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To make modern stinky tofu, fresh tofu marinates for a couple of hours in a brine of vegetables, tofu and dried shrimp that has been fermenting for six months or more. Correctly made, the brine produces a unique rather lacy texture in the tofu, and the insides taste mild and custardy. The typical open fermentation methods allow for easy contamination of the developing brine. Impatient venders have been arrested for faking stinky tofu by adding gunpowder, rotten fish and other inedible additions to their brine.
Once it has been correctly fermented, the stinky tofu is cut into bite-size squares for cooking. The tofu may be steamed but is most commonly deep fried. A typical dish would be deep-fried squares of the fragrant tofu drizzled with black vinegar, with chopped black beans and kimchi sprinkled over the top. Connoisseurs of stinky tofu say the magic is in the topping, which is made of soy sauce, vinegar and chili oil. If you get the opportunity, try mixing these four sauces into your own blend: soy sauce, garlic and radish pastes and chili oil.
Stinky tofu is a popular study topic among Chinese chemistry students. Tsinghua University's bio-science research lab examined a sample of Dai's stinky tofu and discovered more than 15 kinds of active bacteria swimming around in it, similar to the types of colonization found in yogurt.
Twenty-one aromatic chemical compounds have been identified in deep-fried traditional stinky tofu samples collected in Hong Kong. compounds were found. Aldehydes (9) were the major chemical class in which the saturated (8) compounds dominated. Only one unsaturated aldehyde was found. Other classes included alcohols (5), acids (4), furans (2) and ketone (1). The scientists state,"... aroma values of decanal, 1-butanol, pentanoic acid and hexanoic acid were among the highest. They generally possess unpleasant, medicinal, putrid, fecal and rancid odors."