Chinese Vegetarian Chicken with Simple Five-Spice Sauce

by on May 4, 2010
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Chinese Vegetarian Chicken

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)…

Vegetarian Beancurd Sheets

…beancurd sheets.

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

Chinese Vegetarian Chicken with Simple Five-Spice Sauce

Adapted from a recipe by Jennifer Yu

(printer-friendly version)–or–(printer-friendly version with photos)

To reduce the sodium, use low-sodium soy sauce and vegetable broth.

Ingredients

  • 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

Five-Spice Sauce:

  • 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

Instructions

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.

Laying out the tofu sheets and filling them

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.

Rolling...

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.)

Rolled and ready to cook

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 Facts:

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.

Chinese Vegetarian Chicken

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{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Trish May 4, 2010 at 10:09 am

These look amazing! I’m definitely going to have to try them for myself. Thanks, Susan!

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2 Coco @ Opera Girl Cooks May 4, 2010 at 10:17 am

These sound so great! I’ve never cooked with bean curd sheets before, but now it doesn’t seem too daunting. Thanks very much for being adventurous and showing how to use this ingredient =)

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3 Ry Sal May 4, 2010 at 10:50 am

This looks so yummy! I can’t wait to try it… I may modify to make it more kid friendly… if so, would you mind if I publish it on Will’s Kitchen and link to this post, giving you proper credit? I’d also like to add you to our blogroll as we visit your site often! PS – I follow you on twitter as forthebirdsblog.

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4 SusanV May 4, 2010 at 11:20 am

Ry Sal, if you adapt the recipe, feel free to post your version and photos. The usual blogger etiquette is that if you adapt it, you can post your version, but if you make it exactly the same, just post a link to the original along with your own photos.

Also, be sure to link back to Jen’s original recipe, since this one is adapted from that one.

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5 Kalynskitchen May 4, 2010 at 10:52 am

I remember that food blogger meet-up! Looks like you nailed it on re-creating this recipe.

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6 Linda Hart May 4, 2010 at 11:12 am

These look yummy and I want to make them, however, this sounds like the assembly & cooking would take a few hours. Was it really time consuming?

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7 SusanV May 4, 2010 at 11:25 am

All together, it probably took two hours, though that was not 2 straight hours working, but with soaking time included (during which I was doing other things). Also, I allowed them to cool in the pan before slicing and making the sauce, so I needed to make them far enough in advance to allow time for that. But it was a stormy Saturday afternoon (notice the dark photos) and I didn’t have any other plans.

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8 Sheri D. Maple May 4, 2010 at 11:34 am

Thanks for the sharing this recipe. I was wondering if you could cook this recipe in the oven as well?

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9 Amity May 4, 2010 at 12:42 pm

I have two packages of this brand (and a 3rd different brand) in the freezer. I’ve been wondering what to do with them. Thank you! I will try this tonight and post back how they turned out.

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10 moonwatcher May 4, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Hi Susan,

These look fabulous-and they made me laugh because I’ve had my own quest trying to find those bean curd sheets a couple of Thanksgivings ago when I had hoped to make one of Bryanna’s “turkey” recipes with them–they were not to be found in the area then, even at the Asian grocer in the next town, because his supplier was out of stock. So I have yet to learn how to work with them, but if I can find them again, this recipe might be just the ticket. They remind me of something my Chinese friends back in high school used to bring to gathering–something called Bow (probably not speeling it right, but it is pronouned like taking a bow), which were steamed buns with a similar kind of filling in terms of the seasonings. Oh, they were good. Anyway, glad you got around to sharing this one with us. It’s beautiful!!

moonwatcher

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11 Chana May 4, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Do you think this would work with rice wrappers?

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12 joey May 4, 2010 at 1:13 pm

I have never heard of Bean Curd Sheets, where does one buy them?
Joey

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13 Christina May 4, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Susan, our largest Asian market carries at least three types of “bean curd sheets”, but I think they are all made out of yuba (the skin from soymilk). One version is frozen rectangles, like what you used here, another is big, round, frozen sheets, and the type I use, which are dried rectangular sheets. They also have dried bean curd sticks, which are pieces of the yuba that have been folded up into hollow tubes, which many vegans have used to make ribs like this: http://www.veganrepresent.com/forums/showthread.php?t=3086

These look so great! I’m a sucker for anything with shiitakes.

