I have talked to a friend the other day about tofu. Well, actually, we started talking about Waitrose’s food, and about the store located in Oxford. Honestly, we rarely shop in Waitrose; first, because we tend to support local markets, and we can get better prices and more varieties of food, and second because the tofu sold at Waitrose is not really suitable for Chinese cooking.
This friend (who is not Chinese) insisted that in Waitrose you can get different types of tofu, and there is no need to go to any far east shops. So, I dropped by for a check. :)
Let’s say, I am impressed with what Waitrose offers in terms of tofu varieties. I think I have tried most of them apart from the ‘blue dragon firm silken’ one, but the results have not been very satisfying. fresh Chinese (or Japanese / Korean) tofu is generally softer and ‘looser’; especially if you oil-fry it, you can see the differences. Fresh tofu becomes very ‘spongy’, and can absorb all the sauce/taste of the dish; in contrast, the kinds of tofu we can find in big supermarkets are either ‘braised’ or ‘smoked’, which makes them firm. The result is that the taste / sauce remains on the surface, which is definitely not a good thing for cooking Chinese soups, or even Chinese salad (liang cai).
However, if you do want to cook them Chinese way, it probably can be cooked like Chinese ‘Su ji’ (vegetarian chicken northeast style) , as tofu in dried and firm form, see example recipe here.
So what type tofu generally for the Chinese tofu recipes? — Firstly, you need to look for ‘fresh’ tofu. They are freshly made from soybean liquid / milk, normally the expire date is within a 5-7 days if it is in sealed package with ‘water’,for the very fresh ones without package, it needs to be cooked within a day. Second, it needs to be soft like ‘jelly’, although, it might depend on the types of tofu, (for example, southern tofu, or northern tofu, or silk tofu and so on), but definitely not the very firm and dry ones. Third, when you break it, for example, take a small piece with finger tips, and give a little press, it will ‘break’ immediately.
Hope this helps. And I am going to try ‘blue dragon firm silken’ soon, will let you know.