Sunday, August 20, 2006

Ma Po Tofu

Classic dishes are regularly named after something or someone exotic or momentous. There’s Steak Diane (supposedly after the Goddess of the Hunt), Peach Melba (after Nellie the opera singer), Beef Wellington (after Arthur Wellesley the first Duke thereof who trounced Napoleon at Waterloo), Veal Oscar (After King Oscar II of Sweden and Norway), Chicken Marengo (named in honour of Napoleon’s victory at the Battle of Marengo in 1800), and I’m sure there are many more such commemorative feasts.

Then there’s Ma Po Tofu, which is ‘pockmarked grandmother bean curd’, named after the Chinese woman who created the dish. Sounds enticing, doesn’t it? Well don’t let a few pox put you off. This is wedged firmly in the ultra comfort food section of the Chinese palate. A Sichuan dish, it’s also spicy and the Sichuan ‘peppercorns’ (which are not related to black pepper at all and are the buds of a prickly ash grown in Northern China) leaves an irresistible, slightly anaesthetic, tingle through your mouth.

150g minced pork
4 spring or green onions
2 cloves of garlic
4 tablespoons of Spicy Bean Sauce (also often helpfully marketed as Ma Po sauce)
1 tablespoon of Hoi Sin sauce
2 tablespoons Shao Xing rice wine
1 teaspoon of sugar
200 mls Chicken stock
1 small brick (about 200–250g) firm tofu
1 tsp corn flour mixed with a little water
1 tbsp peanut oil
Pinch of ground Sichuan pepper

Cut the tofu into cubes about 2-3 cm square. Place them in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand for 2-3 minutes then drain off the water. Separate the white and green ends of the spring onions, chop the whites finely and slice the green parts on the diagonal and reserve for garnish. Chop the garlic finely. Combine the bean sauce, hoi sin, sugar, and rice wine.

Heat the oil in the wok until smoking and add the whites of the onions and garlic. Stir fry 1 minute then add the pork. Stir fry until it’s lost its pink colour and it cooked through. Add the combined sauces and stir fry 2 minutes, then add the chicken stock. Simmer for 3-4 minutes and add the tofu, stirring gently so as not to break it up too much. Simmer for a few minutes more until the tofu is heated through, then add the corn flour slurry and stir gently until the sauce thickens slightly. Garnish with the green part of the onions and the ground Sichuan pepper.

I love to have this dish with fresh rice noodles, but you could use any type of noodle or rice. The rich spicy sauce and the slippery soft, smooth tofu creates a fantastic texture and flavour contrast. Pok marked she may be, but this granny is one you would want to give you a big hug on a cold night. A word of warning, through: because the Sichuan pepper really does play havoc with your taste buds (ie partly deadens them) this is not the time to enjoy your best expensive special occasion wine!


Blogger Helen (AugustusGloop) said...

Ooh I love ma po tofu with fluffy white rice. A little on the dry side so it will soak up more of that super tasty sauce.

6:45 PM  
Blogger Reb said...

:) yeah Helen me too! the sauce is fantastic.

6:57 AM  
Blogger neil said...

Here, here for the sauce. I have something for lunch sometimes that sounds like the same thing 'cept it's called tofu rice. Had some last Friday. Yum!

11:17 AM  
Blogger Reb said...

good for you, Neil - I bet there's heaps of recipe variations.

1:54 PM  
Anonymous Sue said...

Mum makes this without the mince, more sugar than pepper. I like to make a version also with eggplants and fresh chillies.

So comforting and yummy with plain white rice

7:10 PM  
Blogger Reb said...

Mmmm - the eggplant version sounds gret Sue. I must give it a try.

7:22 AM  
Blogger Sophie said...

WOW (impressed look). Your version looks so yummy.

Here I bought a sauce pack for mapo tofu so as to skip all the seasonings! and i will try this friday after work.

7:26 PM  

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