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mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐)

March 25, 2019

Quest for the perfect mapo tofu!

VERSION 1 – a sweet, Americanized version by Shirley Cheng for epicurious

•1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
•1 1/2 pounds soft (not silken) tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
•2 tablespoons Chinese hot bean paste (also called chili bean sauce)
•1 tablespoon Chinese black-bean paste or sauce
•4 tablespoons oyster sauce (note: this is too much, and will make your dish very, very sweet)
•2 tablespoons Asian chili powder (note: this is clearly too much for most westerners; add a little at first and more to taste)
•1 tablespoon cornstarch
•1/4 cup peanut oil (I mixed in some hot chili oil from dan dan noodles)
•4 ounces ground beef
•1 (1/4-inch) piece fresh ginger, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
•2 cloves garlic, minced
•1 scallion (white and green parts), thinly sliced on diagonal
•1/4 cup Shaoxing rice wine (or dry sherry)
•1 medium leek (white and pale green parts only), washed, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch slices (about 1/2 cup)
•1/2 cup chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
•1 tablespoon light soy sauce
•1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

recipe by Shirley Cheng for epicurious

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VERSION 2 – from omnivore’s cookbook

•120 grams (4 ounces) ground meat (pork, chicken or turkey)
•2 teaspoons Shaoxing wine (or Japanese Sake)
•1 teaspoon light soy sauce
•1/2 teaspoon minced ginger

For braising
•1 teaspoon cornstarch
•2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns (increase to 3 teaspoons if you like your dish extra numbing)
•1 tablespoon vegetable oil
•3 tablespoons Doubanjiang spicy fermented bean paste
•2 tablespoons green onion, chopped (note: I didn’t have any, so I used 2 cloves of garlic)
•1 block (400-g / 14-oz) firm or medium firm tofu , cut into 1.5cm (1/2 inch) squares
•1 cup water or stock
•2 teaspoons Chinese chili oil; 1 teaspoon for a less spicy dish (note: for a mild dan dan noodle chili oil, you will need all 2 teaspoons.)
•1/4 teaspoon five-spice powder
•1 teaspoon sugar (or to taste)
rice or another grain to serve

1. Combine ground meat/veg, cooking wine, soy sauce, and ginger in a bowl. Mix well.

2. Combine cornstarch with 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl. Mix well and set aside.

3. Cut and prep ingredients.

4. Heat vegetable oil and Sichuan peppercorns in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. When the Sichuan peppercorns turn dark brown and crispy, scoop them out with spatula and transfer into a bowl layered with paper towel to soak extra oil. Save to use for garnish the dish.

5. When oil is hot, add ground meat and bean paste. Stir-fry over medium heat with a spatula, until pork is evenly coated with bean paste. Add green onion and stir fry for another minute.

6. Spread tofu evenly on top of ground pork – don’t stir until it braises for a few minutes, so the tofu doesn’t fall apart. Add chili oil, five-spice powder, and sugar. Pour in broth/water and simmer, covered, over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until tofu becomes tender and the sauce has reduced to half the original amount. Taste the tofu with some broth. Adjust seasoning by adding salt. If the dish is too spicy, add another teaspoon of sugar. Gently mix well with spatula.

7. Mix cornstarch water again until fully dissolved and swirl it into the skillet. Gently stir a few times with a spatula, until sauce thickens. Turn off heat and transfer everything to a bowl.

