Not all the good food in China comes from Szechwan. This savory bean curd dish is Pekingese. Said to be the favorite food of Tzu-hsi, the famous Empress Dowager of late nineteenth-century China, it is just the kind of simple, delicate food an experienced gourmet would yearn for after a surfeit of imperial banquets. We first encountered the dish at the most famous Peking Duck restaurant in Taipei. A helpful waiter suggested it — and once we tasted it we were hooked. Mrs.
Although this type of northern Chinese cooking is far from bland, it does not overwhelm the palate the way a Szechwanese dish does. The sauce is clearer and thinner and the basic flavor more subtle. The bean curd is first marinated in soy sauce and sesame oil and then coated with a thick egg batter before it is fried, giving it a startlingly rich flavor. The shrimps are added as much for textural contrast as for taste.
Clean the scallions, then smash them, both the white part and green, with the side of the cleaver and cut them into 3-inch lengths. Put the scallions on a large, flat platter.
Peel the ginger, then cut it into slivers about ⅛ inch wide, the width of a wooden matchstick. Put the shredded ginger on the same plate as the scallions. Add the sugar, salt, sesame oil, and soy sauce and mix well.
Gently trim off the outer skin of the bean curd and discard it. (Japanese-style bean curd is softer than Chinese, and doesn’t have any tougher outside parts that have to be removed.) Slice each square of bean curd horizontally into 3 thin layers and then cut these into pieces about 1 inch square. Spread the bean curd pieces out on the plate containing the soy sauce mixture and marinate them for 20 minutes. Turn them over at least once during this period, and make sure that every piece has been soaked in the marinade. (Since sliced bean curd is a somewhat fragile substance, handle it gently, using chopsticks or, if you haven’t mastered those yet, your fingers.)
Wash the shrimps, then shell and devein them. If the shrimp are large, cut them into 2 or 3 pieces. Put them in a bowl and sprinkle the salt, cornstarch, and wine over them. Stir well and set aside.
Combine the cornstarch and water in a small bowl and set aside.
Just before you are ready to begin cooking, mix the flour, eggs, and water together in a shallow bowl.
(bean curd) (batter) (shrimps and their marinade) Return the fried bean curd to the pan and add the water and the shrimps and their marinade. Cover the pan, raise the flame slightly, and boil the bean curd and shrimps gently for 5 minutes.
Use a large, flat frying pan, not a wok. Heat it over a low flame, then cover the bottom with a thin film of oil.
Dip the squares of marinated bean curd into the egg batter, then place them gently in the frying pan. (This procedure always reminds me of cooking French toast.) When the bean curd squares have turned a light golden brown on the first side, turn them over and cook them until they are the same color on the other side. Remove them from the pan to a large platter. (You will probably have to cook these bean curd pieces in several batches, so make sure that there is enough oil in the pan to keep the later batches from sticking.)
(cornstarch and water)
Stir the cornstarch and water to make sure they are well combined, then pour the mixture into the pan. Stir the sauce very gently until it comes to a boil again, thickens slightly, and turns clear; this should only take a few seconds. Serve immediately.
(shrimps and their marinade)
Return the fried bean curd to the pan and add the water and the shrimps and their marinade.
Cover the pan, raise the flame slightly, and boil the bean curd and shrimps gently for 5 minutes.
© 1976 Ellen Schrecker. All rights reserved.