Monday 9 March 2009

Pock-Marked Mother Chen's Beancurd

Snazzy name, no?

Legend has it that this dish, Ma Po Tofu, is named after the wife of a Qing Dynasty restauranteur that was scarred with smallpox. Apparently she prepared this dish for hungry people returning home and as it's so delicious, it thus became popular.

What is fairly strange with it is that it uses minced beef, something not regularly seen in Chinese cookery. My grandmother made a dish with minced beef, tinned tomatoes and spring onions, a sort of bolognese-style dish but this is the only one I really remember. Don't be put off by the tofu - this is a dish that I've known to convert tofu haters. It combines the great almost crunchy texture of the beef with the silky tofu pieces perfectly and is a spicy, rich and warming dish. Many restaurants use minced pork, and also add things like shiitake mushrooms, but I prefer this version; simple, and with the main components shining through.

The recipe I use is adapted from Fuschia Dunlop's 'Sichuan Cookery'. I love this book and I highly admire Dunlop. No simpering or batting the eyelashes at the camera like Ching He-Huang, but instead she's actually lived in the country and writes about authentic and traditional recipes.

Ma Po Tofu (Pock-Marked Mother Chen's Beancurd)

Serves 2

1 block of tofu (I use Mori-Nu Tetrapak Firm Silken, when I can't get fresh)

4 stalks of spring onion, sliced on the diagonal

180gr minced beef

2 1/2 tbsp chilli bean paste

1 tbsp fermented black beans, or black bean sauce

2 tsp ground chilli (if you really love chilli)

250ml vegetable or chicken stock

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp Chinese black vinegar

2 tsp light soy sauce

2 heaped tsp cornflour mixed with a little cold water

1/2 tsp Sichuan pepper, dry-roasted & ground

3 tbsp groundnut oil. Dunlop uses much more, and this is meant to be an oily dish, but I can't bring myself to do it.

Cut your tofu into cubes and steep in hot water. Heat your wok until smoking, then add the oil. When it's shimmering, add the minced beef and fry the beef on a high heat until it's crispy. Add the chilli bean paste, and fry until fragrant. Add the black beans or black bean sauce and the ground chilli if using.

Next, add the stock with the soy sauce, sugar and vinegar. Carefully drain the tofu, then add the tofu to the wok and simmer for 5 or 10 minutes so that the tofu absorbs the flavour. Add the spring onion, stir ever-so-carefully, and then add the slakened cornflour and cook until thickened. Sprinkle the Sichuan pepper over the dish and serve with steamed rice and steamed greens.


Anonymous said...

I'm going to sue you with that remark concerning Ms C-H Huang, I fell off my chair (and ROTFLMAO) whilst reading it!

Great dish, more authentic with beef but I prefer it with pork. The excess oil is perfect for lubricating the rice further. Nice posting.

Anonymous said...

You don't add garlic and ginger? I usually do! And I use a lot of oil too -- in the end you don't have to eat it, but the dish gets such a beautiful color from the red oil !

Hollow Legs said...

Strange, on my way home last night I bought some ginger, and then was a bit perplexed when the recipe didn't use either garlic or ginger. But no, I guess not. I usually serve it with garlic and ginge stir-fried greens though.

I also often find the redness depends on the brand of chilli bean paste I use. Previous ones I've made have been much redder.

Dan said...

This looks really nice, showing my class - I love almost anything with Mince Meat as the main ingredient.....(errr....apart from ice-cream flavours perhaps).

Really unusual - I'm going to have to try this.

Anonymous said...

I love the way you slipped in the comment about Ching. I think she flutters her eyelashes as much as she uses the phrase, 'absolutely delicious' which is EVERY FIVE SECONDS. I love the name of this dish. I wouldn't say I hated tofu, I just haven't had my tofu epiphany yet.

Anonymous said...

I've been looking for a good ma po tofu recipe, so you've got perfect timing. You're also the second person who's mentioned Dunlop's Sichuan cookbook to me, so I guess I have no choice now but to get myself a copy.

pigpigscorner said...

ooo I love this with rice! My fiance has been buggin me to cook him this for awhile.

Merlotti said...

Thanks Lizzie - the bread is packet naan, cut out into a circle for the photo! And shrimp paste? You should see the face I'm pulling, but I'll give it a go next time!

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say I used this recipe last night (using minced red chili pepper), and the mapo tofu turned out great. And was super easy. I'll never go back to those pre-made mapo tofu sauces.

Anonymous said...

I love this dish! Although I have to admit I like the version with pork and shitake. Yours looks cool too :)

Anonymous said...

Hear hear re Ching He-Huang. She might be able to con most of the UK, but not us! Anyway, back to your dish, looks delicious! Still not that convinced about Fuschia Dunlop, but at least she studied in Sichuan...

Su-Lin said...

It's quite infuriating hearing CHH while she's cooking... "Now in with the..." keeps getting repeated ad infinitum!

The dish looks great - just like my local Sichuan restaurant (except they use about 4x the oil)!

Helen B said...

Hi there, have been eavesdropping on your blog for some time now, and just tried this - yum! Almost looked like the Baozi Inn one...

I've now got chilli bean paste, a very fiery black bean there anything I can do with prawns or shall I just make it up?

Unknown said...

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

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