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Jun 22, 2012 03:38 PM

My tofu skin salad fell flat - what should I do differently?

The other night, I decided to make a cold dish of tofu skin and cucumber. I was trying to replicate something I ate at Wang's in Somerville, MA....although I didn't follow any particular recipe.

I took some dried bean curd skin (like is pictured here: and soaked it in hot water for a while, then cut it in pieces. I also cut up some cucumber in pieces. The tofu skin turned out well, and was exactly the texture I was looking for.

Then I made my dressing, which is where things fell short. I put in some soy sauce, red-wine vinegar, toasted sesame oil, a bit of salt, and a bit of sugar. The result was kind of.....boring. I only let it sit about 20 minutes before eating, so that may play a role. Also, I used red-wine vinegar instead of rice vinegar, since I was out of rice vinegar.

But does anybody have advice about how to make this dish taste better? Maybe it was just a matter of using more of the ingredients I listed....or maybe I should have added something else. Any help would be appreciated!

Dave MP

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  1. You can't use red wine vinegar as a substitute for rice vinegar. Start there in looking for a solution to your problem. Also keep in mind that Chinese rice vinegar and Japanese rice vinegar are not the same.

    1 Reply
    1. re: todao

      Rice vinegar is usually described as milder and sweeter than Western ones, including wine vinegar. It may, for example, be diluted to 4% acidity, as opposed to 5 or 6.

      Dave's complaint seems to be that the dressing lacks something, as opposed to the vinegar being too strong or assertive (or wrong color). So if he isn't missing something, maybe there isn't enough of something else, like the salt and sugar. But I haven't been to Wangs so can't say what characterizes their salad.

    2. I may be thinking of a different dish at Wang's. But I thought Wang's used a dried tofu, kind of like slivers? It's gan si.

      Regardless, for your dish, here are some thoughts.

      For the cucumber, if you have time, slice and salt for at least half an hour. Then shake and dry (I sometimes use paper towels). I find the cucumber becomes really crispy and it just elevates its tastiness.

      Also, if you are out of rice vinegar, I find a little plain white vinegar is a little better. Or do you have the chiang king vinegar? That dark stuff?

      You might have needed to add more of your ingredients. Maybe a smidge of garlic, a smidge of hot pepper and cilantro will help ease the blahs.

      I do love tofu skin and now you've planted Wang's into my head.

        1. What's its name on their menu? I don't think I've ordered it, but I just has to have garlic in it. Maybe white pepper too and possibly just a bit of ginger.

          I agree that an important step is to pre-salt then gently squeeze the cucumber. They might also add a little vinegar for the pre-salting. 15-30 minutes should be good enough and probably up to 2-3 hours is okay. Discard the liquid that you squeeze from the cucumbers.

          Did you use soy sauce because their dressing was dark? I would skip the soy sauce, use white vinegar instead of rice vinegar, add a little white pepper, and add more sugar. If their dressing was dark, it probably has chinkiang vinegar (chinese black vinegar) in it either instead of or with the white vinegar. MSG also adds a good flavor to this dish.

          2 Replies
          1. re: azra

            A number of CH have recommended black vinegar, but when I've looked at the labels in the store they appeared to have a lot of additions. I picked one that little of that, but now suspect it is a different thing entirely. It is Shanxi mature vinegar. I'm not quite sure what to think of it. I don't really like the flavor when sampled straight, and not sure where it would work well.

            For what it's worth, Barbara Tropp thinks balsamic is an ok substitute for black vinegar (writing 1982).

            ChinaDaily column on Chinese vinegars

            The one I got is described as:
            "Shanxi mature vinegar (Shanxi lao chencu) is brewed from a combination of sorghum, peas and barley - it is dark in color and has a particularly musty, rich flavor which works well with cold dishes, such as cold needle fish salad (lao cu zhe tou)."

            1. re: azra

              On the Wang's menu, it's listed in the cold appetizers section as "Soft Bean Curd Skin" - on the version of the menu I'm looking at, it's #831

            2. I'd go for rice vinegar rather than red wine, and add some finely shredded fresh ginger to the dressing.

              Black vinegar would give it a more complex flavour - the version I use also has stuff added to it, and it's definitely a Chinese brand.