Making meatless chicken drumsticks

By Ian Lau

Roast until browned and then quickly serve with Thai chilli sauce.- LAW LAY PHON/The StarRoast until browned and then quickly serve with Thai chilli sauce.- LAW LAY PHON/The Star

Last week, I shared a recipe for grilled chicken wings.

This week, I’ve taken a vegetarian approach, with drumsticks crafted from tofu skin.

Thanks to their resemblance to real chicken, these drumsticks have gained popularity in vegetarian restaurants, supermarkets and specialty stores.

This meatless version consists of layers of “fu pei” (tofu skin) wrapped around a stick of sugar cane or popsicle stick.

The tofu skin layers are lightly marinated, usually with plant-based stock powder or soy cheese, to replicate the flavour of chicken.

The soy cheese used is of the white “fu yee” (fermented beancurd) variety, distinct from the red “nam yee” beancurd marinated in brine that includes red yeast rice.

This kitchen staple from my childhood adds umami flavour to the drumstick.

Whilst making the drumstick isn’t too complex, newcomers may find the process slightly challenging due to the tension needed to tightly wrap the tofu strips around the sugar cane stick.

Excessive tension can cause strips − which soften in marinade − to break.

Also, as the drumstick takes shape, the strips may bunch up instead of being spread out to neatly seal the inner layers.

To prevent the drumsticks from unravelling during cooking, chill them for about an hour to allow the starches to set.

While roasting minimises movement during cooking, basting with oil achieves a crispy outside and moist inside.

Deep-frying is recommended for the crispiest result, though I personally prefer roasting for a healthier option.

Alternatively, use an air fryer.

Vegetarian drumsticksMarinade2 cubes fu yee soy cheese

¼ cup cold water

3 tbsp cornstarch

½ tsp sugar

1 tsp salt to taste

1 tsp garlic powder

½ tsp black pepper

¼ tsp five-spice powder

5 sheets tofu skin, soaked in 3 cups cold water, then squeezed dry

1 stalk fresh sugar cane, about 30cm long


2 tbsp cornstarch

1 tbsp cold water

Glaze1 tbsp cold water

1 tsp honey, or maple syrup as a vegan substitute

1 tsp dark soy sauce

2 tsp light soy sauce

4 tbsp peanut oil


In a large bowl, whisk the soy cheese until disintegrated.

Then add water and continue whisking until dissolved.

Whisk in cornstarch, sugar, salt, garlic powder, black pepper and five-spice powder until combined.

Unfold the tofu skins and cut into strips of about 3cm to 5cm wide.

Soak the strips in water in a large basin to reconstitute, then squeeze them dry and toss them into the large bowl of marinade until well coated.

Peel the sugar cane, split it into rods of about 1cm thick and then cut the rods into 12 sticks of about 10cm long.

Mix the adhesive of cornstarch and water in a small bowl to coat the sugar cane sticks.

Wrap the sticks with strips of tofu skin, using a bit of tension to create tight layers, overlapping the strips to build the shape of a drumstick, leaving bare one end of the cane as a handle.

When the shape is almost complete, spread out the last strip of tofu skin to seal the inside layers.

Continue wrapping the remaining sticks until the strips are used up.

Individually wrap the drumsticks in cling film, tightly twisting the ends to compact the tofu skin layers.

Leave to marinate in the chiller for 30 minutes to one hour, until firm.

In a small bowl, mix water, honey and soy sauces into a glaze.

Unwrap the chilled drumsticks and place them on a roasting rack.

Brush glaze on all sides of the drumsticks, allowing it to soak in and then repeat until finished.

Brush two tablespoons of peanut oil on the drumsticks before roasting in a preheated oven at 250°C for 10 minutes until golden.

Remove from the oven, flip over and glaze again with another two tablespoons of peanut oil, then roast for another 5 minutes until browned and lightly singed.

Serve immediately with Thai chilli sauce.

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