8. Garnish with green onion and Sichuan peppercorns, if using. Serve warm over rice or another grain.

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VERSION 3 – from iron chef chen

1 package silken tofu
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
water, for parboiling tofu

3 ounces ground pork
1⁄2 cup green garlic chives, chopped in 1/2 inches (nira)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon chinese chili bean sauce (toubanjan or doubanjiang)
1 tablespoon chinese brown bean sauce (tenmienjan, tenmenjan, or tenmenjiang)
2 teaspoons fermented black beans, chopped finely
1⁄4 – 1⁄2 teaspoon ichimi togarashi pepper or 1/4-1/2 teaspoon japanese dried red chili pepper, minced
1 teaspoon chili oil
3⁄4 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon sake or 1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon szechuan peppercorn (optional)

Cornstarch paste: 1 tablespoon cornstarch + 1 tablespoon water

Cut tofu into 1 inch cubes. Heat enough water in a large saucepan, add 1/2 teaspoon salt and tofu pieces. Bring to boil and cook tofu on medium high heat for 8 to 10 minutes and remove from heat. Precooking tofu in water prevents tofu from breaking apart easily later. Set aside.
While tofu is cooking, make cornstarch paste by mixing 1 T cornstarch and 1 T water. Set aside.
Set wok on high heat for 1 minute until hot. Add 2 T vegetable oil and swirl the pan, then add ground pork, stirring to separate.
When ground pork is browned, add Chinese brown bean sauce ie tenmenjan, tenmienjan, or tenmenjiang, Chinese chili bean sauce ie toubanjan or doubanjiang, fermented black beans, and ichimi tougarashi or minced dried red chili pepper. Continue to cook for 1 minute.
Add chili oil, drained tofu pieces, chicken stock, garlic chives, soy sauce, and sake. Stir fry gently for 1-2 minutes.
Add cornstarch paste to thicken and add sesame oil. Swirl gently and cook for another 3-4 minutes on medium high heat. Sprinkle Szechuan peppercorn on top.
Serve with steamed white rice.

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RECIPE 1: I’ll be honest – I hardly followed the recipe. I made my own low-sodium versions of bean paste, since I ran out of fermented bean paste a few months ago. I combined miso, a homemade version of hoisin with peanut butter and tamari… the substitutions were a mess. Sherry for Shaoxing wine, sesame oil for peanut oil… I barely had anything the recipe called for at all. But this was still one of the best things I made all winter.

Hits all those comfort food notes. Greasy, sweet, salty, savory, texturally interesting, and absolutely numbing and spicy. Just… yes. I used some extra chili oil from last month’s batch of dan dan noodles (dandanmian), and a ton of Sichuan peppercorns toasted and ground, although nowhere near the teaspoon called for in the recipe.

A comment on the Epi review recommends iron chef Chen‘s recipe as slightly more authentic and less sweet. Since I used half my oyster sauce on this recipe, I’ll definitely try it.

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RECIPE 2: I was worried it’d be too spicy, so I cut the bean paste from 3T to 2T. It wasn’t spicy enough last night, but the leftovers sat and got spicier and spicier! Today it was just perfect. I’d say cut it to 2T if you’re making it for tomorrow. Otherwise, go for the whole 3T! Very different from the super-sweet oyster sauce version. They’re both so good! I would say version two is a little more savory and simple, and recipe one is a little more of a flavor bomb, much saltier and sweeter. The first is perfect for American palates, and the second is great for people who don’t care for sweet food. I highly recommend both! I can’t wait to try iron chef Chen‘s recipe to complete this trifecta of tofu!

Added this to the “rotation” tag because I plan to try all the different versions of this amazing dish. I made this twice so far in March. What a rad way to use up the last little bit of ground meat in your fridge!

 

edit: help I can’t stop eating this incredible spicy meal

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RECIPE 3: (July, 2019) I’m guessing this is the most authentic, as it tastes the least like something from an Americanized Chinese restaurant. Recipe #1 is way too sweet, even for me, but it’s really delicious if you like it sweet. Recipe #2 is super flavorful. Recipe #3 is definitely more subtle. I splurged on some fermented black beans this year, and I really liked their subtle flavor in this. I definitely recommend recipe #3 – it’s delicious.

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BEST MAPO TOFU EVER: for my tastes, I prefer recipe #2 with some alterations. Next, I will start combining all these recipes – a little oyster sauce or hoisin from recipe #1, a ton of chives from recipe #3, using the skeleton of recipe #2. I have made this no less than five times this year!

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