This mapo tofu dish is the real kind, much like the kind you get in restaurants: fiery, tongue-numbing, rice is certainly not optional, and you can’t have just one scoop.
Sichuan Province, where spicy food reigns supreme and the characteristic spice of the region, the Sichuan Peppercorn, provides meals with a distinct “numbing” effect, is where Mapo Tofu originates. The Sichuan peppercorns don’t just enhance the flavor; they also numb the tongue, allowing you to withstand higher levels of heat.
The dish is called “pockmarked grandma’s tofu,” which is a literal translation of the dish’s name. Despite its uncertain beginnings in Sichuan Province, mapo tofu has become a global phenomenon. Different restaurants and takeout services have put their own touch on the meal, resulting in various preparations. These variations typically involve reducing the dish’s level of spiciness, replacing parts of the original vegetables, or both.
In this dish, we aim for a traditional and authentic take on the Sichuan staple, mapo tofu. Spiced sauce covers silken tofu cubes, ground pork, scallion, and Sichuan (or Szechuan) peppercorns.
- 8 ounces ground pork
- 1 pound silken tofu (chop into 1 inch cubes)
- 6-8 roughly chopped dried red chilies
- 1-2 thinly sliced fresh Thai bird chili peppers
- 1 finely chopped scallion
- 2/3 cup of low sodium chicken broth
- ½ cup of oil
- 3 tablespoons of finely minced ginger
- 3 tablespoons of finely minced garlic
- 1-2 tablespoons of spicy bean sauce
- 1 – 1 1/2 tablespoons of Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 1/2 teaspoons of cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon of sesame oil
- 1/4 teaspoon of sugar
- To start, we toast the chilies. Skip this step if you already have toasted chili oil on hand. Prepare a low flame in your wok or small saucepan. Pour in a quarter cup of oil and toss in the peppers, both fresh and dried.
- Avoid burning the peppers by stirring occasionally and heating the mixture for about 5 minutes until fragrant. Take off the heat and put aside.
- Preheat your wok with the remaining 1/4 cup of oil over medium heat. If using ground Sichuan peppercorns, add them now and stir often for another 30 seconds. Stir in the ginger. When the minute is up, throw in the garlic. Continue cooking for one more minute before increasing the heat to high and incorporating the ground pork.
- Chopping the meat into smaller pieces will help it cook faster in the pan.
- Stir in the spicy bean sauce with the other ingredients. Stir in two to three cups of chicken broth to the wok. Just give it a minute or two to simmer.
- Prepare your tofu in the meantime, then in a separate small bowl, blend your cornstarch and 1/4 cup of water until smooth.
- Incorporate the cornstarch slurry into the sauce and mix well. The sauce needs to thicken, so let it simmer for a while.
- Then, throw in your already chili oil, peppers, and everything. Since you have probably salted your own chili oil, you should only utilize the oil that has settled to the bottom. Tofu should be added to the sauce after the oil has been stirred in. The tofu should be gently mixed with the sauce using a spatula.
- Give it three to five minutes to cook. Toss in the scallions, sugar (if using), and sesame oil, and toss until the scallions are wilted but still bright green.
- Sprinkle some Sichuan peppercorn powder on top as a finishing touch.