Mapo Tofu



Author Notes: I worked on this recipe for more than a dozen years until I finally achieved what I was looking for after first tasting the dish some 35 years ago at the original, tiny Hunan restaurant (Henry Chung's) in San Francisco. (They called it Bean Curd with Meat Sauce and added peas to it, and so do I.) It is not aiming for total authenticity, but it does contain the two Sichuan-specific ingredients without which the dish would not be Mapo Tofu: Pixian broad bean paste (douban jiang) and Sichuan peppercorn. Both ingredients are available online, though the broad bean paste -- and it should be from Pixian County, Sichuan -- takes a bit of digging. The ingredient list looks long, but after you've prepped and have everything ready to go, it only takes about 10 minutes to cook from start to finish.

The finished dish should feature a spicy, thick, gravy-like sauce and custardy tofu. (Use medium tofu for best results; avoid soft and extra-firm).
An Honest Cook

Serves: four as part of a multi course meal.
Prep time: 30 min
Cook time: 10 min

Ingredients

  • 1 pound soft (not silken) tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 8 ounces ground pork (or ground beef)
  • 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch, divided
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 3 cloves garlic grated on a microplane grater
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger grated on a microplane grater
  • 3 scallions, white and green parts finely chopped separately
  • 3 tablespoons Pixian broad bean paste (douban jiang)
  • 1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce (or 1 tsp. hot pepper flakes)
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese fermented black soybeans, chopped (dou chi), or black bean garlic sauce
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1.5 teaspoons ground Sichuan peppercorn, divided
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 cup peas, thawed if frozen
In This Recipe

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the marinade of oyster and soy sauces and 1 tablespoon cornstarch. Add the pork and mix thoroughly. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  2. In a small bowl thoroughly mix remaining 3 tablespoons cornstarch with 5 tablespoons water. In another small bowl combine garlic, ginger, and white part of scallions. In another small bowl combine broad bean paste, chili garlic sauce, black beans, brown sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, and 1 teaspoon of the Sichuan pepper.
  3. Heat a wok over highest heat until it smokes. Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. When it begins to smoke add pork and smush it flat against the wok for about a minute to brown (if you "stir-fry" it by moving it around constantly it won't brown). Flip the meat over and brown on the other side for about 30 seconds, then break it up into small pieces while stir-frying until the meat is thoroughly cooked and crispy. Push the meat aside in the wok and add the garlic, ginger, and white part of the scallions, and stir-fry for a few seconds, until fragrant. Clear a space in the center of the wok, pour in one tablespoon of oil, and scrape in the bean paste mixture, stir-frying for about 30 seconds until oil turns a rich red color.
  4. Pour in the stock and mix everything together. Add the tofu and peas, mix gently to avoid breaking up the tofu, and then turn the flame to low and simmer for about 5 minutes, covered with the wok lid.
  5. Turn up the flame to high and add about 2/3 of the cornstarch/water slurry, mixing gently for about 30 seconds, until the sauce is like a very thick gravy that clings to the tofu. Add the rest of the cornstarch mixture if needed to thicken.
  6. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the green tops of the scallions and the remaining ground Sichuan pepper. Serve with white steamed rice.

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