While in China, I wanted to learn a soybean dish with a kick. This Sichuan dish by far turned out to be my favorite (and it was especially requested by my friend J.). It’s smooth tofu, paired with crispy meat, with a hot, ginger garlic bean sauce. Yow!
“Ma po doufu” (or tofu) is supposedly named after the old woman who first invented it — “pockmarked grandmother” tofu. In one version of the dish’s origin, she serves this to the emperor who deems it fit for a king, and in another she offers it to humble workers for lunch. Considering these two stories, it seems right to call the dish universally appealing.
Here’s some tips to make your dish extra-delicious: Make sure you use silken or soft tofu that you parboil in salted water. This helps it retain its shape while remaining creamy and supple. Using firm or extra-firm tofu will change the composition of the dish and soak up too much of the sauce.
Additionally, once you add the tofu, be very gentle. If you stir too vigorously and break the tofu, the dish will not look appetizing.
You can control how oily the dish is by modifying the oil you use to fry the meat. While you need a little bit, adding too much will make it greasy. The picture above shows how the spicy bean paste infuses the oil and turns it red, so use it in moderation to carry the flavors without drowning the other elements.
Finally, feel free to adjust all ingredients to taste. There is no right or wrong amount here, so I’ve just estimated the amounts for spicing as a baseline. Also, feel free to add some sugar if you’d like.
Ma Po Doufu
1 block soft or silken tofu
1/4 cup oil (you can increase or reduce the amount to your taste)
200 grams ground beef or ground pork
2-3 tablespoons Sichuan broad bean sauce (sold as “chili bean sauce”)
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon ground red chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup water
1 teaspoon chicken bullion powder
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2-3 tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot powder
2-3 tablespoons scallions, minced white parts
Ground Sichuan pepper to taste
1.) Slice the tofu into 1/2 inch cubes. Place into salted water, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 seconds and set aside.
2.) Heat the oil until just smoking. Turn down heat and add your meat. When the meat has begun to change color, add your bean sauce, ginger, chili powder and water. The oil will turn red as it becomes infused with the chili pepper and spices.
3.) When the meat is cooked, add the tofu, salt, chicken boullion, soy sauce, and minced scallions. Thicken with your starch and cook until the sauce thickens. Stir very carefully, trying not to break the tofu.
4.) Plate and serve, topping with Sichuan pepper.