Born and raised in a Chinese family, I am very familiar with Mapo Tofu. But as a kid, I only get to enjoy this delicious tofu dish when my family goes to Chinese restaurants.
My family is Cantonese, and Mapo Tofu is just not part of that heritage. It’s not like Grandma and Mom had the internet back then to help them looking up recipes like we do. But once I started learning to cook, Mapo Tofu is one of the recipes that I want to be part of my cooking repertoire.
Mapo Tofu (麻婆豆腐) is an iconic Chinese dish from Sichuan province. It is a dish of small cubes of silken tofu doused in a fiery bright red spicy sauce.
Ground meat such as pork or beef is usually present alongside silken tofu. There are also vegetarian variations using mushrooms such as wood ear fungus or shiitake to replace ground meat.
The main ingredients of the sauce are chili bean sauce (豆瓣酱 - dou ban jiang), salted black beans (豆豉 - dou chi), and Sichuan peppercorns (花椒 - hua jiao). For those who love a truly spicy dish, feel free to add chili oil (辣油) and chili flakes.
Dou ban jiang (chili bean sauce)
You should be able to find a bottle of chili bean sauce in most supermarkets. Lee Kum Kee’s chili bean sauce is probably the most common, but if you can get chili bean sauce from Sichuan’s Pixian county, I highly recommend doing so.
Salted black beans
Salted black beans are fermented black soybeans using steamed black soybeans and salt. These little black beans pack a punch of flavors even if you add a mere one or two teaspoons to your dishes.
They usually come in a plastic pouch and cost under US$5 per packet if you get them from a brick and mortar store. If your supermarket doesn’t have them, you can also use a bottle of black bean garlic sauce.
Unlike black peppers or white peppers, Sichuan peppercorns are more lemony, and they give a numbing sensation when you bite in them. If you want to cook authentic Sichuan dishes in your kitchen, you cannot get away from buying some Sichuan peppercorns.
1. Prep work
Heat a wok over medium-high heat until hot. Add oil and swirl to coat the wok. Sauté garlic and black beans until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
Add ground pork and stir until no longer pink. Add chili bean sauce and Shaoxing wine, and cook for another 30 seconds.
Add Sichuan peppercorns, soy sauce, sesame oil, and chicken stock. Once it boils, add tofu cubes and simmer for 3 minutes.
Add chopped scallions and mix well. Add the cornstarch slurry and continue stirring until the sauce is thick.
Turn off the heat, transfer to a serving bowl, and serve immediately with steamed white rice.