Moonwatcher, the steamed, filled buns are called bao. Many Asian markets will have these in the freezer section, along with the gyoza and eggrolls, and often, there are vegan versions, with fillings like water chestnuts and spinach, spinach and shiitake, lotus seed puree, or chestnut puree.

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14 joanne May 4, 2010 at 4:37 pm

I was wondering if there is a printer friendly way of printing this recipe with the pictures! those pics are important!

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15 SusanV May 5, 2010 at 7:39 am

I’m working on getting a print-with-photos option added. Check back soon!

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16 Kelly Jaxin May 14, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Hi Joanne! What I usually do when I want to save a recipe with the pictures (Which is often on Susan’s site!) would be to copy and paste the entire thing, including the photos in to Microsoft Word (or another Word-Type program, such as Open Office Writer, which is free! ). :) Then I can manipulate it if need be, add my own notes, or change the size of or delete some photos.

I collect all of my recipes that way and organize them in folders by recipe type. I love it.

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17 Renee May 4, 2010 at 9:30 pm

oo-oo-oo!!! I can’t wait to make these. I will have to go back down to the big international market and look for these. My husband will be so excited – it has been years since we’ve had these. We also had ours back in Chicago. But I am gluten free so can’t eat those. I will be making our gluten free! yea!!!

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18 Jenn (Jenn's Menu and Lifestyle Blog) May 4, 2010 at 11:11 pm

That looks incredible! I love Asian flavors, but I’ve never heard of bean curd paper? It looks very chewy, like a wonton. Yum :)

Jenn

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19 SusanV May 5, 2010 at 7:39 am

It’s chewy, but not really like a wonton–drier and hard to describe. More (dare I say it?) meaty.

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20 Lex May 5, 2010 at 1:20 am

I’m going to give this a roll w/o the sesame oil, and try a veggie mix in the middle

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21 Tebonin May 5, 2010 at 4:12 am

So lucky that you can find it in Chicago, I can not find it in Melbourne’s china town. Also, this is the first time I have seen a western chief knows this dish. Love you.

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22 Bex May 5, 2010 at 11:57 am

these are beautiful. i love asian cuisine and am so excited to see another post on these wonderful flavors! yum! next shopping trip and i’m getting the ingredients to make these!

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23 Amity May 5, 2010 at 4:46 pm

I made these last night and they turned out beautifully!!! My eight year old loved them and my husband could not stop eating them. They made a great lunch today too. Thank you!

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24 Justus May 6, 2010 at 11:52 am

I made them today with a sauted onion filling instead of the mushrooms and they turned out great.

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25 SP May 6, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Hi Susan!

This looks fabulous. Thanks for posting it.

I was wondering though; since you posted 2 grams of total fat in the nutrition info, I’m assuming that most of that comes from the bean curd sheets themselves. Am I correct?

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26 SusanV May 6, 2010 at 6:09 pm

That’s right. 1.5 grams of fat comes from the bean curd sheets, and .5 comes from the other ingredients, mostly the sesame oil.

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27 jess May 7, 2010 at 12:59 pm

I love bean curd sheets and think this is entirely fascinating! And I’m with you on the delayed blogging…glad you posted it!

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28 Kat May 8, 2010 at 10:16 am

Will have to try these as we live in Shanghai and definitely have access to the bean curd sheets, but have lacked the knowledge of how to use them. The veggie restaurants around here serve versions of this, but call it vegetarian duck and serve it cold with a sesame chili oil for dipping.

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29 Cath May 8, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Do you think this recipe might work with ingredients other than mushrooms as the center filling? I’m allergic to mushrooms, but like the sound of everything else here.

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30 SusanV May 8, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Cath, the filling is completely optional and can be whatever you like (or left out completely.)

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31 Vegan Newlyweds May 10, 2010 at 7:24 pm

You know, this dish would not be my first choice for dinner on paper. Then, you look at your photos, and it changes the game completely! This dish will definitely make our ‘short list’. Maybe we will feature it (with a hat tip of course) and tell the world how much we loved it!

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32 Lisa May 10, 2010 at 8:03 pm

That looks great! I can’t wait to try this recipe….mmmmmm.

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33 Mega May 12, 2010 at 5:30 am

Hi Susan,

I’m in Reno, NV. Just wondering where to buy the bean curd sheet? Maybe I can buy it from online as well? Thanks

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34 SusanV May 12, 2010 at 7:58 am

I’m not sure you’ll find them online because they’re perishable. If you have an Asian grocery store there, look for them in the freezer section. There’s also a dried bean curd sheet, but the texture is much more chewy and the directions to use them would be different.

