Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Mapo Tofu


I'm sick right now and, whenever I feel this way, I crave spicy, pungent food. Err, I ALWAYS crave spicy, pungent food but when I'm sick, I want it even more! There are a few reasons for this:
  1. Spicy food is great at clearing a stuffed up nose.
  2. It cures that lethargic feeling I have whenever I'm ill...the spices make me sweat and I feel alive!
  3. Due to the congested nose, it's hard to taste food so the more strongly flavored the victuals are, the more enjoyable eating becomes. Hot, spicy food brings more than just flavor...it gives you a sensation your mouth can FEEL.
With all of this in mind, I made one of my all-time favorite dishes...Mapo tofu. Mapo tofu is a Chinese dish from Sichuan province. The basic building blocks of the dish are tofu, ground meat, doubanjiang, and Sichuan peppercorns. Around this theme, you can create many, many variations.
Note that doubanjiang is an ingredient worth learning about...it is used in many Sichuanese dishes and is an easy way to add flavor to stir-fried dishes. Supposedly, the best doubanjiang is made near the town of Pixian but I have no idea if this is really true.

This recipe is adapted from Land of Plenty. I think I may have mentioned this cookbook in the past...it's definitely on my list of desert island cookbooks.

Here we go!
The usual picture of everything we're using. In the ramekins, from left to right, are doubanjiang, Chinese fermented black beans and ground Sichuanese chiles.
Here are the Sichuanese chiles before I ground them:
These little suckers are kinda cute.

One package of soft tofu, cubed:
5 small scallions slivered:
In the ramekins were about 3 tablespoons of doubanjiang, a tablespoon and a half of fermented black beans and more ground chile that we're going to use. I ground extra because I wanted to have some leftovers.

Heat up a wok and toss in a half cup of oil. Yes, this is alot but the Sichuanese like a heavy layer of red chile oil on top of this dish. If you want to use less oil, feel free to do so. When the oil is hot, toss in a small handful of ground meat. Ground beef is traditional but I'm using ground pork. Break up the clumps of meat with a utensil. Allow the meat to fry until it changes color and browns a little bit.
When the meat is a bit brown, push it up the side of the wok and add the doubanjiang to the oil. Stir fry the paste so the chilies release their color into the oil:
Toss in the tablespoon and a half of fermented black beans and a few teaspoons of ground chiles. I used three teaspoons. Stir fry until the oil is a brilliant orange/red. This won't take long. Add a cup of chicken broth
and the cubed tofu:
Add soy sauce and sugar to taste. A few teaspoons of soy sauce and a teaspoon of sugar should suffice. Simmer. You're just trying to heat the tofu through, have it absorb some of the flavorful liquid and have the liquid reduce down a bit. Don't furiously boil it because you don't want to emulsify the oil into the chicken broth. I usually let it simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Toss in the slivered green onions and mix to incorporate:
Serve with PLENTY of rice.
Careful readers will notice that I didn't use any Sichuan peppercorn. They're hidden somewhere in the pantry and I couldn't find them. Oops.

This dish is so rich that I usually take only a few cubes of tofu, a few spoonfuls of the meat/liquid and eat it with a large serving of stir-fried greens and rice. The store had some really good looking pea sprouts so I stir fried those with a bit of rice wine/soy marinated ground pork and Sichuanese pickled chiles. Delicious!

Time- About a half an hour.
Food Cost-
Tofu- $0.79
Ground Pork- $0.40
Incidentals- $0.20
Total- $1.39

Will serve four people. $0.35 per serving.

1 comment:

James said...

you're really slacking off these days. Let's have some new recipes!