Cecilia Chiang, author, The Seventh Daughter: My Culinary Journey from Beijing to San Francisco (Ten Speed Press, 2007) (demonstrated September 20, 2008).
This recipe was demonstrated at CUESA’s Market to Table programs on September 20, 2008.
As with many famous Chinese dishes, this one has a story, and like the others it’s been told by so many people over so many years that you have to question its truth. Legend has it that Mapo Dofu is named for an old pock-marked Sichuan woman, Madame Chen, who owned a restaurant where people came from far and near to sample her special tofu in meat sauce. When I lived in Sichuan, where I tasted Mapo Dofu for the first time, it was a dish served just about everywhere—at restaurants as well as at home—because it’s cheap, nutritious, and filling if accompanied by rice. It’s also really tasty so really, does the story even matter?
Notes: Make sure you use “silken” tofu for this recipe. The quality of chili oil here is just as important as the quality of the tofu use. The best chili oil is the kind you make yourself (recipe included at end), but if you have to use the commercial stuff, make sure it’s fresh and made with real sesame oil.
Serves 4 to 6 as part of a Chinese meal
1 teaspoon black bean sauce
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
4 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons peanut oil
¼ pound ground pork butt
¼ cup minced Sichuan preserved vegetable
16 ounces silken tofu, water drained off and cut into 1-by 2- inch cubes
1 teaspoon hot chili oil
Pinch ground Sichuan peppercorns or white pepper
1 tablespoon minced green onion plus a little extra for garnish
- To make the sauce, in a small bowl whisk together the black bean sauce, Shaoxing wine, soy, and 1 teaspoon of the garlic. Set aside.
- Heat a large wok over high heat until a bead of water dances on the surface and then evaporates. Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the pork and stir constantly, breaking the meat apart with a spoon. Toss in the remaining 3 teaspoons garlic with the Sichuan preserved vegetable, and continue to cook until just a trace of pink remains in the pork, about 2 minutes. Using a spoon, very gently add the tofu to the pan. Quickly stir in the sauce, then the chili oil and top with Sichuan pepper and 1 tablespoon of the green onion. Immediately remove from heat. Transfer to a serving platter and garnish with the remaining minced green onion.
For the chili oil
To make about 1 cup of chili oil, heat ¾ cup peanut or corn oil with ¼ cup sesame oil in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat. After 3 or 4 minutes, or when the oil reaches 250° F on an instant-read thermometer add ¼ cup dried red chili flakes. Remove the pan from the heat (the flakes should be foaming slightly) stir, and cover. (If the chilies turn dark or blacken, the oil is too hot and will be bitter. To be on the safe side, add just a few chili flakes to make sure they sizzle and foam without burning.) Let sit off the heat for a couple of hours or overnight. Strain the oil through a fine mesh sieve into a clean glass or plastic container and store in a cool, dark place.
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