Monday, August 5, 2013

The signature dish of Chef Peng

A relatively new dish in Hunan’s canon, Peng Family Bean Curd was almost an instant hit when it was created in Taiwan by Chef Péng Chángguì 彭長貴.

Chef Peng is a native of Hunan who at the age of 13 first studied under the Cantonese Tan family-style chef Cáo Gàichén 曹蓋臣 before heading north to the Yangtze River area, and then he fled to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese Civil War. Once he was an accomplished chef in his own right, he opened up his signature restaurant in Taipei, as well as a now-defunct branch in Manhattan called Peng Yuan on 44th Street near the United Nations, where Henry Kissinger helped stimulate interest in both this restaurant and Hunan-style cooking.

Credited with developing some of the most famous dishes in the Hunan school, Chef Peng produced “General Tso’s chicken” ( Zuŏ Zōngtáng jī  左宗堂雞), its sweet-sour-spicy sauce entrancing Chinese diners at his Peng’s Agora Garden (Péngjiā huìguǎn 彭家會館) as much as his many other creations, such as “minced squab in bamboo cups” (zhújié gēzhōng 竹節鴿盅), which was always one of my favorites when I was able to dine there as the interpreter-in-tow for the National Museum of History.
Wick off the excess moisture

This was always a dining experience for me, as the museum’s director knew the menu like an old friend. Here we would have honeyed ham, smoked pork charcuterie with garlic stems, and flash fish soup, all of which never failed to elicit sighs of almost carnal pleasure in our foreign guests.

His signature bean curd dish, though, was more homey than fancy, and so it wouldn’t often make the cut at these banquets. But that did not stop my husband and me from enjoying it there later on, as well as our old haunt near the museum that was not as near as fancy—but almost as good—as the original cooking palace of Mr. Peng.

Peng family bean curd
Péngjiā dòufu  彭家豆腐
Serves 4 to 6

1 square (about 14 ounces) firm, fresh, organic bean curd
2 to 3 ounces pork loin, shredded against the grain
1 tablespoon rice wine
Brown the bean curd
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tender leek or 2 green onions, trimmed
¼ cup peanut or vegetable oil (used okay if it smells fresh)
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 red jalapeno peppers, stemmed, seeded, and cut into thin shreds
2 tablespoons fermented black beans, rinsed and lightly chopped
½ cup hot filtered water
1 tablespoon regular soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1. Cut the bean curd square in half lengthwise and then again crosswise into ¼ inch cubes. Place them in a single layer on a clean tea towel, and pat the tops with the towel, too. Let them drain while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

2. Place the pork in a small work bowl and toss it with the rice wine and cornstarch. Cut the leek or green onions on the diagonal into ½-inch wide strips.

3. Heat a wok over medium-high heat, and when it starts to smoke, add the oil. Swirl the oil around in the wok and then lay half of the bean curd squares in a single layer on the hot wok. Cook the bean curd until it is a golden brown on one side, and then flip each slice over and cook the other side. Remove the bean curd to a plate and repeat with the other half of the bean curd. Pour out about half of the oil.

Marinate the meat first
3. Raise the heat under the wok to high. To the hot wok add the leeks or green onions and garlic, and stir-fry them for about 10 seconds to release their fragrance. Toss in the pork and all its marinade and quickly stir-fry them until the meat is no longer pink. Add the peppers and black beans, toss them quickly to heat them through, and then the hot water. Toss these all together and then scoot the vegetables up the side of the wok.

4. Arrange the browned bean curd slices in a single layer in the sauce, cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer them for about 5 minutes. Turn the slices over, drizzle the cornstarch mixture around the edge of the bean curd, and then gently toss everything together to mix until the sauce thickens. Toss in the sesame oil, toss one last time, and serve on a platter.


Chicken can be used instead of pork or left out if you prefer this meatless; if no meat is used, stir the cornstarch into the wine and toss it into the sauce right before adding the bean curd in Step 4.


  1. Replies
    1. Yes, I have. And it's fun, but I've honestly never been completely satisfied with the results and the time vs. work equation, as we have such terrific doufu makers around here, both Chinese and Japanese. I admit it, I'm spoiled!

      BTW, you wanted a Taiwanese rice recipe, but I can't remember which one. Youfan?

  2. Youfan or mi gao would be amazing. I love both of them and never see 'em here in Oregon.

    1. I am super excited for your cookbook.

    2. Thanks, Mike. Most of the book is written and now I'm filling in all the extra stuff at the front and the back. This has been one very fun book to write!