Tofu pipa the stuff of legends

Ingredients for pipa tofu includes shrimp and ground chicken or pork, but they may be omitted if you want a vegetarian option.

PIPA tofu is one of those dishes many would have eaten before but didn’t know its name.

It is pear-shaped like the ancient Chinese musical instrument, the pipa or lute, and is often associated with one of China’s legendary beauties, Xi Shi, who was said to have enjoyed it as her favourite dish.

It is also one of those dishes that consists of simple ingredients but involves many steps.

The first is to chop up the ingredients before grinding them into a paste, which is then steamed in porcelain soup spoons.

Cooking oil needs to be brushed over the spoons so the tofu patties can be removed easily after steaming.

Check the heat and duration of steaming as the patties can get hard and coarse if overcooked.

This batch can make about 40 pieces of tofu patties. The condensation from the steaming process will create steamed juices that can be saved to make the gravy.

After the patties cool down, they are dipped in egg wash and rolled in flour before deep-frying.

I also stuck a coriander leaf to the top of each patty to enhance its appearance before frying.

As the tofu has been steamed, it needs to be fried until crispy with a light golden colour.

Fry in batches so as not to overcrowd the wok.

Some people will omit the steaming process and use two spoons to quenelle the tofu patties, then drop them immediately into the hot oil to fry.

The patties can be eaten on their own as an appetiser, but restaurants usually serve the dish dressed with a gravy enriched with scallops and chicken stock.

Add in the steamed juices to the gravy and drizzle in leftover egg wash after turning off the heat.

A vegetarian option can be made by omitting the chicken and shrimp in the tofu patty, and the scallops and chicken stock in the gravy.

Vegans may substitute each egg with two tablespoons of ground flaxseed.

Pipa tofu

Tofu patties2 blocks soft tofu

100g minced chicken

100g prawns, shelled

3 dried shiitake mushroom,

soaked and diced

1 stalk scallion, minced

2 sprigs coriander leaves plucked

and stems minced

½ stalk carrot, shredded

1 egg

1 tbsp cornstarch

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tbsp light soy sauce

½ tbsp sugar

½ tsp salt to taste

1 tsp white pepper to taste

Frying batter2 eggs

5 tbsp rice flour

5 tbsp cornstarch

4 cups cooking oil

Gravy2 tbsp cooking oil

1 knob ginger, finely minced

2 bulbs shallots, finely minced

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

10g dried scallop, soaked in ½ cup water and shredded

1 tbsp Shaoxing wine

1 tsp cornstarch

1 tbsp scallop sauce

1 tbsp concentrated chicken stock

1 tsp sugar

½ cup cold water

salt and pepper to taste

Garnish1 stalk garlic chives

1 sprig coriander, plucked

1 red chilli, finely diced

MethodBlend all the patty ingredients in a food processor into a fine paste.

It will be wet but should hold its shape. If it is too liquid, add a bit more cornstarch.

Lightly brush spoons with oil. Pour tofu patty into the spoon, moulding it into shape until it resembles a pipa, or Chinese lute.

Steam the patties in the spoons on a plate over high medium for 5 minutes until firm.

When cool, remove from spoons and repeat with remaining patty dough. Reserve the steamed juices in the plate for the gravy.

Heat the cooking oil over high heat for deep-frying. Whisk the egg in a bowl.

In a separate bowl, sift together cornstarch and rice flour. Dip the cooked patty in egg, roll in the flour until fully coated, then place a coriander leaf on top of the patty.

Deep-fry battered patties in batches until light golden. Arrange fried patties on a serving platter.

In a bowl, combine steam juices, cornstarch, scallop sauce, chicken stock, sugar and water into a slurry.

Heat oil in a frying pan, and sauté ginger, shallots and garlic until wilted.

Deglaze with wine, then add scallops with its soaking liquid. Add cornstarch slurry and bring to a boil.

Turn off the heat and drizzle in the leftover egg from the frying


Season with salt and pepper, and dress over tofu patties.

Garnish with coriander, garlic chives and red chillies, and serve immediately.

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