I remember the times of peeking into the refrigerator at home to find a big jellyroll pan laid out from one end to the other with marinating chicken.
And feeling the excitement of the dinner to come that night.
I remember how those plump drumsticks were arranged in two neat rows down the length of the pan.
I remember their terracotta color.
And the aroma of savoriness and something a little mysterious in the mix.
I remember waiting for my Mom to roast them in a hot oven until their color deepened and their skin crisped.
I’d pick up a drumstick with my fingers, the reddish sauce staining them deliciously as I took a big bite of joy.
As a kid, I never really knew what made this chicken so distinctive. All I knew was that it was something that came from a screw-top jar from Chinatown. And that my Mom referred to this dish as “fu-yee chicken.”
Thanks to my friend and most talented cookbook writer, Andrea Nguyen, I now know exactly what goes into the marinade that gives it such color and taste.
It’s tofu. Yes, cubes of soybean curd, but ones that have been allowed to age and ferment in a brine of red yeast rice or red wine, rice wine and water. It turns the tofu red and creamy with a flavor that’s salty, a little sweet, really savory, sort of musky and a tad funky.
Not that funky is a bad thing. After all, it’s what makes anchovies and runny cheeses so wonderful.
Like them, red fermented tofu may be a taste sensation that has to grow on you. It might seem strong and strange the first time, but the more you eat of it, the more you want.