Mapo tofu is a simple dish that in essence consists of the tofu and the spicy sauce. Everything else should just be supporting elements. As this is a home style dish, there are so many variations of it, the one I write below is how I tackle this dish.
• Tofu, medium softness is best, cubed
• Minced pork
• Spicy bean sauce* (read below)
Pantry items and other stuff:
• Spring onion/scallion sliced, separate the leafy and the stalk bits
• Chinese rice wine
• Sliced ginger
• Szechuan peppercorn
The spicy bean sauce
For those who are not familiar, mapo tofu uses fermented spicy bean paste called doubanjan (numerous different spelling…). Flavours differ from brand to brand but the taste is generally spicy and salty. Some brand contain garlic and other aromatics too. With this in mind, those who can’t find this ingredient in markets around their area should be able to imitate the flavour (Think spicy miso.) Now, when cooking mapo tofu, it is certainly feasible to just use doubanjan instead, but I tend to mix 3 different bean paste: the spicy, salty and sweet in the ratio of 1:1:1. You don’t have to do this and just use the doubanjan instead.
• (If using soft tofu, boil the tofu and drain to let it firm up a little)
• Heat up your wok/pan, then add a little bit of oil and your spicy bean paste or bean paste mixture plus the ginger, be careful, they will splatter
• Cook for a few seconds, then add the pork mince and brown
• Add a splash of Chinese rice wine, cook for about 30 seconds, then add the tofu.
• Add enough water to cover the tofu and cook (If you prefer your finished dish to be less saucy, don’t add too much water)
• At this stage, do not agitate the content of the wok too much or you may break the tofu
• Season with soysauce, sugar and salt if necessary, then add the scallion to finish and top with plenty of Szechuan pepper
Tips and thoughts:
• You can simply omit the pork to make this a vegetarian dish, consider replacing the pork with chopped Shitake mushroom to add different texture
• If you like your mapo tofu to look really red, you can use chili oil in the end
• Szechuan pepper is not spicy. It’s numbing and there’s no real substitute for it, if you can’t find it, don’t worry about it