Aromatic silken tofu

Aromatic steamed silken tofu squares.
Aromatic steamed silken tofu squares. Photo: Marina Oliphant

Steaming is a technique that, like stir-frying, is used by Chinese all over the world. But, unlike stir-frying - with its flamboyant action, sizzle and excitement - steaming is subdued. Ingredients are gently caressed by an enveloping, even heat. Strangely, steamed food has not been widely embraced by Western chefs other than for special dishes and puddings.


6 medium shiitake mushrooms, dried or fresh

700g packet tofu, silken Japanese variety

2 tbsp fresh ginger, finely shredded

300ml chicken or vegetable stock

2 tbsp shao hsing rice wine

3 tbsp dark soy sauce

½ tsp sesame oil

3 red chillies, finely sliced

4 spring onions, mainly white parts, finely shredded

3 tbsp peanut oil

pinch of white pepper

handful of coriander leaves, used whole


1. If using dried mushrooms, soak in hot water for 45 minutes (no need to soak fresh ones). Rinse and drain, then squeeze dry. Remove and discard stems and julienne the caps.

2. Carefully invert tofu from packet onto a plate and cut into 6 pieces or squares. Transfer each piece to a small dish for steaming.

3. Arrange some ginger evenly on top of the tofu. Place some sliced shiitakes on top and around the base of the tofu. Pour over a little chicken stock and then a little rice wine.

4. Insert a steaming rack (a round cake rack or similar will do) and add boiling water to just below the base of the rack. Place each small dish onto the stand (a bamboo steaming basket works too).

5. Cover with wok lid and gently steam over low-to-moderate heat for about 6 minutes.

6. Carefully remove dishes and pour over a little of the soy sauce and the sesame oil and sprinkle some chilli and spring onion.

7. Add peanut oil to a small pot and heat until smoking.

8. Carefully drizzle the smoking oil over each serve to seal in the flavours.

9. Serve individually, with a pinch of pepper and coriander.