The lighter colored pack is 豆干 (dòu gān), the super firm kind I like to use in dishes like caramelized tofu. The other was new to me, and intrigued me because the name on the packaging: 啤酒肉片 (píjiǔ ròupiàn) literally reads as “Beer Meat Slices.” I know the character for “meat” in Chinese can also mean the flesh of any food, from pigs to pineapples to tofu. But the “beer” part I couldn’t figure out, since it wasn’t listed as one of the ingredients.
Nor did it taste much like beer. Then again, Chinese beers themselves don’t taste much like beer. (So either it really was cooked with a Tsingdao-like hop-less concoction, or the marketers were desperately trying to find an appealing name.) Either way, the tofu was fried, and although it didn’t taste like beer it had the nice slightly sweet flavor and meaty texture I wanted for noodles with hot bean sauce.
These days, I’m on a roll making porky dishes vegetarian. The tofu was a good substitute for minced pork, which is what is more traditionally usually in this type of noodles. If your friendly local Chinese market doesn’t have fried tofu, just use the firmest tofu you can find.
The main element of this dish is the sauce, a salty and spicy paste that’s a staple in Chinese cooking. Purists use fermented black beans instead, but the paste is much more widely available outside of China. I use a good amount of paste, but you can always tone down the spiciness by using less.
*Computer update: I spent my whole weekend running around buying cables, haggling with vendors over prices for hard drives, and ripping apart my computer. I am a complete technophobe, but Jacob still had me help him remove and keep track of about 1,000 microscopic screws. But…success! With a new hard drive I can hopefully squeeze some more months out of 3-year-old iBook.
That is, if I can manage to keep hot bean sauce and other errant sauces away from the keyboard. I really should stop eating in front of my laptop.
Noodles with Hot Bean Sauce
- 1/2 pound dried egg noodles
- 3 tablespoons Chinese hot bean paste (also called soybean paste with chili)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Splash of peanut or vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons freshly minced ginger
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 6 to 8 ounces extra firm tofu (preferably fried tofu or tofu skin)
- 2 tablespoons chopped scallion
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- Cook the egg noodles in a medium pot of salted boiling water until al dente. This will take about 5 minutes, and the noodles will be done by the time you need to put mix them with the finished sauce.
- In a small bowl, mix together the hot bean paste with sugar; set aside.
- In a hot wok, swirl in the peanut oil. Add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tofu and stir-fry for a minute or 2. Scrape in the hot bean mixture and continue cooking for another 2 minutes. Stir in the scallions and turn off heat.
- Drain the egg noodles and toss with sesame oil. Mix noodles into the wok and stir until well-coated with hot bean sauce. Divide into individual bowls and serve.
Adapted from Jeremy Leung of Shanghai’s Whampoa Club, via Gourmet.com