Since the last post was Sichuan, I thought I might just keep the flavor going with another entry from Fuchsia Dunlop's "Land of Plenty" - the infamous Ma Po Tofu. This is a palate tantalizing dish that hails from the Sichuanese province and it has many stories that lay claim to is origin. In the book it is called Pock-Marked Mother Chen's Bean Curd - and I feel this reads as the most logical explanation. Mother Chen was a town cook whose face still bore the scars of a past bout with small pox. Her chilli bean tofu was renowned throughout the area and so the translated name of the dish was christened - Ma po dou fu - Dou fu is apparently the correct way to say tofu by the way!
I have grown a real fondness, of late, to bean curd in its many forms - I can thank my tofu loving foodie friend Miss A, for that. The Koreans use a delicious spongy form cut into strips as part of a Bimbimbap meal, that I love to indulge in. There is also the custard-like, soft tofu drizzled with brown sugar syrup that feels almost too healthy to be a dessert. And I absolutely love the plump squares of fried tofu that soak up the juices in a spicy laksa. The versatility of bean curd makes it a favourite ingredient of mine to use in Asian cuisine and Ma po Tofu just hits the spot with the inclusion of firm tofu as one of the key ingredients.
Fuchsia Dunlop's rendition from the famous Mother Chen instructs you steep the tofu in hot salted water and this is to ensure it holds its shape in the heat of the dish. I have tried skipping this step to save time and the result is a dish with melted bits of tofu blending into the meat sauce which is not pretty at all.
300g x Firm Tofu, cut into cubes and steeped in hot salted water
500g x Beef Mince
4 tbsp x Cooking oil
4 tbsp x Chilli Bean Paste
2 tbsp x Fermented Black Bean
4-5 x Spring Onions, cut into 1 inch pieces, extra to garnish
1-2 tsp x Chilli powder
1 cup x Chicken stock
1 tsp x Sugar2 tsp x Light Soy Sauce
Salt, to taste, if required
4 tbsp x Cornflour, mixed with 6 tbsp x Cold Water
1 tsp x Ground roasted Sichuan Pepper
Heat a large wok on high with the oil and crumble in the mince
Stir fry continuously until the meat is well browned and the liquid almost dry
Turn the heat to medium and add the chilli bean paste stirring through for 30 seconds
Now add the fermented black beans and chilli powder and stir fry for another 30 seconds
Pour in the stock and bring to the boil then add the spring onions
Drain the tofu and add to the dish taking care not to smash the cubed pieces
Add the sugar, soy sauce and salt, to taste, swirling the wok gently to combine
Allow to simmer for 5 minutes then add the cornstarch mixture in thirds until the sauce has thickened to a desired consistency. "It should just cling glossily to the meat and bean curd - Fuchsia Dunlop"
Place into a serving bowl and sprinkle the Sichuan pepper powder over the dish and garnish with extra spring onions
"I truly enjoy cooking and eating this dish. The mellow texture of the tofu saturated with the spicy chilli bean flavoured oil and the overall tang really gets the taste buds singing. Definitely a favourite from the Land of Plenty"