Serious mapo tofu

February 15, 2014
1 Ratings
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

Let's get serious about this iconic, but vastly false-imitated Chinese dish. More photos and details, plus links for ingredient-sources on: —Mandy @ Lady and pups

What You'll Need
  • Preparing chili oil and sichuan peppercorn powder:
  • 1 cup (210 grams) of vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon (25 grams) of douban paste (sichuan fermented chili bean paste)
  • 2 tablespoons (14 grams) of chili flakes (preferably from sichuan or Korea)
  • 3 tablespoons (15 grams) of red sichuan peppercorn
  • 1 tablespoon (5 grams) of green sichuan peppercorn
  • Mapo Tofu:
  • 16.6 ounces (470 grams) of silken~medium firm tofu, cut into small dices
  • 4 ounces (115 grams) of fatty ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon of soy sauce + 1 tsp of toasted sesame oil + 1 tsp of cornstarch
  • 1/2 tablespoon douban (chili bean paste) oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons grated ginger
  • 3 cloves of garlic, grated
  • 1 small red chili, finely diced
  • 2 teaspoons douban paste (sichuan fermented chili bean paste)
  • 1 teaspoon assorted sichuan peppercorn powder
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese shao-xing wine (or rice wine)
  • 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted chicken stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes (from sichuan or Korea)
  • 1/4 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • *** TO FINISH:
  • 1 tablespoon of cornstarch + 2 1/2 tbsp of water
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon assorted sichuan peppercorn powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/4 cup douban (chili bean paste) oil
  1. Preparing chili oil and sichuan peppercorn powder:
  2. NOTE: Sichuan peppercorns are paramount in mapo tofu, but even then most recipes are being cheap with it. You need the real stuff and you need more. I have for many time, mentioned the difference between red sichuan peppercorn (the typical kind that people refer to) and green sichuan peppercorn (the less common variety), so I may be repeating myself here. In a nutshell, red sichuan peppercorn delivers strong fragrance with a milder numbing power, whereas green sichuan peppercorn… who knows what it tastes like as it will numb your face off completely. It is very common in China that a combination of both is used in different dishes to reach the desired balance. If you only have red sichuan peppercorn and feel absolutely unmotivated to buy the green type, you can just use red. But the result won’t be the same.
  3. NOTE 2: The thing about writing recipes with Asian condiments is that different brands vary in taste and saltiness. The link provide for douban paste (sichuan fermented chili bean paste) is exactly the same one I used which is very authentic and salty. If you’re using a different brand, you may need to slightly adjust the amount accordingly. I don’t have a link for the exact dark soy sauce I used, so you’ll have to rely a little bit on your taste-buds. If the soy sauce lands on the “sweeter” side, reduce the sugar accordingly.
  4. NOTE 3 - Online source for: Douban paste: Red sichuan peppercorn: Green sichuan peppercorn:
  5. TO MAKE THE DOUBAN (CHILI BEAN PASTE) OIL: Combine vegetable oil, douban/chili bean paste and chili flakes in a sauce pot. Break apart the douban/chili bean paste as good as you can with the back of a spoon (it’ll clump up once the oil gets hot), and set over medium heat. Let fry for about 3 ~ 4 min until the chili flakes turn dark red in color, then turn off the heat and let it sit until cooled down completely. Strain the oil through a fine sieve into another container, and keep in the fridge until needed.
  6. TO MAKE ASSORTED SICHUAN PEPPERCORN POWDER: Blend the red sichuan peppercorn, and green sichuan peppercorn together in a blender or spice-grinder until finely ground. Keep in an air-tight container until needed.
  1. Mapo Tofu:
  2. Dice tofu and set aside (Some people like to blanch the tofu in salted water for a couple min to remove the “soy bean stink”. I don’t know… what “soy bean stink” is and if it was there, it never bothered me. But if it bothers you, place the diced tofu in cold water with a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 min. Drain and set aside.) Evenly mix ground beef, toasted sesame oil, soy sauce and cornstarch together, and set aside.
  3. Heat up 1/2 tbsp of vegetable oil in a wok, or deep frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook and break up the ground beef-mixture until browned, then add the grated ginger, grated garlic, diced red chili, douban paste and assorted sichuan pepper corn powder. Stir and cook for a couple min until fragrant (it’s important to stir-fry the douban paste for a while to release its aroma), then add the shao-xing wine (or rice wine), dark soy sauce and sugar. Cook for a min to let the alcohol evaporate, then add the chicken stock, chili flakes and the diced tofu. Turn the heat down to medium-low, and let simmer until the liquid has reduced down almost completely and thickened slightly (stir gently in between without breaking up the tofu). Last, add 1/4 tsp of rice vinegar and stir gently to incorporate.
  4. Whisk together cornstarch and water, then drizzle 1/2 tbsp of the mixture slowly into the sauce. Gently stir until thickened slightly, then drizzle another 1 tbsp more and gently stir again. You won’t need all of the cornstarch-mixture, maybe just 1/2 tbsp more (the gradual thickening-method supposedly better help the sauce stick to the tofu). Wait until the sauce has fully thickened before deciding if you want to add more. Once the sauce has fully thickened, transfer to a serving dish.
  5. Scatter the minced garlic in the center, and sprinkle 1/2 tsp of assorted sichuan peppercorn powder and 1/2 tsp of ground white pepper evenly over the tofu. Heat up 1/4 cup of chili bean paste oil in a small pot until it starts to smoke up a little. Pour the hot oil over the dish, and it should sizzle and release the fragrance from the peppercorn powder across the board. Diced scallion is optional. Serve with steamed rice and… maybe a glass of iced water.

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