Ma-Po Tofu is one of the most famous dishes to emerge from Sichuan. If you haven’t tried it, you are in for a treat! The first time I made this at home, my face was profusely sweating while I ate it, and the spice was so powerful I could feel my internal organs pleading for relief. I thought, “Surely this isn’t’ supposed to happen!” But according to Mrs Chiang’s Szechuan Cookbook, the original dish was “so spicy hot that it caused a sweat to break out.” So if you don’t sweat, you’re doing it wrong. And apparently, I’m a giant baby who has no tolerance for spicy food.
If this is your first time making Ma-Po Tofu, my advice would be to go easy on the dou-chi (salted black beans). They are incredibly salty. Dunlop’s recipe calls for one tablespoon of salted black beans, and that amount was too much for me, so I reduced the amount for this recipe. If you find it is too salty for you, reduce it further (same with all other spice and flavourings).
Szechuan Ma-Po TofuPrint Recipe
- 1 pound of firm tofu
- 1 large or 2 small leeks
- 6 ounces of ground pork or beef
- 1 cup of chicken stock or water
- 1 teaspoon of honey
- 1/2 cup of peanut oil or high-heat cooking oil
- 1 tablespoon of cornstarch or arrowroot
- 2.5 tablespoons of fermented fava bean past
- 1 tablespoon of fermented black beans
- 1/2 tablespoon of Sichuan peppercorn
- 2 teaspoons of light soy sauce
- Tofu – dice the tofu into 2 cm cubes. Boil some water, soak the tofu cubes in the water with some salt for 15-20 minutes, drain the water, and pat the cubes with a paper towel until they are thoroughly dry.
- Leek – cut off the dark green tops and discard (or freeze for vegetable stock). Cut the remaining tube into half lengthwise, then slice each length finely. Thoroughly wash the pieces after cutting them because leeks get dirt in their crevices, and we don’t want that making into your Ma-Po Tofu!
- Sichuan peppercorn – heat the wok or frying pan over medium heat (do not add oil) for 1-2 minutes. Add the Sichuan peppercorns to the dry surface and let them hang out for about 60 seconds, moving them continuously by tilting the pan or stirring them. Remove the wok from heat and tip the peppercorns onto a plate. Grind the peppercorns using a peppermill, or smash them in a plastic baggie with the back of a small saucepan. Alternately, you could leave them whole if grinding them is too much trouble. NBD.
- Cornstarch or arrowroot – If you use cornstarch or arrowroot, mix your slurry with a fork and set it aside.
The rest of this is going to go pretty fast, so get ready!
- Heat the wok over moderately high heat for about 1-2 minutes (I hover between 8-9 on my electric stovetop).
- Add 1/2 cup of peanut oil and allow about 45-60 seconds to heat thoroughly. At the same time it is heating, carefully distribute the oil evenly on the wok/pan surface by titling it gently in all directions to create a nonstick surface.
- Add the ground pork/beef and stir-fry for 45 seconds, moving the meat constantly, so it gets an even coating of oil and exposure to the cooking surface. After 45 seconds, add the fava bean paste and stir-fry for 45 seconds to incorporate. The oil should assume a deep red hue. Next, add the fermented black beans and stir-fry for 30 seconds to mix well.
- Now, add the chicken stock/H20 + the leeks, and stir-fry for 60 seconds. Add the tofu, soy sauce, honey, and peppercorns (ground or whole). Now you must stir everything very gently, or the tofu will crumble! Sir tenderly for 20 seconds. Then allow the whole mess to simmer for 2-3 minutes, enjoying the aroma.
- Finally, revive your slurry with a few whips of the fork and slowly drizzle it into the Ma-Po Tofu. Stir timidly to incorporate well while leaving tofu intact. Remove wok from heat and plate your Ma-Po Tofu.
Noms away! Enjoy! Best served with white rice and a side veggie like Sichuan green beans.