Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Cheesy chicken from Anhui

It took me a long time to figure out where this dish originally came from, possibly because I have had all sorts of versions over the years. 

First guess: Guangdong, because they do make some wonderful fermented bean curd (doufuru) down there, but when that wasn't correct, I figured it had to be from Jiangsu because of their famous pork hock in a cheesy sauce, but even that wasn't right. So down the list I went until I hit that obscure cuisine that tends to be the motherload of all sorts of delicious jackpots: Anhui.

You just don't hear much about Anhui style cooking (except on this blog, perhaps, as I admit quite freely that I am smitten with their way with food). And that is a crying shame because even though few people have ever eaten Anhui dishes outside of its borders, this is where many of East China's most famous dishes were created, like lion's head casserole. (Jiangsu and Shanghai lay all sorts of claim to this meatball dish, and to be fair, they have some pretty incredible variations that make it one of the best pork concoctions of all time.)
Daxi style doufuru

But I digress.

Chicken cooked in a sauce seasoned with fermented bean curd really does have a cheesy edge to it, very rich and creamy, especially when a really great fermented bean curd is used. Although there are supermarket shelves loaded with all sorts of different kinds -- spicy, stinky, red, white, what have you -- my favorite is now a homemade one that uses Fujian's red wine lees.

I really like the way that it turns into a velvety blanket for whatever is being cooked. The taste is not harsh the way that some of the brine-packed doufuru tend to be, and the sauce the little squares are packed in is every bit as tasty as the bean curd itself.

Over the years, I've played around with this classic a bit, so it might not be quite as authentic an Anhui dish as it used to, particularly because I have added some of that beautiful Fujian red wine lees not only for the depth of flavor, but also for its brilliant color. 

Putting this dish together takes less than 30 minutes from fridge to table, and all you need is some hot rice and a stir-fried vegetable. Fit for company or family, this is sure to be an instant favorite.

Lovely red from the wine lees
Chicken in fermented bean curd sauce  
Furu ji 腐乳雞  
Serves 4 as part of a multicourse meal, or 2 as a main dish

4 chicken thighs, preferably organic and free range (see Tips)
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
6 thin slices ginger, minced
4 green onions, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
3 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
¾ cup water
2 squares Fermented Bean Curd, or to taste
2 tablespoons Fujian's red wine lees
Sugar or soy sauce, if needed
Handful of cilantro, chopped

1. Rinse the chicken thighs and pat dry. Cut off any extra fat or skin and save it for something else

2. Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan over medium heat. Add the ginger and lay the chicken on top. Fry the chicken on one side until golden, and then flip the thighs over. Toss in the green onions. 

Doufuru and red wine lees
3. When both sides of the chicken are golden brown, add the rice wine, water, fermented bean curd, and red wine lees. Bring the sauce to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook the chicken until just done (about 20 minutes for bone-in thighs, 15 minutes for boneless), and then raise the heat under the pan to quickly reduce the sauce. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning, if needed, with some sugar and soy sauce. (I don't use any extra seasoning, but since not all doufuru are created equal, feel free to play with the flavors.) Toss in the chopped cilantro and serve.


Use organic, free-range chicken, if at all possible.

Different cuts can be used instead of thighs, if you like. Wings are great, or you could chop up a whole chicken and double or triple the sauce ingredients, depending upon the size of the chicken.

This dish can be made ahead of time and then heated up  just before serving.

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