This dish is one of our family favorites! Fresh tofu sheets are sliced and fried with strips of pork, garlic, and peppers to create a beautiful stir-fry (qiānzhang ròusī, 千张肉丝) that’s also a well-known homestyle dish from Hubei province. It’s very special to me!
What is Hubei food like?
Having spent some of my younger years in Hubei, I have a lot of love for Hubei cuisine, which is known for freshwater fish dishes, steamed dishes, and long simmered soups. Here are some other popular dishes from the region that we’ve shared over the years:
- Steamed Pork with Rice Powder
- Lotus Root and Pork Soup
- Crispy Stuffed Lotus Root
- Hot Dry Noodles (Re Gan Mian)
Like those dishes, this tofu sheet stir-fry brings me right back to my childhood.
Magical Trips to the Tofu Shop
I remember going to the tofu shop with my mother at a very young age—a place where you could observe the whole tofu making process from start to finish.
I can still vividly picture the inside of the shop. The hot steam coming off two gigantic woks with wooden lids. A stone mortar just used to mash a batch of soybeans, resting unwashed while the tofu moulds were lined up at the ready. Unsold tofu blocks sitting in wooden barrels filled with clear water. And the tofu sheets—kept damp and pliable under a large piece of wet muslin. All the while, the scent of boiling, freshly-pressed soy milk filled the cramped space.
Back then, meat was scarce, so tofu was the next best thing. A trip to the tofu shop was a happy event, and the memory of stir-fried tofu sheets with hot chilies still never fails to make me drool a little!
When we lived in Beijing, Sarah (and Kaitlin, when she was visiting) would come with me to the wet market to buy freshly made tofu from a small stall run by a husband and wife team. During that time, my daughters could finally taste the difference between fresh, small-batch tofu and the industrial stuff!
What are tofu sheets?
Tofu sheets (dòufu piàn, 豆腐片), which may sometimes also be labeled “bean curd sheets,” are a type of tofu that has been pressed and somewhat dried into thin sheets. They have a firm texture similar to spiced dry tofu and can be cut into thin strips or bite-sized pieces and used in stir-fries, cold salads, soups, and hot pots.
Over the years, I’ve searched high and low for this kind of tofu sheet in the U.S. without much success—until recently! With a better-than-ever supply of Chinese ingredients in North America, I’ve finally found these tofu sheets in our local Chinese grocery!
So what should you look for in the store? Look for a vacuum sealed package in the refrigerated tofu section of your Chinese grocery. Each sheet is about ⅛ inch thick and around 8×8 inches in size. You can make two meals with a 500g package.
Tofu sheets generally come in two varieties: plain and spiced. I always buy the spiced version for a bit of extra flavor, but if your Chinese grocery only carries the plain variety, that’s fine too!
Key Recipe Tips
Here are a few tips to successfully prepare your tofu sheets prior to cooking:
- Separate each layer before cutting the tofu sheets, so the cut pieces separate easily.
- You can soak the sheets in warm water for 5 to 10 minutes to soften them and make them easier to separate before cutting and cooking. In extreme cases, you can give them a quick dip in boiling water. Most traditional recipes include this step. I skip it since I like my tofu sheets with a little bite to them.
- A great addition to the traditional recipe is thinly sliced fresh or reconstituted Shiitake mushrooms. While it’s not authentic, I usually include mushrooms when I cook this dish at home. You decide!
- When cutting the peppers, I like to cut around the seeds and ribs, rotating the pepper as I cut, so at the end, I’m just left with the stem and the seeds/ribs still attached to discard.
You can also make a variation of this dish using shredded tofu noodles that Sarah and Kaitlin grew up on weekly, but they’re different from the texture I remembered in these tofu sheets from China.
I think I’ve tantalized you enough—let’s cook!
Chinese Tofu Sheet Stir-Fry Recipe Instructions
Julienne the meat to ¼-inch thickness. Mix the meat together with the marinade ingredients until there is no visible standing liquid. Marinate for 15-20 minutes while you prepare everything else.
Preheat the wok over high heat. When the wok starts smoking, add 2½ tablespoons oil. Immediately reduce the heat to medium, and cook the ginger for 30 seconds.
Add the garlic and cook for another 15 seconds.
Next, add in the pork. Turn the heat back up and cook for 1-2 minutes until the pork has cooked through. Resist the urge to stir too much, so the pork can brown lightly.
Reduce the heat to medium, and add ¼ teaspoon dark soy sauce. Stir-fry everything well.
Add the tofu sheets and peppers. Stir fry everything together, and season with 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine, 1 tablespoon light soy sauce, ¼ teaspoon sugar, ½ teaspoon sesame oil, and ¼ teaspoon white pepper powder.
Turn up the heat, and stir-fry everything together for 1-2 minutes. The dish is complete when the peppers are just tender, but still slightly crisp.
As you stir-fry, keep an eye on the sauce. If the food is too dry and beginning to stick or burn, add a tablespoon of water. If you end up with an excess of visible sauce, keep stir-frying with the heat on high until everything is just lightly coated in sauce.