Sunday, March 10, 2019

Braised tofu balls in brown sauce

March 2, 2019

Michael and I had lots of time to cook on Saturday night, so I flicked through my new favourite cookbook ready for a challenge. I always find balls and burgers a bit fiddly with all the frying and will-they-hold-together suspense so this felt like the right time to take on Huey's braised tofu balls in brown sauce. 

The tofu at the core of these balls is augmented with carrot, shitakes, celery and water chestnuts, then flavoured with soy sauce, ginger and five-spice. My tofu held a lot of water and the mixture was mushy, but every last ball held together in the frypan and I felt very optimistic. Their second phase is in a big pot of sweet soy soup, perched atop cabbage leaves and more shitake mushrooms. Ever the risk spreader, I braised only half of the tofu balls and held the others back just in case there was a mess. The braised ones puffed up with soup, some broke apart and all of them were delicate to handle. They were excellent spooned over steamed rice that night, but I was glad to have the non-braised balls in reserve for my packed lunch.

The soup didn't ever reduce to the thick glistening sauce photographed in the book, so I would consider reducing the volume of water if I made this again. This thinner broth was still very comforting, and the shot of ginger through the tofu balls had me thinking about what a steamy, soothing dish this would be when you have a cold.

Braised tofu balls in brown sauce
(a recipe shared by Huey)

tofu balls
300g tofu (not silken)
45g carrot (about 1/3 a large one)
30g shitake mushrooms
30g celery
30g ginger
60g water chestnuts
3 tablespoons plain flour, plus 1/2 cup for coating
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
1 1/2 teaspoons white pepper
peanut oil, for shallow frying

braising liquid
225g cabbage
6 shitake mushrooms
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetarian oyster sauce
1L water

Drain the tofu and crumble it up in a large bowl. Grate the carrot, finely chop the shitake mushrooms and celery, mince the ginger and water chestnuts. Add all of these ingredients to the bowl and stir together. Add the flour, soy sauce, sugar, five spice, and pepper, and mix thoroughly to combine.

Heat up the oil in a pan, and pour the coating flour into a bowl. Take a generous tablespoon of the tofu mixture into you hands, lightly shape it into a ball, and drop it into the flour. Lightly toss the ball around to evenly coat it and gently drop it into the hot oil. Repeat this process until the pan has a few well spaced balls cooking along (I did about six at a time). Use two forks to tip the balls over after a minute or two, and use a slotted spoon to drop the cooked tofu balls onto some absorbent paper. Repeat, in batches, until all of the tofu mixture is fried. Set them aside.

Separate the cabbage out into leaves, and slice the shitake mushrooms. Set a very large pot over medium heat and place all seven braising ingredients in it. Gently set the tofu balls on top and simmer everything until the soup has reduced. Serve over steamed rice.


  1. This sounds really good, though disappointing that they kind of fell apart in the sauce. Making balls and burgers is always full of suspense! Did you use the 300g Coles tofu? I find that one to be a bit more watery and soft.

    1. Hi Susan! We bought the tofu from Coles but I don't think it was Coles brand. It was one of those ones that floats in a little tray of water, but very much at the firmer end of that type.