This classic Sichuan restaurant dish looks easy to prepare, yet I have watched more than 5 videos to give me some confidence to cook the dish. Of course the foremost worry is no more than breaking the tofu. I have seen members posted the cooked tofu that became debris like and that is not acceptable for this dish. It must be in a whole piece.
Tofu is easily breakable and almost all the restaurant chefs in the video handled this dish with great care and advised you not to be rough. Some of the hotel chef even go to the extent of applying starches 2-3 times such that the tofu is well coated with the sauce. However, I have simplify the recipe to apply the starches once only.
The tofu that you saw in this illustration may look different from those sold in the supermarket. I did not play cheat and this type of tofu is very common in the wet market stores selling bean sprouts, fresh noodles and etc.. i have selected this type not because it is harder, but because it is easier for me to cut into the sizes I wanted. You may asked if supermarket packing type of tofu can be used. Yes, definitely yes and I can assure you. Some even have harder texture. What you need to do is to cut off the 4 corners at the base of the tofu pack, open the plastic cover and turn back into a plate, in that way, the tofu will come out easily.
I am unsure if you are aware that salt and cooking will make a piece of tofu harder. Over cooked tofu can be ugly with holes and becomes much harder. Based on these two facts, the tofu must be pre-treated before cooking such that your dish is presentable. The most important is to blanch the tofu in boiling saline water for about 5 minutes. The saline will draw some water from tofu via osmosis those making the tofu slightly harder. Once you cooked and submerged into the sauce, the tofu will emit more water and juices will flow into the tofu those making the tofu tastier.
To make it an authentic Sichuan dish, you will need Sichuan pepper corn (花椒）。 Previously, members of Facebook Group are asking me where did I get my supply of Sichuan pepper corn. Well, I have ever bought my supply from Fairprice and Sheng Shiong supermarket in the small bottle form. However, today, I bought about S$1.50 worth of hua jiao from a traditional Chinese medicine hall. In order to make the hua jiao aromatic, just like white or black pepper corns, you need to stir fry until fragrance and grind it. Hua jiao is the spice that numbs your lips and mouth, an essential spice in Sichuan cuisines. However, if you are not a fan of numbness in your mouth, you can omit this ingredient. Aroma will definitely different from what you have eaten at the restaurant. The black specks in the image is the dusting of Sichuan peppercorns.
Another important ingredient in Sichuan dish is these spicy fermented bean paste. You can easily get it in supermarket. The authentic one from Sichuan is rather salty. Though the name of the paste is spicy and it looks spicy , it is in fact not very spicy. Even my kids can eat this .
All these while when I ate Mapo Tofu in China restaurant, I always felt that they have added beef stock. Only yesterday I confirmed that the traditional authentic Mapo tofu is prepared using minced beef. Since I do not take beef, I have used pork as a substitute.
“Mapo doufu or Mapo tofu is a popular Chinese dish from Sichuan province. It consists of tofu set in a spicy chilli- and bean-based sauce, typically a thin, oily, and bright red suspension, and often cooked with douchi (fermented black beans) and minced meat, usually pork or beef. “Ma” stands for “ma-zi” (Chinese: mázi, 麻子) which means pockmarks. “Po” is the first syllable of “popo” (Chinese: 婆婆, pópo) which means an old woman or grandma. Hence, mapo is an old woman whose face is pockmarked. It is thus sometimes translated as “pockmarked grandma’s beancurd”. Authentic Mapo doufu is powerfully spicy with both conventional “heat” spiciness and the characteristic “mala” (numbing spiciness) flavor of Sichuan cuisine. The feel of the particular dish is often described by cooks using seven specific Chinese adjectives: 麻 (numbing), 辣 (spicy hot), 烫 (hot temperature), 鲜 (fresh), 嫩 (tender and soft), 香 (aromatic), and 酥 (flaky). The authentic form of the dish is increasingly easy to find outside China today, but usually only in Sichuanese restaurants that do not adapt the dish for non-Sichuanese tastes. The most important and necessary ingredients in the dish that give it the distinctive flavour are chilli broad bean paste (salty bean paste) from Sichuan’s Pixian county (郫县豆瓣酱), fermented black beans, chilli oil, chilli flakes of the heaven-facing pepper(朝天辣椒), Sichuan peppercorns, garlic, green onions, and rice wine. Supplementary ingredients include water or stock, sugar (depending on the saltiness of the bean paste brand used), and starch (if it is desired to thicken the sauce)” (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mapo_doufu)
WHAT IS REQUIRED
Servings: About 4-5 adult servings
- 300 grams of tofu
- 50 grams of minced beef or minced pork
- 2 tablespoons of spicy fermented soya bean paste
- 1 tablespoon of garlic ginger paste
- 1 teaspoon of dark soya sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon of white sugar
- 2-3 sprigs of spring onion, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon of Sichuan peppercorn powder (optional)
- 1 tablespoon of chilli oil (optional)
- 1/2 cup of chicken stock or meat broth
- 1 tablespoon of corn starch mix with 3 tablespoons of water
STEPS OF PREPARATION
- Dry pan fry the Sichuan peppercorns in a pan until aromatic using LOW HEAT. You will know it is ready when you see smokes emit from the spice and it start to pop up and down like popcorns. Grind the Sichuan peppercorns either using a mortar and pestle or food processor. Since this recipe requires only 1/2 teaspoon, you can omit this step if you preferred or if you have store bought Sichuan peppercorn powder.
- Cut the tofu into 2 cm cubes. In a pot, put some water and 1 tablespoon of salt. Bring to boil, put a basket and gradually add in the tofu. Let it blanch it hot water for 2-3 minutes. Off the heat and let it sit in the hot water for another 5 minutes before draining. The wire basket is to facilitate taking out the tofu with minimum touch to the tofu. You can drain by taking out the entire wire basket.
- Heat a frying pan under high heat, put 1 tablespoon of cooking oil, pan fried the minced meat until it is set. Add the spicy fermented soya bean paste, stir fry for 1 minute before adding the ginger garlic paste. Stir fry until you smell the garlic aroma. Add the chicken stock and reduce the heat to MEDIUM. Add the blanched tofu carefully and let it simmer for about 3 minutes or when the sauces start to reduce. Ensure that all pieces of tofu have the sauces. Very gradually pour the start solution on top of the tofu and once it thickens, off the heat and add in the chopped spring onion.
- Pour the dish directly into the serving plate. Dust with the Sichuan peppercorn powder and additional chilli oil if preferred. The dish is best served with hot rice.
- Throughout the entire process of cooking, avoid touching the tofu. You can scope out the gravy on the surrounding and put on top of the tofu. Pour the cooked dish directly in your serving plate without using a ladle . Minimum touching the tofu is the key words.
Remember that the challenge to this dish is to have the tofu in a piece and not breaking them. This method of stir frying tofu can be used for other dishes as well. Whether or not to put Sichuan peppercorn or using beef is up to individual.
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