Monday, January 9, 2012

Week 2 of 52 Weeks of Cooking: Chinese Week, Mapo Tofu.


Note: The end result was actually much saucier and a bit redder, but my cousin’s camera died.

We’re going at a steady clip here! Week 2 of 52 weeks of cooking. At this rate the year will be over before it starts. This week’s theme is Chinese.

Ma-po Tofu, or possibly Mai-po Tofu according to one of my friends, has been one of the most heavily pushed recipes upon me to try by friends and family alike. This was a multiple front war where I was attacked from many sides before relenting and saying, fine, I’ll make the tofu dish!

It’s not as though I dislike dishes with tofu in them. It’s actually a pretty regular part of my diet. But for some reason I wanted to try something different for Chinese week. The immediacy with which so many people suggested it made me think many others would be trying the recipe. I see that bassposaune has beaten me to the punch.

I try to strive for the obscure and original when possible, but given how great this dish is, I think it is worth repeating..

After my cousin, two friends and my cat told me that I should just accept the inevitable and go with it, I finally relented. I should also admit that I’ve never tried Ma-Po tofu. Had I known how incredibly delicious it would be, I would have ceased my arguments immediately and started walking to the market sooner.

That and I’m going to make something else as a bonus dish anyway. More on that later in the week.

I grabbed this recipe from epicurious. While a great foundation for cooking, I felt the dish benefitted greatly from a heck of a lot more sauce ingredients. I used 1/3 more tofu than I was supposed to, but even after doubling the amount of sauce components, I ended up using four times the recommended amount of sauce ingredients by the time I felt the dish looked right.

Here’s the good stuff, the sauce. Soy sauce, salt (I used sea salt), hot chili bean sauce, and chicken broth. The recipe actually calls for hot bean paste, but I couldn’t track it down at the Vietnamese market, and this tasted fine.


And here’s everything else. Sorry for the mess!

We have scallions, sesame seed oil, garlic and ginger, ground pork, the sauce mixture, and tofu! That’s a whopping 24 ounces of freshly made tofu there. Visiting a very Vietnamese heavy city has its benefits! I should really have held back, but I hate leaving waste around.

Not pictured, corn starch. I actually used potato starch, with no ill effects.

I should also note I did not obtain any sichuan peppers, which I believe many will call a fatal omission, so I’ll fess up and take my lumps for not including it.

Before prepping any more ingredients, set a pot of water over medium heat to a simmer.


The sauce is a combination of broth,chili bean sauce, soy sauce and salt to taste.

This is not nearly enough sauce. Delicious, but not nearly enough sauce.


Fresh tofu can be handled thusly to cut into half inch pieces. First halve the cylinders, then cut into slices, lifting your hand to accommodate the knife of course, then pressing down on the back of it with your palm.


Keeping the slices together, move them onto the flat end and slice the slices into what look like fat tofu fries.


Then cut across these into the half inch pieces.


Then carefully add it to the simmering water to heat until ready to add it to the other ingredients.



Another benefit of visiting my aunt, they have a wok!

To a bit of oil, add the ground pork and break it up.


Next add the sauce. Much more sauce than this.


Stir thoroughly into the ground pork.



A couple of unnecessary but cool looking photos of spoon work later, add the minced garlic and ginger and stir through again.


Drain your tofu and add it to the wok.


Admire briefly before incorporating everything together.


Missing a step here. After mixing, add your starch which has been dissolved in water to the wok, which will thicken up the sauce nicely. Then add the sliced scallions, sesame oil and sichuan pepper if you have it.

Here’s a picture of the rather low sauce version of Ma-Po tofu. If you followed the original recipe and want to make it saucier, you can do it after the fact like me.

I ended up adding a lot more sauce ingredients to this “finished” dish, after making it with little issue, coupled with another dosing of dissolved starch.

Here would also be the right place to add the sichuan peppers.


That said, the recipe is great, and was a sumptuous addition to the other accompaniments to a rice meal.

Ma-Po Tofu, recipe adapted and modified from epicurious.


  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 4 tablespoons hot bean paste or hot chili bean sauce
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Kosher salt or sea salt to taste (a generous pinch)
  • 1 lb regular or soft (not silken) tofu
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons corn, peanut, or canola oil
  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • heaping tablespoon of minced garlic
  • heaping tablespoon of peeled and minced fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch or potato starch dissolved 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon toasted Sichuan-peppercorn powder (omit at your own risk!)
  • 3 tablespoons thinly sliced scallion
  • Accompaniment: steamed rice
  1. While prepping other ingredients, bring a pot of water to a simmer, enough to cover tofu pieces.
  2. Combine the broth, bean paste or chili bean sauce, soy sauce and salt and set aside.
  3. Slice tofu into 1/2 inch pieces and slide into simmering water.
  4. In a wok, heat up the oil over medium high heat, then add the pork and break it down.
  5. Add sauce, stir through, then the garlic and ginger.
  6. Drain tofu and slide carefully into the wok, stirring through to avoid breaking up the tofu too much.
  7. Add dissolved starch and bring up the heat, mixing until the sauce is glossy.
  8. Top with scallions, sesame oil and sichuan pepper.

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