Ma-Po Tofu

Posted on July 27, 2021 by psu

I started making this a couple of years ago off of the recipe in this youtube video by Steph and Chris of “Chinese Cooking Demystified” fame. They also have their recipe written out on reddit. The Fucshia Dunlop recipe is also a classic.

The main problem with using someone else’s recipe for this dish is tuning the balance of the spices. You want just the right amount of heat, chili flavor and Sichuan peppercorn tingles in your tongue. Get any of these factors out of balance with the rest and the whole thing is ruined.

So here is what I do, which gives me the spice balance I want.

  1. 1/4 lb ground meat. Any kind will do, but ground chicken or turkey will be bad.

  2. 1lb of soft tofu, cubed. In the recipe above they soak the tofu in hot water for a while. I don’t do this.

  3. 1 tablespoon Sichuan Chili Bean Paste, i.e. Pixian Doubanjiang (郫县豆瓣酱). Your local Asian store will have this. Look for a package that looks like this.

  4. 1 tablespoon ground chili flake. Your local store should have this too. If you want to splurge on something fancy this stuff is great.

  5. 2-3 teaspoons of Sichuan Peppercorn. You can use red, or you can use a mix of red and green. Again, your local store will have this. Again, the stuff at the Mala market is great.

  6. 1 teaspoon (or a bit more) fermented black beans, chopped.

  7. 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced

  8. An inch cube or so of ginger, minced.

  9. 1-2 cups of chicken stock or water. It really does not matter which you use.

  10. One bunch of scallion with the white part in one bowl and the green part in another bowl.

  11. A bit of light soy, a bit of dark soy, Shaoxing wine if you want to get fancy.

  12. Corn starch slurry (2-3 tablespoons of corn starch mixed with twice as much water).

First toast the peppercorns lightly on medium heat, and then grind them up in a mortar and pestle (or a coffee mill that you use only for spices). Put the result in a bowl. Put the chili flake in another bowl.

Next, chop up the black beans, put in a bowl.

Next, chop up the chili bean paste to break up the large pieces of beans, put in a bowl.

Put the rest of your aromatics in a bowl.

Put your pan (any medium sized sauce pan or soup pot will work, or a wok) on medium to medium high heat. Add oil and brown the meat, chopping it up into little pieces. When it’s pretty brown and has rendered out, turn the heat down to low and pull the pan off the heat to cool off for 30 seconds. Add the chili bean paste. Put the pan back on the heat and carefully warm up the chili bean paste until it lets out its oil and aromatics. You do not want to burn it. This will take a minute or two. Mix the red oil into the meat.

Now add your ginger and garlic and the white part of the scallion, chili flake, and black beans. Mix it around. Add about half of the ground sichuan peppercorn at this point. At this point you can turn the heat back up to medium to medium high.

Add a cup or so of water, then the tofu, then add the soy and the wine and more water until you get a good balance of liquid to tofu depending on how saucy you want the final result. Mix this around to make sure the balance is right and wait for it to come back to a slow boil. I like to be able to see the top half of the tofu cubes sticking out of the water. You will get a feel for this.

When the liquid in the pan is back to a soft boil, add a third of the corn starch. Stir it around to how much the sauce thickens. If it’s still soupy, add a bit more, stir it around. Repeat until you get the consistency you want. Again, you’ll get a feel for this.

Here’s what my final result looks like in the pot at the end:

And in a bowl

And in a bowl with rice

To finish up taste a spoonful to check the balance of heat to numbing flavor. Add a pinch or two more of the sichuan peppercorn if you want more of that kick. Or a pinch or two more chili flake if you want more heat.

Finally, put the green part of the scallion on top for garnish.

Serve over white rice. Nothing else. If I catch you eating this with some brown rice/quinoa medley shit I’ll come for you.

If for some reason you want to make vegan friends you can use dried shitake mushrooms that you soak and then chop up instead of the ground beef. They will never know what hit them. To unmake the new friends you can then tell them you actually put beef in it after they eat the whole pot.

Finally, you will notice that my recipe, the Dunlop recipe, and the Steph and Chris recipe vary a lot in how much of the spicy stuff they use. I’m not sure why this is, but my amounts have ended up working best for me over time. Again, after you do this a few times you’ll get a feel for what you like. Luckily the end to end cooking time on this dish is only about 15-20min. So you can experiment very quickly. Have fun.