Mapo tofu is thought to have been created back in 1862 during the Qing Dynasty at a Chengdu restaurant by an elderly couple surnamed Chen. Since its inception, the spicy creation has only gained popularity throughout China and beyond -- hailing itself as Chengdu's national dish. Mapo tofu hits every note regarding the scale of taste, simultaneously salty, sweet, spicy and savoury -- if you haven't tried it yet, you're missing out.
This recipe gets its delicious umami flavour from fermented bean paste. Several different Sichuan chilli bean paste brands exist (aka spicy Doubanjiang), and these may vary in flavour and saltiness, so you can do a little taste testing and adjust your seasoning while cooking. I also used silken tofu for this recipe, but others use firmer tofu varieties depending on personal preference. This recipe was adapted from the original recipe on Woks of Life.
Make sure you are prepared for the tingling numbing sensation from Sichuan pepper, a spice unique to Chinese cuisine! If you are wondering where to get some of these ingredients if you live in Toronto, head to Dundas and Spadina to the city's west end Chinatown for ingredients! If you are in the east end of the city, you can head to the smaller of the two Chinatowns at Broadview and Gerrard.
If you give this recipe a shot, make sure to post up your creation on Instagram and tag @tastetoronto and @travelandmunchies!
Mapo Tofu 7 Steps
Heat your wok or a small saucepan over low heat. You can also use a large frying pan to make this. Add 1/4 cup of the oil and throw in the fresh and dried peppers. You can reserve some dried chilli to toss in later if you would like. Stir occasionally and heat until fragrant, about 5 minutes, ensuring that the peppers don’t burn. Remove from heat and set aside.
Heat the remaining 1/4 cup of oil in your wok over medium heat. Add your ground Sichuan peppercorns and stir occasionally for 30 seconds. Add the ginger. After 1 minute, add the garlic. Fry for another minute, and then turn up the heat to high and add the ground pork. Break up the meat and fry until it’s cooked through.
Add the spicy bean sauce to the mixture and stir it in well. Add 2/3 cups of chicken broth to the wok and stir. Let this simmer for a minute or so. While that's cooking, prepare your tofu and also put a 1/4 cup of water in a small bowl with your cornstarch and mix until thoroughly combined.
Add the cornstarch mixture to your sauce and stir. Let it bubble away until the sauce starts to thicken. If it gets too thick, splash in a little more water or chicken stock in small increments.
Then add your chilli oil from before -- peppers and all! Stir the oil into the sauce, and add the tofu. Use your spatula to gently toss the tofu in the sauce. Let everything cook for 3-5 minutes. Add the sesame oil and sugar (if using) along with the scallions and stir until the scallions are just wilted and you can reserve some extra for garnish.
Serve with a last sprinkle of Sichuan peppercorn powder as a garnish if desired.
Serve hot on its own or with white rice.