Spicy, salty, a bit pungent with a heady aroma, this classic and very popular Chinese dish from the Sichuan (Szechuan) province is a favorite with my family because it is both delicous and easy to prepare. I’ve cooked Ma Po tofu before but I was looking for a particular combination of spices and seasonings that would give it that certain oomph!
That happened yesterday, finally. How? I added an essential ingredient that I did not have during my previous attempts at cooking the dish — Sichuan peppercorns. And there’s the matter of adding Shao Xing rice wine.
There’s a bonus too! Because miso soup has become a family favorite — we have it at least once a week — I have become a wiz at cutting perfect cubes of soft tofu. And I have learned to stir them without breaking them.
A few tips…
Chili bean paste is available in the Oriental section of some supermarkets. I use Lee Kum Kee.
If Shao Xing rice wine is unavailable, substitute any good quality Chinese cooking wine.
Use fish sauce sparingly because the black beans are already very salty.
- 300 grams silken tofu cut into 1 and 1/2 inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon fermented black beans
- 2 tablespoons ginger finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic finely minced
- 2 shallots chopped
- 1 tablespoon chili bean paste
- 1/4 cup Shao Xing rice wine
- 4 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1/4 kilogram ground pork
- fish sauce to taste
- 6 stalks green onion onion leaves, cut into half-inch lengths
- handful of cilantro roughly chopped
Measure the sichuan peppercorns. Use a mortar and pestle to pound and grind them.
Measure the fermented black beans, drain (if soaked in brine) and rinse. If using dry black beans, soak in a little warm water to rehydrate.
Add the fermented black beans to the sichuan peppercorns and grind with a circular motion of the wrist. Continue grinding until the mixture resembles a coarse paste.
Heat the cooking oil. Add the ground pork and cook until the meat changes color. Add the ground Sichuan peppercorns and black beans and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add the garlic, ginger, shallots and chili bean paste. Season with fish sauce then pour in the Shao Xing rice wine. Bring to the boil. Add the tofu cubes, stir lightly, lower the heat, cover and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes.
Transfer the cooked Ma Po tofu to a serving platter, sprinkle the onion leaves on top followed by the cilantro, and serve immediately.