Recipe: Tofu Clay Pot(豆腐煲)

In one of my previous posts, I gave an introduction to Chinese clay pots and how to care for them. Please read it if you want to make this dish in a clay pot. Here’s a great recipe that can be made inside a clay pot! Let’s learn more about this dish before making it below.

This dish is a Cantonese dish. Cantonese people are famous for making very “clear” dishes that do not have strong flavorings but just the natural umami flavor. One great example is Seafood Tofu Clay Pot(海鲜豆腐煲 hai xian dou fu bao [in Mandarin], pronounced hai, rhymes with eye, syehn, doh, like dough, foo, like in cool, ball. literally “ocean fresh bean curd clay-pot”, and “ocean fresh” means “seafood” in Chinese.), which relies totally on the stock to season the dish. Seafood and tofu, napa cabbage and other ingredients are cooked in broth in a clay pot. It’s very typical of “clear” flavored Cantonese cuisine, and requires fresh and good ingredients. Actually, as a result, I don’t recommend making it with seafood as the only tofu version is much better here. In the USA, I can only get frozen shrimp and squid and scallops, even though I live not far from the coast of California, ugh! It’s really crazy. They always have a horrible fishy odor, and I have to remove with a salt scrub, sake soak, vinegar soak, it’s crazy! And if there is milk good to have a milk soak too. These get rid of the terrible fishy smell. Also, the seafood in this dish cooks to so rubbery when I make it. I added it at the very and end and blanched for 1 minute, perfect, then turn off the heat and the seafood stays in the hot water and becomes harder to chew than rubber! Ewwww… so it may look beautiful in the picture but imagine the seafood to be rubber. Anyways I have no idea how Cantonese people keep seafood so tender, so I’m just going to give the recipe with tofu only, hehe. You can also make a vegetarian version with konbu dashi 😀

Adapted from the seafood recipe in Grace Young’s very good Cantonese cookbook, Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen


4 cups napa cabbage leaves cut to 1/4 inch thick shreds (4 cups of the shreds not the whole leaves, hehe)

1 inch ginger, finely julienned (traditionally sliced ginger is used but I prefer julienned because you can eat the julienne and it is great flavor)

2 green onions, finely julienned

some cilantro to taste, cut into 2 inch long pieces (optional if you don’t like or don’t have)

6-8 dried shiitake mushrooms (I used less because I didn’t have 8), soaked in 1/2 to 1 cup hot water, to cover, and top with a small plate to press down, soaking until soft, like 30 minutes or so, or longer, and reserve the soaking water, which is very flavorful and full of umami, and thinly slice the mushrooms, I leave the stem on because it is a waste to remove and they soften from the cooking.

1/2 cup cooked bamboo shoot from a can or package, julienned or thinly sliced (optional if you don’t have)

1 block (approx. 14-16 oz) firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1.5 cups or more chicken broth/stock (preferably homemade Chinese style, but I always drink all the chicken soup I make and not leave it for stock, hehe), or Chinese stock, or dashi, or use Better than Bouillon, or water and must use dashi powder, or a combination (I used 2.5 cups because I prefer more soup, but it is traditional to have not too much soup in this dish)

about 2 oz dried Chinese mung bean starch noodles, soaked in cold water 15 minutes and drained well

1/2 tsp salt (use only 1/4 tsp if using dashi powder)

1 tsp dashi powder (decrease salt if using) (SO GOOD, adds amazing umami to Cantonese soups! I learned this from Wantanmien’s amazing Youtube video for Salmon Head Tofu Soup, which I make often for my mom) (you shouldn’t use if you are using actual dashi, or you can decrease it, just don’t overpower)

1/4 tsp white pepper powder

2 tsp sesame oil


1. In a Chinese clay pot, put the napa cabbage evenly on the bottom. You can use a cocotte or a stainless steel pot if you don’t want to use a clay pot! But clay pot is beautiful, traditional, and inexpensive, although it is harder to care for. Please read my clay pot post for more information.

2. Sprinkle the ginger on top evenly, then julienned shiitake evenly. If using bamboo shoots, sprinkle evenly too.

3. Spread the mung bean starch noodles in an even layer.

4. Then sprinkle tofu evenly on top. You can evenly spread green onion on top now but it will not be very green later, so I recommend adding after boiling.

