Mapo Tofu (麻婆豆腐)
Years ago, my husband and I discovered Szechuan Restaurant, which for a long time was my favourite restaurant in Calgary, and I would still say that Szechuan Restaurant makes, hands down, the best Sichuan food in the city, if not the province, or all the prairie provinces, really. I remember that the mapo tofu was a revelation; my mom has always made hers using the Lee Kum Kee mix, and this was completely different—it was salty and spicy, with the distinct floral, numbing flavour of Sichuan peppercorns. Over the years, we've tried techniques/ingredients from a few different mapo tofu recipes, including The Paupered Chef, Asian Tofu and Power Vegetables (a Lucky Peach cookbook) and we've come up with our own. We love this dish so much, we make a double batch at least once a month, and I dare say, it's better than the one at Szechuan Restaurant.
Author: Vincci Tsui, RD
Makes: 4 servings
- 1½ lb (680 g) medium tofu, cut into ½-1" cubes
- 2 tsp (10 mL) cornstarch
- 1 Tbsp (15 mL) low-sodium soy sauce
- ½ cup (125 mL) low-sodium chicken broth or water
- 2 Tbsp (30 mL) Shaoxing wine
- 1 Tbsp (15 mL) Sichuan peppercorns, ideally a mix of red and green, divided
- 1 Tbsp (15 mL) vegetable oil
- ¼ lb (115 g) lean ground beef
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp (15 mL) ginger, peeled and minced
- 1 Tbsp (15 mL) fermented black beans, optional
- 2 Tbsp (30 mL) Pi Xian broad bean sauce (look for 郫县豆瓣 on the label)
- 1 Tbsp (15 mL) chili oil or chili crisp, or more to taste
- 3 medium green onions, thinly sliced on a diagonal, for garnish
- Place tofu in a large bowl. Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Pour water over the tofu to cover and set aside for 15 minutes.
- In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch, soy sauce, chicken broth and Shaoxing wine. Set aside.
- Toast 2 tsp (10 mL) of Szechuan peppercorns by placing them in a wok set over medium-high heat and stirring vigorously for about 30 seconds, until fragrant and slightly darkened; you may see a wisp of smoke. Remove from heat and let cool for a moment before grinding in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder (if you have neither, a Ziploc bag and a rolling pin will work here too.)
- Heat the vegetable oil in a wok over medium heat. Add the remaining teaspoon (5 mL) of Szechuan peppercorns. Cook for about 30 seconds, stirring often, until fragrant. You may discard the peppercorns, or leave them in for a spicier dish.
- Drain the tofu into a strainer or colander. Make sure all your ingredients are close to the stove.
- Now you’re ready to cook – turn the heat up to medium-high. Brown the ground beef in the pepper-infused oil, breaking apart large pieces.
- Add garlic, ginger, black beans (if using) and broad bean sauce. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until all of the beef is red from the broad bean sauce.
- Stir in cornstarch mixture and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook until slightly thickened.
- Carefully fold in tofu and chili oil or chili crisp. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat immediately. Serve garnished with chopped green onion and toasted peppercorns.