Bean curd comes in several varieties and they are used in many ways in Chinese cuisine. As you shop a well-stocked supermarket or an Asian grocery, it helps to know what sets each type apart and how best to use them in your cooking.
Tofu Puffs (豆腐泡)
You will usually see these golden yellow squares in cellophane bags in the refrigerated area of Chinese supermarkets. There are many different names for these little cubes including bean kow, bean curd puffs or tofu puffs.
The beauty of tofu puffs is they are super absorbent. For this reason, tofu puffs are usually cooked with stews, broths, and soups.
Make stuffed tofu puffs for hot pots during the winter. The filling for the stuffing the tofu puffs is pork or beef mince mixed with chopped spring onions, demerara sugar, light soy sauce, ground black pepper, and sesame oil. Take a tofu puff, make a little hole in it, and stuff the mince filling inside and cook in either a hot pot or with chicken soup.
For storage, tofu puffs should be kept refrigerated for several days.
Preserved Bean Curd (豆腐乳)
There are many names for preserved bean curd including fermented tofu, lufu, rufu, sufu, tofu cheese, or soy cheese. This preserved bean curd is also known as “Chinese cheese” in Chinese cuisine.
This preserved bean curd is bean curd cut into cubes and fermented in rice wine. It is usually sold in glass jars or cans in Chinese supermarkets. There are different kind of preserved bean curd including fermented chili bean curd, red fermented bean curd, white preserved bean curd, stinky fermented bean curd, and more.
There are many different ways to use preserved bean curd in Chinese cuisine. Some Chinese people like to use this preserved bean curd as mantou spread. Mantou is a kind of Chinese steamed bun/bread. You can also stir-fry vegetables with preserved bean curd or use it for marinated chicken. One recipe to try is braised pork belly with red fermented bean curd.
Preserved bean curd can be stored refrigerated for several months
Dried Bean Curd Sheets and Sticks (腐竹)
This ingredient is also known as tofu skin, bean curd skin, or bean curd robes. Bean curd sticks are made from the “skin” that forms on the surface of boiled soy milk.
You must rehydrate dried bean curd sticks before cooking. The best way to rehydrate the bean curd sticks is to soak them in cold water and leave them overnight (at least eight hours). Then drain the water and cut it into the size you like or follow the recipe instructions and prepare them following the recipe.
Bean curd sticks have a kind of meaty texture. In Asia, many vegetarian restaurants like to use this ingredient instead of meat. Bean curd sticks are very healthy and are a good source of protein.
You can use bean curd sticks in stir-fries, stews, wrapping dim sum, deep frying, braising, and more. It’s a very popular ingredient in Chinese cuisine.
One idea is to use bean curd sticks knotted and placed in stews. The bean curd knots look really cute and the bean curd sticks absorb all the broth. They taste great but are also really healthy. A recipe that uses bean curd sticks is Buddha's delight vegetarian stir fry.
You can store dried bean curd in a cool place indefinitely.
Five-Spice Tofu (五香豆干)
Other names for five-spice tofu include five-spice bean curd and pressed seasoned bean curd. This five-spice tofu has been pressed and simmered in water with five-spice powder and other ingredients. The texture is very firm and you can slice and stir-fry it, make a salad, or even add to a soup. It will hold its shape in any type of dish.
For storage, keep it refrigerated for about one week. If you open the package, use it as soon as possible.