This is the king and queen of my kitchen. It's a "sad day" dish, "good day" dish, comfort food and something I have been working on for months, until I got the taste that took to me to another level.
I don't think this once needs special introduction for anyone who is at least a bit into Chinese cooking. One of the most popular dish from Sichuan - mápó dòufu. I know there are tons of recipes for this dish on Internet, but this is my humble version, which makes everything better every time.
It took me about a year to get to a version that was hot, but did not make me cry, numbing pleasure and perfect balance of salt, savory and earthy flavours.
It needs some special ingredients, but nothing you cannot get at a local Asian store or online. I really have no idea how to advertise the recipe better, I trust that, once you make it, the recipe will stay with you forever.
Note on the ingredients: you can use silken tofu or regular tofu, and prepare it following the recipe.
Without further ado, let's get to it!
Make sure to prepare all ingredients as they are described before starting to cook the recipe. Once we get those pans and woks hot, we need to act quick!
For the tofu:
- 450 g firm tofu
- boiling water, to cover tofu
- 0,5 tsp salt
50 g vegetable oil
1-2 tsp ground dried chili (this will give colour)
1-2 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorns (remember to remove dark seeds and use only pink skins!)
2 tsp fermented soy bean, drained and finely chopped
2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine (optional)
400 g secondary stock from this recipe OR 400 g water with 1 tsp chicken or vegetable stock paste or cube dissolved
1,5 tsp brown sugar (or white sugar)
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1,5 tbsp water mixed with 1 tbsp corn starch
additional 1-2 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorns, to serve
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil, to serve
spring onion, green part, chopped, to serve
Cut tofu in cubes (approx. 2 cm), place in a bowl, add salt, cover with boiling water and set aside until needed.
Heat vegetable oil over high heat on the bottom of a wok or a frying pan with thinnest bottom you have. Once the oil is hot, be careful not to get burned and act quickly to avoid any burning of the food!
Add dried chili and 1-2 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorns and fry until fragrant.
Add minced meat (beef or pork, OR for vegetarian option, just skip meat here) and fry until golden brown, while occasionally mixing. Add:
- chopped pixian paste, garlic, ginger and fermented soy beans
Fry very well until strongly fragrant. Is is very important to fry pixian paste well to release all its flavour.
- cooking wine and fry until fragrant (approx. 30 seconds)
Add secondary stock and bring to the boil. Add sugar and soy sauce, then mix. Add water and cornstarch mixture and mix vividly to incorporate. Once thickened and bubbly, add drained tofu and carefully mix, change heat to medium and cook for approx. 1 minute.
Transfer to a serving bowl, serve immediately, garnished with sesame oil, spring onions and remaining 1-2 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorns and rice on the side.
- use nice, fragrant dried chili, bought at local store with Chinese (or Asian) products
- be careful with pixian paste; better to add less and then more, than make it too salty; this is our main salty flavour agent, so, depending on the type of soy sauce you use, make sure it is not too salty
. I had a lot of strong arguments about it at home... even though I love salt, sometimes it was very easy to make it too salty. This is the pixian paste I use (on the right).
- like I mentioned, skip adding meat in step 3 for vegetarian option.
- fermented soybeans - you can use regular ones or with chili; I usually use the ones with chili, as I really like spicy things. This is the one I use and strongly recommend:
These are the two ingredients that can be more troublesome to find, but really, I found them in each store with Chinese food and there are many online stores offering both regular ones and with chili.
One more important note: the oil in this dish is very important. Mapo tofu should be a bit oily, as oil is the best flavour transmitter. This is why we fry chili and Sichuan peppercorns in oil first to enhance all flavours. The best oil would be cannola oil in this case.
Adding simple stock from my recipe really enhances the whole dish. Not to brag, but this makes a huge change, I tested it many times.
Of course, switch regular tofu for silken tofu, but be careful not to break too much; my first box of silken tofu landed in the sink by mistake and I was not entertained!
Reduce meat even to 100 g. I have a carnivore at home, so there is never enough to meat... we try to find a compromise, so I usually use 200 g... feel free to experiment! Make the dish your own! This recipe will help you get as close as possible to authentic taste.
The sauce and tofu can be reheated, I usually take a small container to work. Actually, it even gets better in time.
Add please, please, PLEASE drink a nice cup of hot tea right after eating this! You will see how much difference this makes :)
I hope you will like it! Let me know on Insta how it went!