Tofu gets a bad rap. Maybe because people try to parade it around like it’s something that it’s not. I’m looking at you, Tofurkey! Here’s a traditional Chinese way to cook tofu that is comforting, easy, and DELICIOUS.
Listen, don’t be intimidated by the Asian ingredients. These days, this stuff can be found in most grocer’s Asian/Spanish food aisle. It always makes me laugh when I see those two food categories right next to each other at the market. Do we both really have to be marginalized to just half an aisle in the entire store? Also, why so pigeonholed, America? Where’s the half aisle of Moroccan food products? Or Portuguese products? I feel like I should start a petition. Also, if you really just can’t find that stuff, you can always order it online at Lee Kum Kee.
Anyway, three of the most versatile Chinese ingredients you can buy are up there: black bean sauce, chili garlic sauce, and the ubiquitous oyster sauce. Throw some black bean sauce into your next stir fry for a great savory boost, use chili garlic sauce in place of any hot sauce you might use, and any vegetable can be made better with oyster sauce.
Or you can mix them all together and make mapo tofu.
Start with cutting up the tofu right in the container if you like. I usually use soft tofu for this dish so I keep my chunks pretty big at the beginning since it will pretty much break apart by itself as I cook.
Next I fry up the garlic and pork, add the sauces and chicken stock, and let that all simmer a bit before adding the tofu:
Keep simmering then add the corn starch water to thicken. Make sure you mix it good, it should look like milk before you pour it in. Dissolving the corn starch in water rather than just throwing it straight into the sauce will keep it from clumping up into disgusting snot-like corn-starch boogers wading in your tofu. So DO IT.
Finally add the Sichuan pepper sauce and oyster sauce and stir to combine. Many traditional recipes will have you start with whole Sichuan peppercorns, crush them up with a rolling pin, then toast them in the wok first before cooking everything else. You can definitely do that too, you’ll get the same effect.
Note: If you’ve never had Sichuan peppercorns in a dish before, you might be in for a surprise. They’re not so much spicy as they are “tingly.” I don’t know the biochemical reaction that happens once it hits your tongue, but Sichuan pepper has this tingling, numbing effect that will give your tongue a buzz. It’s wild.
Note: Try not to overstir, and use folding motions each time you mix rather than circular motions. Every time you stir you run the risk of breaking apart the pieces of tofu, and over-stirring can really leave you with tiny bits of tofu.
Serve with steamed rice, and if you have a friend who is not a tofu fan, I dare you to challenge him to try this and still tell you he doesn’t like it. CHALLENGE HIM! Because he just might get embarrassed.
GWT Mapo Tofu
1-lb block of soft tofu, cut into 1” cubes
1/3 pound ground pork
1 cup chicken stock
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp. garlic black bean sauce
1 tbsp. chili garlic sauce
1 tbsp corn starch dissolved in 1 tbsp water
1 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp schezuan chili sauce or schezuan peppercorns crushed
Chopped scallions for garnish
Heat oil in wok over high heat and add pork, breaking it up so it is crumbled. When pork is browned, add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add black bean sauce, chili garlic sauce, and chicken stock to the pork, stir until combined, then add the corn starch+water so the liquid thickens into a sauce. Add the tofu to the sauce and toss GENTLY to coat the tofu, being careful not to turn the tofu into mush. Cover pot and lower heat to a simmer for 5 min, uncover and add oyster sauce and Sichuan pepper sauce, stir again to combine. The tofu should have firmed up a bit by this point but still be careful not to break it apart.
Sprinkle with scallions, serve with steamed rice.
goodwilltasting beer pairing suggestion: Brooklyn Lager