5. Sprinkle on top the salt, pepper, and dashi powder.

6. Pour over the shiitake soaking liquid, strained to remove small particles, and also the stock you are using.

7. Cover with the lid. Set over low heat. Then in 5 minutes, to medium-low, then medium. If your stove flame is weaker, like mine, you can start with medium low or even medium like I do. Then I stop it at medium high. Definitely do not do the highest heat with a clay pot. And don’t do medium high with a more powderful stove! If using a cocotte or other pot, just start on medium high or high depending on the pot!

8. When the soup boils, uncover and add green onion on top. Notice how the water level is higher now because the napa cabbage shrunk.

9. Now stir the contents gently to distribute if you wish. This is optional though, but try to immerse everything under the liquid unless you only added the smallest amount and it’s not possible.

10. Then cover and simmer 3-4 minutes or so over medium or low. Actually if everything is cooked well, this is optional too.

11. Uncover and put the cilantro on top evenly. Drizzle the sesame oil too.

12. Now you can cover again or just serve immediately. Enjoy the ingredients with the soup. Serve with rice and other dishes. I served tomato and egg stir-fry, which I have a recipe for and it’s very, very easy to make. You can also serve a green leaf vegetable like the several recipes I have, but it is optional in my opinion as the soup contains napa cabbage. Enjoy the clear flavor and umami of the broth!

Remember, I make it with seafood that turned to rubber, so don’t be surprised when you see the seafood in the below picture, hehe.



13 thoughts on “Recipe: Tofu Clay Pot(豆腐煲)

  1. ummmmm. looks VERY deRicious!!
    I think of all cabbages, I like Napa the best. I always and insist on using the Shitake stems even if I have to shred them and I love MORE broth in ALL my
    soups. so this is a perfect recipe to try out.
    so. Salmon head soup? are the eyes eaten?

    1. Thank you! 🙂
      Very good if you like clear soups, you can use any pot and adapt to your favorite taste. The traditional recipe does not have soy sauce though, and that preserves the clear-ness 🙂
      I like napa cabbage, because when boiled, no “rotten” taste/smell, unlike western cabbage soups, hehe. The boiled napa cabbage has a pleasant odor and sweet taste instead 🙂
      Yes, total waste of the stems in most recipes. Although when used whole, the stems are really hard, so I cut them out then slice and add, hehe. It’s a nice tip to do when shiitake are used whole, unless stems are really small 🙂
      Salmon head soup, the eyes are too small but can be eaten. Chinese people love the heads are very large fish as the eyes are also very large. I don’t ever eat the meat from the fish head including eye though, it’s all for my parents. I like fillets only, lol. But the broth from fish head is very good with the tofu in the soup 😀

  2. In the Asian market I do see ALOT
    of people buying these heads and only imagine what they do with these head only fish, why not eat the whole fish?
    What’s so special about a head? (this last question is a rhetorical question) :))

    1. Actually I will answer the rhetorical question, hehe. 🙂 The Chinese believe that the meat from the head of the fish is the best part because it is more tender and flavorful. I leave it to my parents because it is the best part for them but I can’t eat it because too many little bones, hehe. Also it’s quite beneficial that in USA, most Americans do not eat the head, and the head is given to the Asian store, where people want it, so that’s why there are head-only fish 🙂

      1. so you personally can’t verify if the taste is better? You never once tried a little to taste?

      2. No, I am afraid of ci (pronounced tsssss), which is the tiny sharp fish bones, so I only eat American fish fillets. Whenever I try a fish, there is always ci and it is very annoying and uncomfortable especially if you swallow it, and my parents easily remove ci or spit it out but I can’t. I’m too American in this aspect since I wasn’t trained that way. As a small child I did not even eat seafood like most American children I knew, lol, everyone thought everything was gross except chicken nuggets, which are ACTUALLY gross (all the weird processed ingredients inside). So I wasn’t trained to eat fish (nor any other delicious healthy food…) like my parents and people who grow up in China. Honestly one of the biggest problems with American society is that children must be so picky, just because their friends are, and the media (in shows, books, etc. the children never like veg and healthy tasty food). In Asia they can be a little picky too especially with bitter food as we are evolutionarily supposed to dislike it, and spicy food until they grow a little older. However in USA, children do not eat any vegetable unless it is disguised or processed strangely! Some Americans can eat some whole fish, just by removing the backbone, because those fish have easily removed ci right with the backbone. However Chinese fish are full of ci, and are very hard to eat, even the fillets in China. The head has a lot of ci, probably the most. And to eat it, there is just meat on the cheek. Also the skin over the skull of the fish I guess. I’m pretty sure the head and cheek should taste almost the same as the rest of the fish. But it does make a good broth with tofu because of the bones and meat on it.

