Many of you loved the easy mapo tofu recipe I first posted in March 2008. Since then, I’ve taught the dish many times in cooking classes, which allowed me to revise it here and streamlined the process. After all these years, it’s still a crowd-pleaser. Make it for one of those nights when you want a quick main dish that’s packed with flavor! And if you’re looking for a similar dish with noodles, try my Mapo Tofu Ramen.
(P.S. The original post is still here for posterity’s sake, but I no longer live in China.)
If I had to make a list of my top favorite comfort foods of all time, mapo tofu would be among the top 10. I almost always order it at Sichuan restaurants, despite that voice in my head pushing me to try something new. But the craving is too hard to resist. Thinking about the spicy thick sauce that wraps sublimely around white rice, and the soft tofu contrasting with the slightly crispy pork, makes me surrender to the tried-and-true.
Fortunately, mapo tofu also very easy to make at home. The recipe I’ve developed after countless times of making mapo tofu has a hearty chili sauce perfumed with sesame. (For an extremely spicy recipe, try the one from Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cookingby Fuchsia Dunlop. She’s one of the very few Western food writers to delve deeply into Sichuan cuisine.)
I made this earlier today for lunch, about 3 hours before my apartment ran out of electricity. Yes, ran out of electricity. One of the wonderful things about living in China is that often you must buy electricity beforehand. So if you’re completely absentminded like I am and don’t realize that your electricity meter is running awfully low, you may end up all of a sudden wondering why the lights, TV, and most importantly, Wifi, all suddenly turned off. And I can’t buy more electricity until morning.
So since I didn’t feel like spending the entire night in the dark with only tealights for guidance, I headed to a café in a nearby hutong. However, after I settled down, plugged in my computer, got ready for some coffee and dinner, I am told that the kitchen is being renovated, so no food service tonight.
And now I remember that fridges run on electricity. I should get home soon and reheat this delicious mapo tofu, while it’s still being preserved by what’s left of the refrigerator’s coldness.
Serves 4 to 5 as part of a multi-course meal
- 1 tablespoon fermented black beans (or substitute black bean sauce)
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 1/2 tablespoons chili bean paste
- 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper
- 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
- ½ pound ground pork or beef
- 2 leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced at an angle
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon minced ginger
- 1 block soft or medium-firm tofu (about 1 pound), drained and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
- 1 scallion, green part only, chopped for garnish
- Prepare the sauce: Rinse the black beans to remove any grit. In a small bowl, mash the black beans with the back of a spoon. Combine the black beans with the chicken stock, chili bean paste, rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and Sichuan pepper. Set aside.
- Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat until a bead of water sizzles and evaporates on contact. Add the peanut oil and swirl to coat the base. Add the pork and stir-fry until crispy and starting to brown but not yet dry, about 2 minutes, breaking up the pork with a spatula. Reduce the heat to medium, then add leeks, garlic, and ginger and stir-fry until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Pour in the sauce and bring the liquid to a boil, the reduce to a simmer. The liquid should now have a nice red color. Gently add the tofu cubes, being careful to not move them around too much or else they will break up. Allow the sauce to simmer for about 2 to 3 minutes so the tofu can cook and absorb the the sauce.
- Carefully push the tofu to the sides and create a small well in the middle. Stir in the cornstarch mixture in the center. Allow the liquid to simmer for another minute, until the sauce has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Transfer to a deep plate or wide bowl, sprinkle scallions on top, and serve hot.
Recipe first posted March 12, 2008. Updated May 6, 2013.