Vegetarian Chinese restaurants do this weird thing where the menu is in categories of ‘meat’, just like omnivorous restaurants. It’s confusing…And alarming for vegetarians. In the vegetarian or tofu section of the Chinese/Asian Market you’ll find things like ‘chicken’, ‘goose’, ‘beef’ and such.
What’s going on? Well, if you’re at a place that serves no meat, they’re not sneaking meat into the food though I can’t speak for what’s happening at restaurants that do serve meat plus do vegetarian dishes. Vegetarianism has long been an important part of the Chinese food repetoire. Over the centuries, with soy being an important part of the diet, tofu and other soy products have taken many forms. In the west, I suppose the parallel is how many ways milk is consumed (e.g. milk, cheeses, yogurts, custards, puddings, ice cream) Other vegetarian ‘meats’ are made with wheat gluten (seitan) and shaped and flavored with soy sauce and other spices to taste and resemble meat. I’m told that Buddhist monks took it upon themselves to find new and interesting ways to make mock meat to serve to passing travelers stopping at temples.
I’m not a vegetarian but I find myself getting closer and closer on the scale with each passing year and article about animal cruelty, e coli contamination, prions, and the like.I’ve long been a fan of vegetarian Chinese fare regardless, and this dish is one of my favorites.
I personally don’t think this tastes a lot like chicken, but if you were to want something like this in a Chinese restaurant, this is what they call it. And truly, the name for this dish in Chinese is ‘Vegetarian Chicken’. Su Gi in Pin Yin.
Vegetarian (Mock) Chicken
- Tofu Sheets – 2 packages (from the Chinese market frozen section, not from the dried goods section. I found mine at Ranch 99, next to the frozen vegetables)
- Dried Shitake Mushrooms – 16 to 20 pieces soaked in hot water to cover (I used about 4 cups of water. Save the soaking water) Soak them until they are at least soft enough to slice.
- 1 Julienned Carrot
- 1/3 C soy sauce
- 1/3 C sugar
- ¼ Teaspoon Chinese 5 spice powder
What to do:
Cut off the woody stem of the mushrooms and discard that part. Cut the soaked mushroom caps into about 8 to 10 slices each. Simmer mushroom slices, carrot, soy sauce, sugar, and five spiced powder in the mushroom soaking water. Stir and simmer for about 7-8 minutes until the mushroom slices are translucent. Set aside.
Defrost the tofu sheets. (Figure it takes 1/2 hour out of the frig on the counter, or defrost in the refrigerator overnight) The sheets come in a 7”x13” size package (or thereabouts). When opened, you’ll find a stack of 4 round sheets folded into the package.
Separate the gigantic round things into 4 sheets and then fold back into 7”x13”packets. For 2 packages you’ll get a total of 8 7”x13”packs.
Have a jelly roll pan on the kitchen counter next to the sink. Pick up one layer of the 7”x13” pack and rinse the sheet with water to wet (I run the packet under running lukewarm water briefly – rinse gently!) Keep those packets in the 7”x13” shape.
Lay one of the tofu sheet packets on the jelly roll pan and spoon some of the cooked mushroom slices ( you will be dividing this into 8 parts) and sauce onto the tofu in a line along the narrower end (the 7” end) of the tofu. Roll the tofu up over the mushroom mixture encasing it in the roll. This should result in a roll about 1-1/2”x7”. Secure with a toothpick on at each end of the rolls to prevent unrolling.
Have 2 12″x14” non stick frying pans ready. Brush on a little oil using a paper towel or brush.
Continue to make 8 rolls. 4 rolls fit in each frying pan. Do not discard the remaining mushroom cooking liquid. Slightly brown the rolls on exteriors over low heat. Add about 1/2 C water to the remaining mushroom liquid and mix and divide between the two pans. Cover the pans and simmer the rolls gently until the liquid is absorbed. Turn the rolls over once during the process so that the liquid gets absorbed by all sides.
These can be frozen and served later defrosted if well wrapped.