Sometimes I’m a bit slow. I decide to make something and then, for no clear reason, it takes me days, weeks, or months to get around to actually cooking it. This time, it’s been close to three years since I first tasted this dish, blogged about it, and even bought the main ingredient for it. The dish was “Vegetarian Chicken Shanghai Style,” the occasion was a Food Blogger Meet-up in 2007, and the place was a restaurant in Chicago’s Chinatown. And the ingredient, which I bought repeatedly over the years, only to toss it after it got too old to use, was (drumroll please)…
Chinese Vegetarian Chicken is made of thin sheets of tofu wrapped around a shiitake mushroom filling. I managed to figure that much out for myself, but I never would have known how exactly to put it all together without this detailed recipe from Jennifer Yu at the blog use real butter. In her post, she explains that there are two types of tofu sheets: Tofu pi, the skin that forms on soymilk, and is the type she uses in her grandmother’s recipe, and bai yeih, a thicker sheet of pressed tofu, which is what I bought and used. Bai yeih is tougher and less delicate to work with and results in a chewier “chicken,” but it was, alas, all I could find locally. Look for both products in the refrigerator or freezer of Asian grocers, and if you find the thin tofu pi (also called yuba) definitely follow Jennifer’s directions rather than mine. Since my bean curd sheets were thicker, I was able to handle them more roughly and cook them for a slightly longer time. The resulting “chicken” rolls were certainly chewier than they would have been with the other type of tofu skin, though my family enjoyed the texture. It’s not often that vegans get a chance to work out those jaw muscles!
The Chicago restaurant’s “Shanghai Style” version of this dish was strongly flavored with five-spice seasoning, but D and I thought it overwhelmed the dish, drowning out the mushrooms. I decided a hint of five-spice would be nice, in a sauce that we could add or not add to taste, so after making the rolls, I used the little bit of sauce and mushroom filling that was left over as the base for a simple 5-spice sauce, which we dabbed on the rolls as we ate them. E wasn’t a fan of the sauce, but she loved the rolls; in fact, she and D kept snacking on them from the time I made them right up until dinner time. We all liked them so much that we decided to eat the rest of them as the main course with some stir-fried bok choy and rice on the side. Our jaws got quite a workout, but our taste buds were happy.
Chinese Vegetarian Chicken with Simple Five-Spice Sauce
Adapted from a recipe by Jennifer Yu
To reduce the sodium, use low-sodium soy sauce and vegetable broth.
- 1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon ginger-root, minced
- 1 package bean curd sheets (about 12 sheets, 10.5 ounces)
- 1/3 cup soy sauce (plus 3 tbsp. water)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/8 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/2 cup vegetable broth or “unchicken” broth
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1/8 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon arrowroot dissolved in 3 teaspoons water
Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl and cover them with boiling water. Allow them to soak until the mushrooms are totally rehydrated. Remove the stems and chop the caps into small pieces. (If you have fresh shiitake mushrooms, use about 1 cup, sliced, and skip the soaking.)
Heat a non-stick saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and ginger along with a couple of drops of sesame oil. Cook for about 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms and cook for another minute. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool. (If using fresh mushrooms, cook until mushrooms soften.)
Add the soy sauce, 3 tablespoons of water, and the sugar to the pan, and cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the 1/2 cup water and sesame oil.
Remove the thawed bean curd sheets from the package and rinse gently under running water. Set aside the 4 best-looking (not torn) sheets, and cover them with plastic wrap. Tear the others into quarters, and add them to the sauce in the pan. Make sure all sheets are covered and allow to soak for about 15 minutes.
Dry off one of the full sheets, and lay it out on your work surface. Brush both sides of it with some of the sauce (the easiest way is to use a few of the soaking sheets to wipe on the sauce). With a short edge closest to you, place a quarter of the soaking sheets in a line about an inch from the bottom edge, leaving about an inch free on each side. Spoon a line of the mushroom mixture on top of the filling sheets, and cover with another 1/4 of the sheets, tucking them around the mushrooms to enclose.
Bring the bottom edge over the filling, and fold each of the sides over about an inch. Roll up tightly. Place another sheet on the work surface, wipe it down with a little sauce, and put your roll on top of it. Roll it up in this second sheet, sealing the edge with a sprinkling of cornstarch. Set aside and repeat with remaining ingredients to form two rolls. (If you have leftover mushrooms, keep them to use in the Five-Spice Sauce.)
Heat a large non-stick skillet. Spray it lightly with vegetable oil and add the rolls. Brown well on all sides, turning as needed. Use a chopstick to poke holes on two sides of each of the rolls (about 6 holes per side). Pour the remaining sauce over the top of the rolls, cover, and simmer on low heat for about 8 minutes. Turn and cook on other side for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the rolls to cool in the sauce before cutting into slices about 1/2-inch thick and serving.
To make the Five-Spice Sauce:
Put any leftover mushroom mixture into the pan with any remaining sauce. Add all sauce ingredients except for the arrowroot/water mixture. Bring to a simmer, add the arrowroot mixture, and cook, stirring, until thickened. Serve warm with the “chicken” rolls.
Note: If you are making the 5-Spice Sauce by itself, start by sautéing 1 tsp. minced ginger and 1 clove minced garlic in the sesame oil for 30 seconds. Then begin the recipe from there.
Preparation time: 30 minute(s)
Cooking time: 30 minute(s)
Number of servings: 6
Yield: about 30 slices
Nutrition (per serving, about 5 slices): 204 calories, 19 calories from fat, 2g total fat, 0mg cholesterol, 891mg sodium, 110.2mg potassium, 40.7g carbohydrates, 2.7g fiber, 10.1g sugar, 5.5g protein, 3.7 points.
Nutrition analysis is approximate and will vary depending on exact ingredients used. Though MyPoints are calculated using a formula similar to Weight Watchers Points TM, this site has no affiliation with Weight Watchers and does not guarantee the accuracy of this information.