I love a dish with a good story behind it, and Mapo Tofu is a legendary dish from the Sichuan province in China that has a good one. Well, actually it has several, but my favorite is that of an old lady (po) whose face was covered in pockmarks (mazi).
Because of her disfigurement she lived the life of an outcast outside the provincial capital, Chengdu. One dark and stormy night, a wealthy businessman stopped at her home to seek shelter from the rain. Delighted at having a guest, she raided her meager pantry to put together a dish made with tofu and pork. The traveler was so amazed by her delicious creation that he sent more travelers her way for Ma Po’s Doufu.
Today this dish, known as Mapo Tofu, can be found in almost any Chinese restaurant around the world with hundreds of variations adapting the piquant original to suit local tastes.
While it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, for an authentic Sichuan style Mapo Doufu, the floral tongue numbing Sichuan peppercorn is a must. Along with the fiery heat from the doubanjiang, it provides a circus of sensation in your mouth.
You should be able to find both doubanjiang (also known as Chili Bean Paste) and black bean paste in any supermarket with a descent Asian food section. For the fermented black beans and Sichuan peppercorns, you’ll probably need to head to your nearest Chinese grocery store.
As with any stir-fry, the key is to cook at a very high temperature, so it’s best to have all your ingredients prepared and ready to add to the pan.
Mapo Tofu can be found in almost any Chinese restaurant around the world with hundreds of variations adapting the piquant original to suit local tastes. Marc Matsumoto of NoRecipes shares the story behind this dish on the Fresh Tastes blog.
- 1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
- 2 teaspoons potato starch (halve if using cornstarch)
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 medium cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons minced ginger
- 4 green onions white part only, minced
- 1 tablespoon fermented black beans, roughly chopped (black bean paste will also work)
- 1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, black seeds removed then ground (optional)
- 6 ounces ground pork
- 2 teaspoons doubanjiang (chili bean paste)
- 14 ounce block of silken tofu, drained and cut into 3/4” cubes
- green part of green onions minced for garnish
- Add the chicken stock, cornstarch, soy sauce and sugar to a small bowl and stir to combine.
- Heat a wok or large frying pan until hot. Add the sesame oil, garlic, ginger and green onions and stir-fry with a spatula until fragrant. Add the black beans and Sichuan pepper and continue stir-frying.
- Add the ground pork and use the spatula to break it up into small grains (you don’t want clumps of meat). When the pork is cooked, add the doubanjiang and stir to distribute. Add the tofu, and toss to mix (if you stir it, the tofu will lose its shape).
- Give the stock mixture a good stir to incorporate anything that may have settled, and then pour it over the pork and tofu. Toss to coat, then boil until the sauce thickens.
- Garnished with the green parts of the green onions, then serve with hot rice.
Yield: 3-4 servings
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.