Spicy Beancurd (Mapo doufu)

This may be the best-known spicy Chinese tofu dish. It hails from Sichuan province, where the liberal use of Sichuan peppercorn aims for a heat that is termed “numbing”, in Mandarin mala. I have altered the recipe to make it vegetarian, although the more traditional recipe is under the variation below.

ingredients:

  • 1 pkg tofu: We prefer the firm, silken variety (Mori-nu is our favorite brand), but you can use your favorite – stick to the firm kind.
  • 1 T oil

sauce:

  • 1 T fermented black beans
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1-2 tsp chili sauce, such as Sriracha or 1/2-1 tsp chopped salted chilies or chili flakes in oil
  • 2 T light soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 c broth or water

to thicken:

  • 2 T broth or water
  • 2 tsp cornstarch

garnish:

  • 1 scallion, sliced thinly on the diagonal
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/8 tsp Sichuan pepper, ground – this is available in Asian markets and occasionally in the Asian section of conventional groceries. (optional – but gives a truly authentic taste)

method:

  1. Cut the tofu into 1/2″ cubes and slide into a bowl of salted water (1 T salt to 2 c water) for at least 10 m: this will keep it from falling apart when you cook it.
  2. Combine all sauce ingredients in a bowl, and the thickener in another bowl.
  3. Heat the oil in a wok until it shimmers.
  4. Add the sauce ingredients (watch out for splatters!), bring to a boil.
  5. Drain and add the tofu cubes, and immediately reduce to a simmer.
  6. Stir GENTLY from the bottom to coat the cubes with sauce.
  7. Simmer for 2 m, then add the thickener, stirring GENTLY from the bottom until thickened.
  8. Turn the heat to low, and simmer 1 m more to remove the starchy taste.
  9. Slide into serving bowl, garnish, and serve immediately.

variation:

This is traditionally not a vegetarian dish. If you prefer it with meat, use 1/4 lb ground beef or pork, about 1/2 c. (I recommend pastured meat – the flavor is infinitely superior! See Local Harvest for a provider near you.) After heating the oil in the wok, add the meat and stirfry just until it loses its pinkness. If you have a lot of fat, pour it off until you have approximately 1 T left in the wok with the meat.  Continue from step 4 as above.

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