Tofu doesn’t have the best reputation in the western world: it has been shunned by omnivores and carnivores and monopolised by vegetarians and vegans. It doesn’t have to be this way; tofu is much tastier than people give it credit for especially when it’s swimming in a fiery sauce. So if you are on the fence about tofu, give this recipe a go. It might just blow your mind; if not, at least it’ll blow your tastebuds!
Mapo Tofu 麻婆豆腐 is a quintessential Chinese dish from the Sichuan province that is known for its numbing spiciness also known as Ma la 麻辣. In the western world however, Chinese restaurants tend to tone it down to cater to the local palate or even transform it into a vegetarian/vegan dish as most people who would even order a tofu dish will most likely be vegetarian or vegan.
There are two ingredients in this recipe that you may have trouble finding if you don’t have an Asian supermarket at hand:
- Douchi 豆豉, often labelled as Salted/Fermented Black Beans, are fermented black soybeans that are used as a flavouring in authentic Chinese cuisine. In the western world they tend to be mashed into a gloopy sauce and used to make a variety of Black Bean dishes. To use: Rinse the beans in cold water and use either whole or minced.
- Pixian Doubanjiang 郫县豆瓣酱, often labelled as Pixian Douban or Chili Bean Sauce, is a spicy paste made with chillies and broad beans beans from Pixian, a district in Chengdu in the Sichuan province. It is the soul of Sichuan cuisine and used in practically everything. Outside of Sichuan, Doubanjiang is usually made with soybeans and is not spicy. If you can’t find Doubanjiang from Pixian at least make sure that you buy one that is made with chillies and broad beans rather than soybeans. To use: it is recommended to run a knife through the paste as sometimes there are big chunks of beans intact.
500g soft tofu, cut into medium sized cubes
200g pork mince
1 ½ Tbsp. Douchi 豆豉, rinsed and minced
2 Tbsp. Pixian Doubanjiang 郫县豆瓣酱, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp. Sichuan peppercorn oil (optional)
2 tsp. chilli powder
4cm fresh ginger, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, finely diced
1 spring onion, finely diced (keep white and green part separate)
1 Tbsp. light soy sauce
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. cornflour (or potato/tapioca starch)
Sesame oil, to taste
Ground Sichuan peppercorns, to taste
If you wish you can make your own Sichuan peppercorn oil at home by dry frying the Sichuan peppercorn for a few minutes until aromatic and then adding vegetable oil for a few seconds to let it infuse. Drain and use just the flavoured oil. If not, skip. 1 Bring a pan of water to boil, lower the heat to medium and gently simmer tofu for 2 – 3 minutes and then strain with a slotted spoon making sure you don’t break the tofu. Keep aside. 2 Stir-fry the pork in vegetable oil until browned and then move to the edge of the wok/pan. Add the white part of the spring onion, garlic and ginger and stir fry until fragrant and then mix in the pork. 3 Move the mince to the edge of the wok/pan and fry off the Douchi and then incorporate with the mince.
4 Move the mince to the edge of the wok/pan and fry off the Pixian Doubanjiang until the oil turns red and then incorporate with the mince. 5 Add water (just enough to cover the tofu), chilli powder, Sichuan peppercorn oil and then bring to a boil.
6 Once it has come to a boil, lower the heat to medium and add the tofu. Shake the wok/pan to coat the tofu in the liquid and use a spatula to gently push the tofu back and forth. It is important to be careful and resist stirring as the tofu will break easily. Simmer for a few minutes.
7 Make a cornflour slurry by dissolving cornflour with 2 Tbsp. cold water. Add this slurry to the tofu and gently stir the liquid and shake the wok/pan to thicken the sauce. 8 Once the sauce has thickened remove from the heat and garnish with the green part of the spring onions, sesame oil and ground Sichuan peppercorns.