Fermented bean curd, or chao for short, can be used as a condiment or in sauces. It has a rich creamy texture like cheese and makes vegetables taste so much better. You can serve it at breakfast or pair it with rice, porridge or hot pot. And the good news is it's also easy to make, let's see how now:

Ingredients:

  • 2 blocks of tofu
  • one chili pepper
  • chili powder
  • salt
  • rice wine

Notes on the ingredients:

For the tofu, it's good if you can get freshly made tofu that's not too hardened. It makes good chao. If you don't like the heat, you can omit the chili pepper or use a mild one. The chili powder we use here is to create a nice appealing orange color.

Grain salt will not make it too salty like roasted salt. However, some folks like the taste of roasted salt so you can consider that option. We'll also be using rice wine to make the brine later in our fermentation.

preparing-ingredients
Preparing ingredients

With the ingredients ready, here are the making steps next:

Step 1: Boil the Tofu

step-01-boil-tofu

Put about a teaspoon of salt in boiling water. Then place the tofu in. Boil it for about 3-4 minutes.

This step helps kill of some bacteria on the tofu and drain more water out of them. After boiling is done, you can let the tofu drain and cool.

Step 2: Mix the Spices

Chop up the chili, remove the seeds if you don't like them. You can smash the salt a bit finer so it dissolves more easily. Then, mix them together with the chili powder.

step-02-mixing-spices

Alternatively, if you like umami, you can add some in to enhance the flavor.

Step 3: Flavor the Chao & Let It Ferment

When the tofu has cooled, you can cut them into smaller blocks.

step-03-chopping-tofu

In a ceramic bowl or an airtight container, place a layer of towel underneath. The towel will help absorb the liquid the tofu secretes out as it ferments.

Then, with the spices mixed, we can lightly roll the tofu block over and place them in the bowl.

step-03-roll-tofu-let-ferment

When it's done, cover the lid. Put the container somewhere warm (e.g. the balcony, a windowsill) for 3-4 days to kickstart the fermentation.

After A Few Days...

After several days, when the curd has been fermented for a while, it will now be much softer. When you scoop it with a spoon, parts of it may break quite easily and stick to the spoon.

The smell at this point resembles that of bitter roasted coffee (closest thing I could think of). The liquid from the tofu has gradually a bit out and being absorb by the towel. You can see speckles of the pink salt I put in and the overall surface of the tofu has turned quite yellowish.

fermented-bean-curd-after-4-days
After 4 days, bean curd is ready for next stage

The texture now has also turned a bit gooey, 'latex-y', cheesy similar to that of creamy blue cheese and it's ready for the next step.

We can begin to make the brine.

Making the brine:

  • Boil some water & add salt. Adjust the salt amount to best fit your taste. Then let it cool.
  • Add in 2 tablespoons of rice wine (too much can make it bitter), one chili pepper and 2 teaspoons of chili powder
making-chao-brine
Making the brine

Transfer the bean curds into a mason jar. Then scoop the brine in so that the brine level is just above the chao. Close the lid tight. And place the jar somewhere in your house at room temperature: on the counter, in the cupboard, etc.

scooping-brine-to-chao-jar
Scooping brine to jar

Let it sit there to ferment some more for another 10-15 days. This will make the chao richer, fuller and creamier in taste.

After 10-15 days, when you take it out, it will smell amazing. The chao has a very smooth texture. When you have a taste, it will taste rich and flavorful. Very delicious.

How Do You Eat Fermented Bean Curd?

You can use fermented bean curd to dip veggies or in soups. Some pair it with a bowl of hot rice, porridge or combine it in other sauces. It can also accompany savory dishes like duck or BBQ pork.

Does Fermented Bean Curd Need To Be Refrigerated?

You can store fermented bean curd in a dry place, away from direct sunlight and moisture. Once open, you can enjoy it within 2-3 months. It doesn't have to be refrigerated. However, some believe storing it in the fridge helps develop the flavor over time and lengthen storage time to 6-12 months.

To tell if the fermented bean curd has gone bad, look out for green, black molds or bruise spots. If these appear, it means the curd has gone bad and should not be used.

Tip for Fermenting Success

For a good jar of chao, press the water out of the tofu blocks real good to reduce chances of spoilage. Once a batch turns out good, you can keep using the same jar/container (with light cleaning) for the next batch.

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