Szechuan Round 2: Ma Po Tofu

I’m on a roll – two nights in a row! Tonight’s Szechuan dinner was a lot quicker and actually turned out even better than last night’s. It also had a little more of the chili kick I was expecting last night that my kung pao didn’t really deliver. I’m learning from Fuchsia Dunlop’s book called Land of Plenty. Not sure it’s the most authentic source but it was the best I could find at the moment – other suggestions are very welcome.

Vegetarians – this one’s for you (although the one thing that would have made this better is a little scattering of ground pork or beef… I’m just sayin). This is a super easy dish to make and it’s great because you don’t really need much that you wouldn’t have around even if you don’t cook much Chinese food. The one thing you may not have is Szechuan peppercorns. Szechuan peppercorns have this crazy numbing effect on your tongue that is pretty much unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. It’s kindof like you licked a battery… only less unpleasant. I have these Indonesian long peppers that I’ve been using because they have a very slight numbing effect that’s similar although not nearly as intense. I picked those up at a specialty spice store out here in SF (Le Sanctuaire) so those may also be tough to find… either way, if all else fails just grind some fresh black pepper in their place.

Indonesian Long Peppers

The other ingredient you might not have are fermented black beans. If there’s an Asian market nearby – get some. They’re like 60 cents a package and totally worth it. Otherwise, just omit.

I used a lot less oil than the original recipe calls for because it seemed excessive – the original shows the tofu literally swimming in chili oil. I was looking for something a bit lighter with sauce that I could actually eat, so I adjusted accordingly. I also added some super finely diced red bell pepper to add a little more texture and flavor… and because I feel like I really should be eating more vegetables than I have been lately.

Ma Po Dou Fu
Adapted from Land of Plenty

Tofu (firm, preferably fresh) – about 1lb, cubed in 1/2″ cubes (mine were too big at 1″)
Peanut, canola, vegetable oil – she calls for 1/2 cup. I used about 4 Tbsp
Green onions4 or 5, sliced on the bias
Red bell pepper – finely diced – optional
Chili paste (preferably Szechuan, if not, whatever you have) – 2 Tbsp
Fermented black beans1 Tbsp
Ground dried or diced fresh chilis – optional if you want the extra heat
Stock – chicken or pork – 1 cup
Sugar1 tsp
Soy sauceabout 2 tsp
Cornstarch or potato starch – 2-4 Tbsp mixed with a bit of cold water
Szechuan peppercorn1/2 tsp ground

1. Soak the tofu in hot, lightly salted water for about 10 minutes while you prep the rest.

2. Slice the green onions on an angle to create nice long slices.

3. Turn your heat to high on your pan or wok and pour in your oil. *A note on the wok – I have a useless wok that everything sticks to so I never use it. Instead, lately I’ve been using my dutch oven which works great because it retains heat really well and I can get it searing hot.

4. When the oil is hot – almost smoking – turn down the heat to medium and toss in your chili paste (and watch out). Stir-fry it for about 30 seconds or so to flavor the oil. Toss in the black beans, red pepper (if using) and ground/diced chilis and fry them for another 30 seconds or so.

5. Pour in your stock and add your tofu (but NOT the water it was soaking in). Mix gently so you don’t smash the tofu. Add the sugar and soy sauce (to taste). Simmer this for about five minutes or so.

6. Add the green onions and mix gently again. After they’ve cooked for a minute or so, add the cornstarch slurry a little bit at a time mixing as you add it – only add as much as you need to thicken the sauce. Let it cook for a few seconds between additions to gauge how much you need. You just want the sauce to be thick enough that it sticks to the tofu, etc.

7. Dump it all in a bowl and season with your crushed Szechuan peppercorn.

8. Pour yourself a glass of milk and eat your spicy tofu and try not to cry.

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3 Responses to Szechuan Round 2: Ma Po Tofu

  1. Steven says:

    thats the real deal Holyfield right there

  2. Biz says:

    The spicier the better for me! That looks delicious. Curious, why soak the tofu? Does it effect the texture?

    I am lucky that I married a man that owned a LeCrueset cast iron wok – the thing weighs about 30 pounds but I absolutely love it!

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