Mapo Tofu (Ma Po Tofu) with Szechuan Peppercorns
As the story goes, an endearing old lady with a pockmarked face created this warm and spicy dish for a weary traveler. Also known as Mapo doufou, (mah pao dau fu), reflecting the Cantonese naming that replaces “old woman” with “grandmother” to honor the chef. Today, this amazing dish is served all over the world in Szechuan restaurants and more. Better yet, this high-protein, stir-fried meal can be enjoyed right in your own home.
Although tofu and pork may not sound like much, trust us, this recipe is simply amazing. The Sichuan or Szechuan peppercorns make it extra special.
Thickener for Sauce
In a small bowl, whisk together the chili bean paste, soy sauce, dark soy sauce or molasses and sugar, until fully dissolved. Set aside.
In another small bowl, mix the water and cornstarch. Leave the spoon out for a final stir before adding to the dish.
Sort and separate out the hulls from the seeds and stems of the Szechuan peppercorns. Use only the hulls or your dish will be bitter and unpleasant tasting. Toast the hulls in a small sauce pan to release the aromatics. Cool and grind with a mortar and pestle, or place in a plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large wok over medium-high heat. Sauté the ginger, garlic and the white parts of the green onions until fragrant, stirring frequently. Don’t burn the aromatics, about 5-10 seconds will probably suffice. Add the black beans and Szechuan pepper, and continue to stir. Add the pork to the wok, chopping it finely while it cooks to ensure there are no large clumps of meat. When the pork is cooked throughout, add the sauce mixture and stir to coat evenly. Add the chicken stock and tofu, and gently toss to mix so as not to crumble the tofu.
Give one last stir to the thickening agent, then add to the wok and toss to distribute. Allow it to simmer for about 30 seconds, just until thickened.
Serve over a bed of hot white or brown rice, and sprinkle green onions on top to finish.
You should be able to find most of the ingredients for Mapo Tofu at your local supermarket, so long as they have a decent ethnic food section. If not, make a trip to the nearest Chinese grocery store to pick up the last few items. You can also order the ingredients ahead of time using the links throughout the above recipe.
When working with a wok at high temperatures, it is best to have your ingredients prepared ahead of time. Be sure to prepare (chop, mix, etc.) as many of the ingredients as possible before beginning the cooking process to ensure a smooth and enjoyable cooking experience.
Avocado oil is a great oil to choose for frying due to its high smoke point and mild flavor. We use this brand.
The black beans can be rinsed first if you prefer a less salty flavor.
Use only the hulls of the Szechuan peppercorns. Remove all stems and seeds. Learn how to do this here.