Tofu and Salmon in Pepper Sauce

鮭魚豆腐

This is one of those fortuitous matings of excellent leftovers and excellent fresh things that results in a dish that no one has ever heard of—a simple stir-fry of steamed, poached, or baked fresh salmon with cubed tofu, slivered sweet pepper, and fresh coriander, left to bubble briefly in a peppery chicken stock. It was a dish first cooked when there was some leftover salmon in the icebox, and I have never been able to convince myself that it tastes as good if one starts with the uncooked fish.

  • Given the cooked salmon, this is a quick and easy 10-minute dish, colorful and well balanced in a very Chinese way.

Ingredients

  • ½ pound fresh white tofu, firm Chinese-style preferable
  • 6 ounces poached, steamed, or baked salmon, weight after removal of skin, bones and gelatinous bits
  • 2–3 tablespoons corn or peanut oil
  • 3 tablespoons thin-cut green and white scallion rings
  • 2–3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh coriander leaves
  • ⅓–½ cup finely slivered red bell pepper
  • ¾ cup rich, unsalted chicken stock
  • about ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • dash unseasoned Chinese or Japanese rice vinegar
  • ⅛–¼ teaspoon freshly ground black and white pepper
  • teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon cold chicken stock

To garnish

  • fresh whole coriander leaves

Method

Preparations

If you are working with exceedingly soft tofu that will not slice cleanly and hold its shape, then weight it. Take into account that the pressing will remove water weight and begin with an extra 2–4 ounces tofu.

Cut the tofu into rectangular “mah-jongg tiles,” about 1¼-inch long, ¾-inch wide and ⅜-inch thick. Ten minutes before cooking, cover them with boiling water to refresh the taste and velvetize the texture. Drain thoroughly just before using.

With your fingers or a blunt knife gently break the salmon into thick flakes along the natural grain. Do not mash it or flake it finely; it will taste better if left coarse.

Cut the scallion, coriander, and bell pepper just before using.

Stir-frying the dish

Have all the ingredients within easy reach of your stovetop, and leave a spoon or chop-stick in the cornstarch mixture. Put a shallow serving bowl of contrasting color in a low oven to warm.

Heat a wok or large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot enough to evaporate a bead of water on contact. Add 2 tablespoons oil, swirl to coat the pan, then reduce the heat to medium-high. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle a single scallion ring, add the scallion and stir-fry until fragrant, about 5–10 seconds, adjusting the heat to maintain a merry sizzle. Add the chopped coriander, stir gently for about 5 seconds to “explode” the coriander’s aroma, then add the bell pepper to the pan. Toss briskly to combine, adjusting the heat to maintain a merry sizzle without scorching the pepper, and dribbling in a bit more oil from the side of the pan if needed to prevent sticking. When the bell pepper is glossy, in about 10–15 seconds, add the stock and stir to blend. Raise the heat to bring the mixture to a simmer, then slide the drained tofu into the pan. Swish gently to combine, cover, and simmer 1 minute to heat the tofu through.

Uncover the pot, scatter the salmon in the simmering brew, then swish for 10–15 seconds to mix. (Shake the pan rather than using a spoon or spatula to stir if the tofu is so soft that it is breaking apart.) Reduce the heat to low, taste, then add salt and a dash of vinegar as required. Sprinkle liberally with pepper and swish to combine. Stir the cornstarch mixture to recombine, add to the pan, then stir gently just until the sauce turns glossy and slightly thick. Immediately transfer the dish to the heated platter. Salting and seasoning the dish carefully in these last seconds is crucial to its success, but you must work quickly lest the mixture lose its savor.

Garnish with a pretty mound or sprinkling of fresh coriander leaves, then serve at once. Set the table with spoons, as this is a pleasantly soupy dish.

Leftovers are not at all good, so eat this dish up.

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