    2. Also, in China if the fish is large enough, you can find the pea-sized brain inside, which is a delicacy. However, here, the salmon heads are halved and the brain is removed. Chinese people (and Europeans in the past) also eat the brain of other animals, but of course the pig brain and other mammals brain are much larger than the fish brain though, so they are prepared specially in specific dishes. I’ve never had brain, but it is white colored, very rich and fatty because the brain is mostly fat.

      1. Just thinking I guess I would be considered a ‘picky eater’. Given the chance, I’ll never eat brains, fish heads or eyeballs. hmmm. little sad that I may be missing something good. On the other hand I FOUND MY ‘Chipotle powder’!!!! yay!!! :))

      2. Hehe, it’s OK, you are not picky. Most people would not eat eyes and brain, so small anyway. You eat vegetables right? Here in America so many people don’t even eat vegetables LOL
        Yay! Hopefully your BBQ goes well. Chipotle powder is used to give a smoky flavor because of how it is smoked 🙂
        PS. I don’t use it though, hehe, but I do have smoked paprika.

  3. Thank You for your explanation.
    I did remember that you did not like
    the small fish bones. I thought you may of at least one time scoured for bones just so you can try the meat.
    I do agree that today’s kids are sorely lacking ‘healthy’ foods (more veggies)
    in their diets but this ‘training’ must surely start in their homes. perhaps this American society is not disciplined and too rushed to cook at home more often so fast food is more often the way to go 😦 🙂 Thanks for your opinion. 🙂

    1. You’re welcome!
      It’s too challenging on the fish head. However I may try the cheek part next time. I’m pretty sure that it tastes the exact same as the fillet though 🙂
      Yes, very true. They all think, if something is healthy it is bad. So even if it tastes good they will not eat, until they grow older and realize it’s okay. Small kids are being bothered in schools if they eat differently from the majority. But I will admit that the cause of all of this starting to occur is that Americans eat too much fast/unhealthy food, hehe. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is already lacking in veg compared to Asian diets to begin with.
      You’re welcome again 😀

      1. hmmmm. if you only cooked the shrimp for one minute, was it just your luck it came out so tough? maybe your step gramma can tell you the secret that so many other cooks have about cooking it and it comes out tender. It’s one of those great mysteries!!

      2. Unfortunately, my step grandma, for her whole life, has lived in Sichuan, a land-locked province where, unlike Guangdong and Fujian and Shandong, there is no seafood. (however there is “river food” like some species of carp, eels, and tiny river shrimps used whole in a stir fry with garlic chives as I found in Langzhong, but river-food is not commonly made at home, unlike in Guangdong where seafood is very common.)
        So no one in my family knows how to cook shrimp soup to a not tough state. I rarely cook shrimp anyways because the shrimp here is so BAD quality, they smell horribly fishy. I must soak them in salt, the soak in sake, then soak in vinegar, and lastly would soak in milk, and rinse well inbetween all of them, then season well to cover, but they are still quite fishy! And after all the effort, I add the shrimp, cook one minute, at this point cooked fine. However they stay in the soup and become tiny and shriveled and ugly and rubber-like and hard, within 2 minutes. Honestly the only way to have cooked perfectly is to have raw (treated) shrimp next to the pot and add it, wait 1 min, then eat immediately like a hot pot. I need the secret of the Cantonese in making their seafood dishes so tender! My favorite seafood is the steamed shrimp dumplings with the transparent covering and extremely tender and fresh and bouncy shrimp inside. They’re so fresh in the restaurants because they are live until just before cooking. It really is a mystery how they stay so tender though 🙂

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