Mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐) is a tofu and meat dish cooked in a spicy chilli bean sauce. It is a popular dish in Sichuan (Szechuan) cuisine. The dish packs a fiery savoury punch and we always needed more rice than usual to enjoy all of the spicy sauce. The sauce has a numbing and lip-stinging effect depending on how much Sichuan pepper is added, though the home cooked version is usually toned down in terms of numbness. I never imagined that cooking this dish at home can be so cheap and easy. I have cooked this dish so often that I can now make it in about 20 minutes from preparation to end.
The name of the dish (source: Wiki) literally translates to “Pockmarked-Face Lady’s Tofu” – where legend tells of the pockmarked-face lady who ran an inn on the outskirts of the city selling this popular dish. Another plausible but less widely acceptable explanation for the name is that the word “Ma” (麻) relates to the numbing effect of the Sichuan pepper used to cook this dish.
In this recipe, the essential ingredients are chilli bean sauce (辣豆瓣酱) and Sichuan peppercorn. The bean sauce can be readily purchased at supermarkets. Sichuan pepper is more “ma” (麻 numbing) than “la” (辣 spicy) so the chilli powder is definitely an essential ingredient to up the heat level.
Prep Time:10 mins
Cook Time:12 mins
1 tbsp cooking oil
3 garlic cloves cloves minced
1 tsp dried fermented black beans rinsed, patted dry & mashed slightly with a fork
cornstarch solution 1 tbsp water mixed with 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
Heat oil in a wok, stir fry garlic and fermented black beans until fragrant.
Add minced pork to the wok and stir fry the meat until most of it is no longer pink, breaking the meat up to smaller bits using the spatula or turner.
Add chilli bean sauce, stir fry and mix it into the minced meat to coat evenly.
Add Chinese wine and smell the aroma of the wine seconds later as the alcohol evaporates.
Add water, soy sauce and sesame oil. Bring to a boil then lower heat. Add Sichuan pepper powder and chilli powder.
Gently add tofu cubes and spring onions. Simmer over low heat for 3 minutes, taking care not to break the tofu cubes.
Thicken with cornstarch solution until the gravy reaches the desired thickness. Serve with steamed white rice.
Two methods to get Sichuan pepper powder
Freshly made - Heat up a dry pan or wok (no need oil) and toast the peppercorn for a few minutes until fragrant. Thereafter, grind the roasted peppercorn in an electric blender or pound using a mortar and pestle. Finally, run the powder through a sieve to remove any large bits. Prepare the Sichuan pepper just before cooking the dish for maximum freshness.
Shortcut method - buy bottled ground Sichuan pepper powder which is less potent than freshly ground pepper, but it is a great time saver.