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Mapo tofu

May 6, 2009

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Serves 4

Fermented broad-bean sauce, chili-sesame oil, and Sichuan peppercorns are available in most Asian markets. For the peppercorns, look for bags that contain mostly reddish-brown outer husks with only a few shiny black interior pods and stems. It is important to use silken tofu in block form. The dish cooks very fast, so have all the ingredients ready before cooking. At FuLoon, 1/4 teaspoon MSG goes into this dish (the seasoning is sold under the brand name Aji-No-Moto in Asian markets, as Ac'cent in regular supermarkets).

2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons cold water
1 1/2 pounds silken tofu (medium or soft), cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 pound ground beef
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 piece (1 inch) fresh ginger, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fermented broad-bean chili sauce, or more to taste
2 tablespoons xiaoxing wine or dry sherry
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup chili-sesame oil
3 scallions (green parts only), thinly sliced

1. Set a wok or 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add 2 teaspoons of the peppercorns. Cook, stirring and shaking them constantly, for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Transfer to bowl and leave for 1 minute to cool.

2. In mortar and pestle or spice grinder, coarsely grind the peppercorns. In another small bowl, combine the cornstarch and water. Stir well.

3. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Add the tofu and cook for 1 minute. Drain into a colander, taking care not to break the tofu pieces.

4. In the wok or skillet over medium heat, heat the oil for 1 minute. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns and cook for 30 seconds. Use a wire-mesh skimmer to remove peppercorns from the pan; discard them.

5. Turn the heat to medium high. When it's just beginning to smoke, add the beef and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds or until it is no longer pink. Add the garlic and ginger and cook 30 seconds longer. Add the 2 tablespoons broad-bean chili sauce and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add up to 3 more tablespoons of the sauce, if you like.

6. Turn the heat to high. Add the xiaoxing wine or sherry, soy sauce, stock, and cornstarch mixture. Bring to a boil and boil steadily, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds.

7. Add tofu and chili oil. Fold them into the mixture, taking care not to break up tofu pieces. Bring to a boil. Immediately transfer to serving bowl. Sprinkle with the ground Sichuan pepper and scallions.

Adapted from FuLoon