Mapo tofu is awesome. It’s spicy and numbing in that sichuan pepper way, with just a little richness, ginger for a fresh note, and bags of umami. It tastes of black beans, sichuan pepper, and win.
On a hot evening like tonight, it was amazing with a cold beer.
This version is cribbed from the Appetite for China blog, via a little extra reading, and what I had in the fridge. I make no claims for authenticity – I haven’t done that much homework. In fact, I usually make it vegetarian, swapping out the minced pork for aubergine, courgette, or even a little broccoli plus a handful of fine chopped mushrooms for extra depth. Given I’ve an enormous block of tofu still in the fridge, and plenty of veg knocking around, I may well post a veggie version tomorrow.
Note: this is what I made rather than what I’d strictly recommend.
- 1 tablespoon fermented black beans
- 1 tablespoon or so of chili bean paste, or just more beans and more chilli
- Splash of sherry (rice wine would be better)
- Splash of soy sauce (a teaspoon or two?)
- A couple hundred grams of minced beef (again, pork works better)
- Tofu – firm-ish
- Spring onions
- A small onion
- Sichuan pepper, a teaspoon or so, but really to taste
- Cornflour, mixed with a little water
- Sesame oil
This is much easier if you do some prep first. That’s not usually the way I cook, so, through gritted teeth, make the sauce base first.
Rinse the beans, and mash them a little. Stir them together with the soy, sherry, and stock. Add the chilli bean paste if you’re using it. If not, crank up the beans and the chill.
Roughly dice the onion. Slice the chilli and spring onions. Fine chop the garlic and ginger. Cube the tofu.
In a wok with some hot oil, start the meat frying. The aim is for it to be well cooked and almost crispy by the very end, so don’t be shy of the heat, and do keep it moving. When it’s mostly done, add the onion, reserved sichuan pepper, and tofu. I like to fry the tofu a bit to get it some colour and texture.
You’ll need to be careful at this point, so as not to break the tofu up when you stir. Alternately, you can add it later with the liquid ingredients.
When the tofu has some colour and a little bite, and the beef/pork is well done, add the ginger, garlic, chilli, spring onions, and a splash of sesame oil. Cook a little, keeping it all moving as best you can. Then add the sauce ingredients.
Let this simmer and reduce for a minute or two, then gently add the cornflour mix and stir to thicken. I like it quite reduced with a sticky sauce. This is probably some kind of gross profanity, but it’s bloody tasty.
It’s hot and slightly sour, with the sichuan numbing medicinal edge, and the colour is great. The meat should be heading for crispy, providing body. It’s fun tossed through udon, or just with steamed greens.
There are plenty of other recipes for mapo tofu, and if you want to make a good one, you’ll likely be well served by Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty.
Or, if you like being gently perturbed in the kitchen, there’s Cooking With Dog:
That’s, um, quite a thing.