A chef once told me to ‘work smart, not hard’, a philosophy I have tried to keep in mind every time I am in the kitchen. I gravitate towards low effort, high reward cooking, and look for meals that can easily be turned into something else. Think roast chicken which can then be added to leave, a jackpot of tomato sauce to mix with pasta or to serve as a base for a soup, or that Chinese braising broth that is used not once, but over and over again.
This broth is the basis of a braising technique called soup of flavors (“lu” in Mandarin) originating in the province of Chaozhou, where goose and tofu in a jar of flavors are a specialty. What sets flavor stuffing apart from other slow cooking methods is the broth it calls for, called “the main sauce” in China. Made with rice wine, Shaoxing cooking wine (a particularly tasty and flavorful wine, also made from rice), soy sauce, sugar and an assortment of hot spices including star anise, whole cloves, black cardamom and cassia bark—The broth is deeply flavored, halfway between a tasty sauce and a sweet and spicy tea.
According to Kho, the author of the regional Chinese cookbook Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees, famous stores and restaurants known for their flavors in China “take pride in the age of their braising broth, cooking with a” century-old broth “that has been passed down through generations in their home kitchens.” While cooking, more chicken broth, soy sauce or water is added to replenish the evaporated liquid, and the cycle continues. Although not fermented, the master broth is reminiscent of the old sourdough starters or the vinegar mothers, or the solera system used to age sherry, with each new batch carrying some of its past incarnations.
Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees
$ 27.00, Amazon
Throughout my childhood, my parents almost always had a main pot of broth in the fridge, which they kept on hand for easy and versatile dinners. We can always count on the flavor soup for a quick lunch or effortless dinner. Sometimes it was eggs boiled in the main broth, and other times it was tofu or poultry, served with rice and steamed vegetables. If we ate at a restaurant in Chaozhou, we would order goose or other slices of meat braised in the sauce, dishes that we usually didn’t cook at home.
Kho notes that it is more common to flavor “hard pieces of meat such as pork or beef knuckle, pig’s trotters, beef tendons and chicken or duck feet”, as well as the innards. , gizzards, tofu, poultry and peanuts. While not traditional, more substantial root vegetables like carrots, parsnips and turnips would also be delicious. After the food is cooked and served, the broth is filtered, cooled and kept cool. With each use, fresh spices are added and the flavor of the broth intensifies. To ensure the freshness of the broth, it is essential to bring it to a boil once a month, or to keep it in the freezer until its next use.
I wasn’t quite ready to sacrifice precious refrigerator space for an entire goose during a pandemic, but a firm tofu block was perfectly doable. It had been years since I had eaten flavored food in a jar; under the false impression that it was difficult and time consuming to prepare, I only ate it when I visited my family. Put on an apron and roll up my sleeves, I was pleasantly surprised to find out how simple it was – an even simpler process than the easiest braised on weekdays. I took Kho’s advice and fried ginger, garlic, green onions and lemongrass, and when they were golden and fragrant, I added the rest of the ingredients for the sauce: broth of chicken, soy sauce, wine, sugar and spices.
As the sauce simmered, I turned my attention to the tofu. Thanks to Kho, I learned that the secret to making evenly browned tofu was to fry it at 395 ° F for a full five minutes. Once the tofu is golden and drained on paper towels, return it to the pan with the broth and simmer for 30 minutes. It is left to marinate a little, then served at room temperature.
Kho’s sauce was delicious and deeply flavorful even the first time it was used, but I know it will only get better over time. As I strained my broth to store in the fridge, I was already looking forward to the next time I brought it to a simmer. If the best kind of cooking is to work smart and not hard, then I can’t think of a smarter technique. After all, you brew a broth once and you prepare for, well, forever.
Chaozhou flavored tofuKian Lam Kho
Originally appeared on epicurean