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35 Polly May 28, 2010 at 11:37 pm

Mega,
The Japanese grocery store on Kitske has a great selection. If they don’t have it, they can usually order for you. And then there’s always Whole Paycheck, um, Whole Foods.

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36 whatiwore May 13, 2010 at 8:34 pm

Oh my goodness, these look so good! Thanks for sharing!

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37 Leonie May 17, 2010 at 8:02 am

I made these for dinner a few days back. I added finely chopped carrots to the filling to increase the vitamin content and vary the texture, and this worked well I thought. My partner refused to try them however, because he was wary about the bean curd sheets (not quite tofu – which he has only just brought himself to eat, after several years of intense sulking, coercion and persuasion – and not quite lasagne either, but some strange beast in between.) I ate them for the next few days for lunch, dinner – even just straight from the fridge when I was feeling peckish (they’re quite nice cold, actually.)

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38 Juanita May 27, 2010 at 6:23 pm

Live in your town Susan, and went to Sweet and Sour grocery. They didn’t know what I was talking about when I told her about the bean curd sheets. Where do I buy them? Can’t wait to make this:) Thanks

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39 SusanV May 27, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Hey Juanita–Sorry Sweet and Sour didn’t have them. I bought mine at Van Hung, on Hwy. 51 in Ridgeland. It’s been a while, but I’ve bought them there twice so they probably still have them.

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40 Becca June 25, 2010 at 9:49 am

These look great! I finally found bean curd sheets after a very long search here (and turned up a goldmine of vegan treats at the Asian market). My only problem is that I’m possibly the only vegan in the world who hates mushrooms.
Any other filling ideas? My brain is just not working in cooking mode today.

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41 SusanV June 25, 2010 at 10:08 am

Becca, believe me, you’re not the only vegan who doesn’t like mushrooms! Since I DO like them and use them in so many recipes, I hear from a lot of people who hate them and want replacements. I think you could substitute almost anything that you like here, but I would probably try it with shredded cabbage that has been lightly stir-fried. And maybe through a little diced carrot in with it. :)

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42 Becca June 25, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Perfect! That sounds delicious. Thank you. :)

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43 michele July 12, 2010 at 4:56 am

For the anti-mushroom folks above, a popular vegetarian appetizer in Hong Kong Szechuan restaurants also made with beancurd wrappers is called “beancurd rolls”. The filling is a mixture of vegetables cut into matchsticks then lightly stir-fried (they should still have a bite, but not be crunchy or mushy) in a dark sauce (similar the the one above). Instead of the layers of wrapper there is just a single wrapping, then they are fried just to get a little color (not crispness — the wrappers are chewy, sort of like thinly pressed egg or a crepe, not crispy like an egg roll). You definitely want the thin wrappers. Delicious — one of my favorite Chinese dishes.

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44 Basil July 21, 2010 at 9:35 am

I have created quite a few of your recipes so far, and this one I have made twice! They have all been outstanding. I love how they are all really healthy too.
The chicken rolls are also quite fun to make, and eat…

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45 ms_min December 21, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Just tried this and it was very tasty! Next time I’ll chop the mushrooms more finely (maybe even whir them in the food processor), and I’ll also try harder to make a tighter roll. I tried, but I guess not hard enough…LOL. Guess I need to practice! I found the bean curd sheets in the fresh section of a local Asian grocery store–they were giant and round so I first folded them into a rectangle before I rolled them, which was a good thing because it made them more sturdy for the rolling. I’ll definitely make this again!

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46 LT February 2, 2011 at 7:46 pm

I just made this for dinner -
1. It was unbelievably easy.
2. My carnivorous partner loved it.
3. It looks like it should cost a lot to make, but it was on the cheap side.

I’m thinking I might try some kind of orange sauce next time, instead of the five-spice.

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47 easy vegetarian recipes May 23, 2011 at 6:19 am

how much preparation time to cook this dish? You really present your dishes well.

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48 Will January 26, 2012 at 11:32 am

Usually, this is considered vegetarian goose (or duck). The Shanghai style vegetarian chicken is a round shaped chewy kind of tofu, which is also great (usually just cooked with a simple brown sauce and dressed with some sesame oil).

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49 Alejandra May 24, 2013 at 2:10 pm

This looks soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo good…

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