Mapo Tofu

October 20, 2021
2 Ratings
Photo by Bette Blau. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine. Food Stylist: Sophia Loche.
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 25 minutes
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m big on mapo tofu. It might be the best-known dish to come out of Sichuan, where I was born and returned to as a young adult—and it’s always my go-to answer when faced with the inevitable “last meal” question. Though it packs a giant flavor punch (it’s rich, creamy, spicy, numbing, and umami all at once), mapo tofu is surprisingly easy to make. Spoon some over steaming hot rice, and you’ve got the ultimate bowl of comfort. Although this vegan version gets its heartiness from shiitake mushrooms instead of the usual pork or beef, I believe it to be just as—if not more—flavorful than the original.

The secret to a truly great mapo tofu is its sauce, and more specifically, the doubanjiang, or preserved fava bean paste (not to be confused with preserved black bean paste or soybean paste, sometimes called by the same name!) used to make it. Doubanjiang is colloquially known as the “soul of Sichuan cuisine,” and for good reason, as its deeply complex savory flavors develop over time in earthen crocks left out to ferment under the sun for anywhere from a month to several years. It lends its iconic flavor to dishes like mapo tofu, twice-cooked pork, hot pot, and many more.

For this recipe, I recommend using my brand Fly By Jing’s premium three-year aged doubanjiang (I’m certainly biased, but I think it’s the best one commercially available: It’s produced in the oldest doubanjiang factory in Pixian county), but one could also mix it with a regular unaged doubanjiang, available at many online retailers, which has a brighter, redder color (the aged has much deeper flavor and is darker in color). If mixing the two, a good rule of thumb is to do half aged and half regular. You’ll also need a good chili oil (recipe for a large batch below), Sichuan chili crisp, fermented black beans, and Sichuan pepper.
Jing Gao

What You'll Need
  • Mapo Tofu
  • 1 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 300 grams soft silken tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons chili oil (recipe below, or neutral oil)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 2 tablespoons doubanjiang (fermented fava/broad bean paste)
  • 2 tablespoons Sichuan chili crisp
  • 1 tablespoon fermented black beans
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole Sichuan pepper
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth (you can also substitute the water used for soaking shiitakes)
  • 3 scallions, whites cut in 1-inch pieces, greens thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 pinch ground roasted Sichuan pepper
  • Cooked rice, for serving
  • Basic Chili Oil
  • 1 cup chili flakes (pre-ground or ground from dried erjingtiao chili, chile de árbol, or bird’s-eye chili)
  • Small piece of cassia bark (optional)
  • 2 pieces star anise (optional)
  • 2 pods cardamom (optional)
  • 2 slices ginger (optional)
  • 4 cups neutral oil, such as peanut, soybean, or grapeseed
  1. Mapo Tofu
  2. In a medium bowl, soak the dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water until rehydrated and soft, about 20 minutes. I sometimes add a splash of soy sauce in the water at this point to give the mushrooms extra flavor. Reserve ½ cup of the soaking liquid if not using vegetable broth, then discard the rest. Finely chop the mushrooms or place in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped, then set aside in a small bowl.
  3. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Blanch the tofu for about 3 minutes. (You can put the tofu in a stainless-steel strainer instead of directly in the water to keep it from breaking.) This gives the tofu a better texture and helps retain its shape more during cooking. Transfer to a plate.
  4. Heat the chili oil in a wok over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and fry until fragrant. Add the chopped mushrooms, doubanjiang, Sichuan chili crisp, fermented black beans, and whole Sichuan pepper and fry for about 1 minute, being careful not to burn the ingredients.
  5. Add the vegetable stock or reserved ½ cup of mushroom soaking liquid and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the scallion whites, slide the tofu into the wok, and stir it around the sauce gently with a rubber spatula, being careful not to break the tofu. Let the stock reduce for about 5 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of water. Add the cornstarch mixture to the sauce and stir it gently until the sauce thickens, about 30 seconds.
  6. Transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with the scallion greens and a generous pinch of ground roasted Sichuan pepper. Serve immediately with rice. Vegan mapo tofu doesn't store well because of the binding starch in the sauce, so try to eat it all right away, which shouldn't be a problem!
  1. Basic Chili Oil
  2. Place the chili flakes and cassia bark, star anise, cardamom, and ginger (if using) in a large heatproof bowl.
  3. Heat the oil in a saucepan until it reaches 325°F.
  4. Pour the oil over the chili flakes. Let cool.
  5. Remove the spices and store the remaining chili oil in an airtight container for up to six months.
  6. When using chili oil, make sure to stir the oil and chili bits to get an even mixture before each use.

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