One of my favorite Szechuan foods is Mapo Dofu. It is a peasant dish with tons of flavor and textures.It is spicy, slightly crunchy and yet cooling and smooth at the same time. I make mine with ground pork, but you can also use beef. If you get all of your ingredients together mise en place, this cooks quickly. Start the rice cooker before you do anything. Note, there is one ingredient that you may have a hard time finding, it is fermented broad bean sauce. It is available on Amazon.com.
There are several stories about the naming of Mapo Tofu, but the commonly accepted myth is that this dish was created by a pock-faced old woman. She was cast out of the Sichuan capital of Chengdu due to her disfigurement. One day, a weary trader happened upon her shack and she was so delighted by the company that she scraped together her meager provisions to create this dish.
- 4 tablespoons Szechuan peppercorns, divided
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons cold water
- 1 1/2 pounds silken tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 pound ground lean pork
- 6 garlic cloves grated on a microplane grater
- 2 inches of fresh ginger grated on a microplane grater
- 2 tablespoons fermented broad bean paste
- 4 tablespoons Xiaoxing wine or sherry
- 1 tablespoon sweet soy sauce
- 1/4 cup chicken or beef stock
- 1/4 cup roasted chili oil
- 1/4 cup finely sliced scallion greens
Heat half of sichuan peppercorns in a large wok over high heat until lightly smoking. Transfer to a mortar and pestle. Pound until finely ground and set aside.
Add remaining sichuan peppercorns and vegetable oil to wok. Heat over medium high heat until lightly sizzling, about 1 1/2 minutes. Pick up peppercorns with a wire mesh skimmer and discard, leaving oil in pan.
Combine corn starch and cold water in a small bowl and mix with a fork until homogenous. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil over high heat and add tofu. Cook for 1 minute. Drain in a colander, being careful not to break up the tofu.
Heat oil in wok over high heat until smoking. Add beef and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add chili-bean paste, wine, soy sauce, and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Pour in corn starch mixture and cook for 30 seconds until thickened. Add tofu and carefully fold in, being careful not to break it up too much. Stir in chili oil and half of scallions and simmer for 30 seconds longer. Transfer immediately to a serving bowl and sprinkle with remaining scallions and toasted ground Sichuan pepper. Serve immediately with white rice.