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Fuyu: China's Fermented Soy Bean Cheese

by Irving Beilin Chang

Sauces, Seasonings, and Spices

Summer Volume: 2002 Issue: 9(2) page(s): 9 and 10

Growing up in China, we would occasionally enjoy fuyu in our diet, but I never was interested in how it was made until one day when our family cook, Peng Si Fu, showed me how he made it from fresh dofu. His method was a typical home-industry approach, practical and logical.

He made the fuyu in the summer months when the air temperature hovered between seventy to eighty degrees Fahrenheit. What he did was to take around twenty pieces of regular bean curd and spread them around on a bamboo tray, then sun them in bright sunlight turning them ever so often, for about five or so hours. This step reduced the water content of the dofu and the sunlight killed some micro-organisms that might be on the surface of the bean curd pieces. Then he placed the dofu on a layer of straw in a covered pan ready to innoculate the dofu with microorganisms. Generally, within three days, the dofu would be covered with hairy mycellium.

At this stage, the dofu was placed in an open-mouthed jar half filled with saturated brine. After that, it was topped with some one hundred proof liquor and then sealed tight with a membrane. The brine and alcohol served to halt the growth of bad microorganisms, yet allow the enzymes to break down the protein of the dofu to form simpler and tastier amino acids. This was such that it gave the fermented dofu a delicious and seasoned taste. This process took three to four months to complete the cycle and fully ripen the fuyu.

When we had exhausted our supply of fuyu, Peng Si Fu would start a new batch. One time, when he placed the dofu on the straw, no hairy white mycelia developed. Instead, we saw small brown spots form on the dofu. This entire batch smelled terrible, but that did not deter Peng Si Fu from placing the dofu in the brine-alcohol solution to age. After aging, we all found this batch of fuyu to be the best tasting of any fuyu he had ever made.

This was 1943, when China was fighting for its life against a formidable Japanese Army more than one million strong. We lived in Guanzhou, Jiangxi, which is in the Southeast of China close to Fujian, a coastal province. This was before the atomic bomb was available and America at that time, was thinking of landing troops on that very coast so that they could help drive the Japanese army out of China.

Since my mother was American-born and my father was a Yale graduate, we had many American connections. One evening, an American major with his driver dropped in on us. He told us that he had gotten directions on how to get to our home thanks to one of the Friend’s Ambulance Service drivers.

Quakers would deliver medical supplies to missionary hospitals in China as a service. Their drivers were young American or Canadian Quakers who were conscientious objectors and they served the war effort in their own very useful way. They would always stop at our home whenever they brought medical supplies to the local missionary hospitals. Both the major and his driver were hungry for some home cooking, they had only eaten local food on this trip, most of which they were not used to.

They arrived late in the evening and they asked us if we had some home-cooked foods that they could munch on. Peng Si Fu had just baked some fresh buns, so we brought them out. I also had just made some peanut butter by grinding my own on a stone mill. I offered them to them. But the major and his driver were looking for something different. So we brought out the soy cheese or fuyu and as soon as they tasted it they loved it. What they did was to spread some fuyu lavishly on our buns and then they ate them. They said that this reminded them of cheeses from home. They did likewise with the peanut butter. They left early the next morning. Troops from the United States never landed on the Fujian coast because the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 changed all those plans.

You can find fuyu, as I do now, bottled in a dreamy white color. There is also a red colored one; it is made with a dried red harmless fungus. There are other types, some made with red chili peppers. Those flavored with red hot peppers are used mainly for those who like peppery hot food. You can try it as they did, spread on buns, or in any number of other ways.

My wife, Wonona, has selected some recipes using this typical fermented product. I hope that you will enjoy fuyu as my military guests did that night many years ago. Wonona and I hope that you will try fuyu as the soldiers did, or in any of the following or other recipes that use this tasty, though sometimes smelly product. Like some cheeses, the aroma may be strong, but the taste is mild; and it is something very special. So do use fuyu and eat and enjoy our recipes or the last recipe, the one called Chicken with Fuyu Flavor. It is a favorite of and provided by the editor.
Fried Bean Curd with Chili
4 ounces of minced or ground pork
1 teaspoon thin soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon cornstarch
3 Tablespoons corn oil
3 cloves minced garlic
2 small hot red chili peppers
2 squares fuyu also known as fermented soy bean cubes, mashed
1 Chinese leek, minced coarsely or angle-cut
1 square firm bean curd, cut into one-inch cubes
2 scallions, angle-cut into half-inch pieces
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon thick soy
1 Tablespoon vegetarian oyster sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 Tablespoon cornstarch mixed with two tablespoons cold water (optional)
1. Mix meat, soy sauce, sesame oil, and cornstarch and set aside for fifteen minutes.
2. Then, heat corn oil and fry the garlic and chili peppers for half a minute. Remove the chili peppers if you do not like your foods too hot. Then add the mashed fuyu and stir-fry for two minutes before adding the reserved meat mixture.
3. Add the rest of vegetable ingredients (the leek, bean curd, and scallions), and add the chicken stock. Bring this to the boil.
4. Add the thick soy, oyster sauce, sugar, and salt and pepper and cook for one minute. If you like a thick gravy, add the cornstarch-water mixture and cook just until it thickens, then serve.
Stewed Bean Curd with Dried Fish
1 pound silken bean curd, cut into ten pieces
1 Tablespoon Xhaoxing rice wine
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 cup corn oil
1 egg, beaten well
4 Tablespoons water chestnut or arrowroot flour
2 slices fresh ginger
2 shallots, thin sliced
2 cloves garlic, thin sliced
1/2 square fermented red fuyu, mashed
1/2 square fermented white fuyu with chili
1 Tablespoon fuyu liquid
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon mushroom soy
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 Tablespoon dried fish or shrimp, soaked in warm water for half an hour
1 Tablespoon cornstarch mixed with two tablespoons cold water
1. Mix silken tofu pieces, Xhaoxing rice wine, and the sesame oil and set aside for half an hour.
2. Heat oil in a wok. Dip pieces of marinated silken tofu in egg and deep fry them, a few at a time, until light golden; then drain them on paper towels. Remove all but one tablespoon of the oil from the wok and discard or reserve the rest for another use.
3. Heat remaining tablespoon of the oil and fry ginger, shallots, and garlic for one minute. Then add both mashed fuyu and the fuyuliquid, the chicken stock, salt and pepper, both soy sauces and the sesame oil, and the drained fish or shrimp and bring this mixture to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for three minutes.
4. Add cornstarch-water mixture and boil until thickened, then serve.
Chicken with Fuyu Flavor
1/2 chicken with the skin and bones, cut into two-inch pieces
1 Tablespoon rice wine
1 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper1 clove garlic, minced
3 slices fresh ginger, minced
1 fresh red chili pepper, seeded and minced
2 squares fuyu
1 Tablespoon liquid from the bottle of fuyu
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup minced fresh coriander
1. Put the chicken in wine, soy sauce, sesame oil and mix well. Sprinkle it with salt and pepper and set aside for fifteen minutes.
2. Remove the chicken and place it in a bowl. Put the garlic, ginger, chili pepper, and the fuyu and its liquid into the remaining marinade and mix well, then pour it over the chicken.
3. Cover the steamer, not the bowl with the chicken, and steam for fifteen minutes over boiling water.
4. Remove the chicken to a platter. Add the liquid left in the bowl to a small pot. Bring it to a boil, then mix the cornstarch with four tablespoons of cold water and stir into to the boiling liquid, stirring until it thickens. Pour this over the chicken, garnish with the coriander, and serve.

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