Not particularly authentic mapo tofu: meat edition

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.

Mapo tofu

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.

Continue reading Not particularly authentic mapo tofu: meat edition

Garlic & ginger beef with pak choi

A combination of going out for Chinese on Friday, and some stubbornly-tough stewing steak cluttering up the fridge left me mulling over tenderizing techniques. Stir fried beef in restaurant Chinese food often seems oddly tender given a taste that implies one of the cheaper, tougher cuts. I was curious.

A little leafing through McGee, and some idle Googling suggest there’s little enough mystery. A blend of acidic marinades, beating the fuck out of it, cutting across the grain, and occasional freezing or additives seem to be largely responsible. Nonetheless, it seemed worth a go.

Acidic marinades break down the meat tissue, and McGee pointed me to ginger as another source of chemical assault. Cornflour seems hotly debated. Half the internet is convinced it’s just for thickening, the other that it has a softening effect. McGee is oddly silent on the subject, and it turns out I don’t own a Chinese cookbook with which to cross-reference. This is a troubling oversight.

In any case, I decided to just do everything I could think of and see what happened; then add garlic.

Ginger garlic beef with pak choi

Continue reading Garlic & ginger beef with pak choi

Broccoli and tofu with cashew nuts and sichuan pepper

This is substantially cribbed from a James martin recipe I found on BBC Good Food, so I won’t dwell on a full write up. It basically works, is all.

You fry tofu with broccoli and spring onions, some generic sauce ingredients (soy, vinegar, honey, rice wine) plenty of garlic, pak choi, and oodles of sichuan pepper:

Broccoli and tofu with sichuan pepper

What I will dwell on is how awesome sichuan pepper is. Fuchsia Dunlop raves about it in her food memoir, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, which is where I came across it first. It has a little heat, sure, but it’s not like western black pepper at all.

It’s peculiar. There’s a tingly, almost numbing feel to it, and a gorgeous spicyness. There’s something citric/metallic in the mix too, and it generally has much more flavour than it feels like a single spice has any right to. In short it’s fucking spiffing, and I’ll be using a lot.

I do think it needs a bit of chilli in support, though, and the sweetness of the honey in the sauce (the recipe says caster sugar, but balls to that) sets it off rather.