Pan-fried tofu blocks stuffed with a pork and shrimp filling, and served with an umami-rich sauce, Hakka style stuffed tofu is delightful to eat.
I came across this stuffed tofu dish at a cooking class in Beijing during a Culinary Tour of China that I organised for my blog readers a few years ago. I fell in love with it as I adore tofu (aka bean curd) and love all things with fillings.
Later I learned that this is a classic dish from Hakka Cuisine (客家菜) which has its roots in Southern China. Tofu blocks are carved out in the centre and stuffed with a meat-based filling. They’re then pan-fried to a golden colour and dressed with a glossy sauce.
It takes care and patience to prepare this dish. But believe me. The taste is worth the effort!
Prepare a tasty filling
Like making Chinese dumplings, a good filling is key to the success of this stuffed tofu dish. It should taste tender but not overly wet and have a well-balanced flavour.
I choose to have a mixture of minced pork and shrimp, like my favourite filling for Shumai. You could use only pork, or beef/chicken if you wish, like how you stuff Shanghai pan-fried pork buns. Alternatively, use only shrimp if you enjoy the filling for dim sum classic Har Gow.
It’s nice to add a touch of vegetables to the filling. I use shiitake mushrooms, one of my favourite ingredients for dumpling fillings.
Use the dried version if available. Rehydrate them in water until plump. Don’t discard the tea-like water after soaking. You can use it later when making the sauce.
To season the filling, add minced ginger, light soy sauce, sesame oil, cornstarch and a little sugar.
Simply mix everything mentioned above until a well-combined, sticky mass appears. Set aside and move on to the next step.
What type of tofu to use
Firm tofu works best for Hakka style stuffed tofu since it’s less fragile and retains its structure well while handling. It’s the same type I use to cook Sichuan Braised Tofu.
Medium-firm tofu could work but you might find it challenging to deal with if this is your first time to try it.
I highly recommend you purchase tofu made by a Chinese/Asian brand or sold in Chinese/Asian stores. The tofu found in many mainstream supermarkets in the vegan/vegetarian section is often too crumbly or lacks a good texture.
🛎 NOTE: Avoid using silken tofu (绢豆腐) which isn’t pressed and breaks easily. Regardless of its firmness, if the word “silken tofu” appears on the package, it’s not the one you need for this recipe (Want to know how to use this type of tofu? Check out my recipe for Silken Tofu Salad).
Carve the tofu
First, cut the tofu into chunky blocks. There isn’t a set rule on sizes but you need to make sure they’re thick enough to be hollowed out for adding the filling. For your reference, each of my tofu blocks measures around 2½ cm/1 inch in thickness.
Now you need to free space in the middle of the block for the filling. If you don’t care too much about the appearance, simply use a small spoon to scoop out the centre.
Or, if you prefer a neat look, follow my ways: Use the tip of a knife to cut out a square/rectangle halfway through the tofu. Then scoop out the middle piece with a spoon (as shown in the image above).
No matter how you achieve the goal, be careful not to break or tear the sides as they help the filling to stay in place.
Stuff the tofu
Hold the tofu in one hand with your fingers supporting the sides (as shown in the image above). Gently push a spoonful of the filling into the hollowed out centre. It’s fine if some filling bulges out slightly.
Pan-fry the tofu
Once you’ve finished assembly, heat a good layer of cooking oil in a frying pan/skillet (non-stick ones are easier to work with for this recipe). Put in the tofu blocks with the stuffed side facing down.
Fry over medium-low heat until the filling turns golden. Flip over to fry the other side.
Then stand the blocks up to brown all the sides (this is an optional step since the stuffed tofu is already fully cooked).
The pan-frying process takes 10-15 minutes depending on the quality of your cookware and the level of heat.
Alternatively, use an air-fryer to replace pan-frying (like the option I introduced for Salt and Pepper Tofu). Spray a layer of oil over all sides of the stuffed tofu. Preheat the air-fryer at 200°C/390°F. Fry in a single layer for about 12 minutes.
Make a flavourful sauce
You could eat the stuffed tofu right after pan-frying as it is. But to make it even tastier, cook a quick sauce to serve with.
Fry some minced garlic in a little oil. Then add a mixture of light soy sauce, oyster sauce, cornstarch, white pepper, sugar and the mushroom water you saved earlier.
Turn off the heat and use the remaining heat of the pan to thicken the sauce while stirring constantly to avoid lumps.
When the sauce becomes thick enough to coat the spoon, pour it over the stuffed tofu. Garnish with scallions and serve!
Stuffed Tofu, Hakka Style (客家酿豆腐)
BEFORE YOU START
For the filling
- 80 g minced pork, about 3 oz
- 80 g minced shrimp , about 3 oz(see note 1 )
- 2 large dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated and minced, keep the soaking water for making the sauce
- ¼ teaspoon minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- ¼ teaspoon sesame oil
- ½ teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 pinch sugar
For the tofu
- 600 g firm tofu, about 1.3 lbs (see note 2)
- 3 tablespoon neutral cooking oil
For the sauce
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 pinch ground white pepper
- 1 pinch sugar
- Scallions, finely chopped, for garnishing
Prepare the filling
- In a bowl, mix all the ingredients for the filling until they become a well-combined, sticky mass (remember to save the water in which the mushrooms are soaked for later use).
Stuff the tofu
- Take the tofu out of the container. Pat dry the surface with kitchen paper. Then slice it into square or rectangle blocks. Make sure they are thick enough to hold some filling (For your reference, my blocks are about 2½ cm/1 inch thick).
- Use the tip of a knife to cut out a square/rectangle halfway through the tofu. Then scoop out the middle piece with a spoon making room for the filling.
- Stuff each block of hollowed out tofu with the filling. It’s ok if it sticks out a little.
Fry the tofu
- Pour oil into a frying pan/skillet over medium heat. Place in the tofu blocks with the stuffed side facing down. Fry until the top of the filling browns nicely.
- With the help of a spatula or chopsticks, flip and turn the tofu blocks to lightly brown all other sides (It takes 10-15 minutes in total). Then transfer them to a serving plate.
Make the sauce
- Discard the remaining oil in the pan leaving just a thin coating. Over low heat, fry garlic until fragrant.
- While waiting for the garlic, mix light soy sauce, oyster sauce, cornstarch, white pepper and sugar with 5 tablespoons of the mushroom water saved from step 1.
- Stir the mixture very well then pour into the pan. Turn off the heat and use the remaining heat of the pan to thicken the sauce (stir constantly with a spoon/spatula to avoid lumps).
- When it reaches the desired consistency (just thick enough to coat the spoon), pour over the stuffed tofu. Garnish with scallions and serve with steamed rice.