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Feb 27

Ma Po Tofu {Spicy Tofu & Minced Pork}

 

 

 

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Make way! Make way for yet another fabulous Szechuan dish that just happens to be one of my favourites. I don’t eat a lot of spicy food on a normal day to day basis, but I will make an exception for this one. Ma Po Tofu (or Mápó dòufu) is a dish that is not for people with a sensitive palate or a fragile gut. This dish is bold, beautiful and packs in a LOT of heat with the help of ground chilli flakes, spicy fermented bean paste and Szechuan peppercorns. Truly authentic ma po tofu, like all the rest of authentic Szechuan cooking, is mouth-numbingly spicy so if you can’t take the heat this dish is definitely off the menu for you.

 

 

My sister lives and works in Shanghai. In 2007 my parents and I paid her a visit and on our first night there she took us out to a glamourous restaurant specializing in Szechuan cuisine. It was a gorgeous old house that once belonged to a rich merchant but has since been transformed into a restaurant with private dining rooms. She handled the menu and soon our table was filled with an array of delicious looking food. She knew my limitations when it came to spicy food so she made sure there were a couple of non-spicy ones on the table, and for that I will forever be thankful. Szechuan food comes in two forms: spicy and SPICIER, and I mean it was truly hot. After only a few bites of my food I could no longer feel the inside of my mouth or my lips. Which is a shame really coz personally I think having food so overly spicy it takes away the dining experience and masks all other flavours. Needless to say I nibbled politely at my dinner and tried not to cause a scene.

 

 

Clockwise from left to right: Chicken & Pumpkin in chilli sauce, Sliced Pork with Radish and Chilli Dipping Sauce, Roast Crispy Skinned Chicken and Sauteed Black Fungus.

Clockwise from left to right: Chicken & Pumpkin in chilli sauce, Sliced Pork with Radish and Chilli Dipping Sauce, Roast Crispy Skinned Chicken and Sauteed Black Fungus.

 

 

She ordered about seven different dishes, excluding dessert, and the star of the evening had to be this slab of beef rib coated in chillies and spices, served with mini steamed buns. It made my eyes water just sniffing the aromas.

 

 

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Also on the table that night was another favourite of mine … the aubergine and minced pork sautéed in fermented bean sauce. If it is on the menu at any restaurant I would usually order it and devour it in a heartbeat, but that night even this dish was way too spicy for me to enjoy … so I simply marvelled at the ingenious way the chefs chose to present it. I vaguely remember returning home later that night feeling slightly under-fed in spite of all the food my sister ordered.

 

 

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My version of ma po tofu today is obviously a dumbed down version that doesn’t use half as much chilli or peppercorns, in other words, edible. If you are wondering where on earth you’re going to find all the different ingredients and sauces, just use a ma po tofu pre-mix paste, the Lee Kum Kee™ brand. Specialty Szechuan pepper is sometimes hard to come by depending on where you live. If this is the case just use crushed black pepper or omit it altogether. Lord knows there will still be plenty of heat left over from the chillies, bean paste and chilli oil … no one is going to notice the missing pepper.

 

 

Fry up garlic, spring onions and grated ginger until fragrant. Then add in the minced pork, black pepper (if using) and chilli flakes, and sautée for a few minutes.

 

 

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Next add the black bean paste, the fermented chilli bean paste, oyster sauce and unsalted chicken stock. There is plenty of salt coming from the sauces themselves so I strongly suggest using unsalted stock for this recipe; chicken or pork, it’s up to you. Also add the cubed silken tofu now and simmer gently for five minutes. To get the appropriate consistency I like to add a little cornstarch slurry at the end, just to thicken up the sauce a little. A thickened sauce goes really well on rice. Turn off the fire and stir thru some toasted sesame oil. Transfer to a serving bowl and finally drizzle some chilli oil over the top along with some spring onions for garnish.

 

 

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Try not to be alarmed at the layer of oil covering the surface of this dish. Think of it as being similar to finishing off an Italian dish with a generous drizzle of good quality olive oil, Jamie Oliver style (he glugs the extra virgin on just about everything). Serve immediately with steamed rice and vegetables.

 

 

Ma Po Tofu {Spicy Tofu & Minced Pork}.

  • 1 block silken tofu
  • 150 g minced pork
  • 2 spring onions (white parts only), chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ inch fresh ginger root, grated
  • 1 tsp crushed black pepper
  • ½ tsp crushed chilli flakes
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp black bean paste
  • 1 tbsp fermented bean chilli paste or broad bean chilli paste
  • 120 mls unsalted chicken or pork stock
  • 100 mls cornstarch slurry (optional)
  • 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 4 tbsp chilli oil
  • extra spring onions for garnish

 

 

 

I guess if you are not a fan of pork you can also make this using chicken mince … or make a vegetarian version using mushrooms, like a whole lot of ’em diced up real small. Keep side dishes and vegetable dishes fairly mild to avoid a clash of flavours. Also, having mild flavoured side dishes would be a good idea to tone down the spices in the ma po tofu; you’ll need to give your mouth a bit of a breather from time to time. Nibble on some plain steamed broccoli or sautéed baby bok choy.

 

 

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Well I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s recipe and I hope to entice you and your taste buds yet again in the following post. Not sure what it’s going to be yet but I bet my last dollar it is going to be Oriental in flavour once again. Asian food is addictive; once you start it is hard to know when to stop.

 

 

 

~ Enjoy! ~

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