba...I have some of the dried stuff, but I don't think it compares at all to the fresh stuff. Besides the dried stuff I have is in sticks, which doesn't sound like it would work for this?

    How did you steam it? I mean did you just do it in a large pan or did you wrap it up to fit in a round pot? Or is it not as big as it looks?

    Anyway, those sweet potato shapes you speak of sound really cute and yummy too.

  6. Chow, I agree with you. Anything more than steaming isn't necessary - and it *was* a mess to fry; it spat everywhere. I took a look at your post as well, and like the idea of a filling.

    Rose, the dried stuff, reconstituted, tastes exactly the same as the fresh stuff--unless you've had it around for a long long time; the dried can go off a little bit and develop a sour unpleasant smell. The sticks are the same substance as the sheets, but crumpled up. Sticks are good for all kinds of recipes. For this dish though you do need sheets.

    Funny you should ask about the steaming. It was only after I had folded and wrapped the thing that I realized it was too big for my regular steaming pots, or even my dutch oven with the metal steaming thing in the bottom of it. I ended up using an oval-shaped cast iron casserole dish with the steamer tray and everything worked out fine.

    I was quite pleased with the sweet potato shapes, too :P

  7. Hmm, I thought I commented on this yesterday. Anyway, thank you for a super useful post! I have dried yuba sheets and was unsure what to do with them.

  8. You make it seem so easy. I'll start looking for the yuba sheets.

  9. I freaking LOVE this stuff and don't make it anywhere near as often as I'd like.