Mapo Doufu

Mapo Doufu

Silky bean curd, beef and leek sprouts swimming in a chilli-black bean
sauce that glows a fiery red sums up Sichuan cuisine in one
bowl – feisty, comforting and tongue-numbingly good.

Origins
Mapo doufu means ‘pockmarked old lady’s bean curd’, (ma means pockmarked, po means elder lady). In late 19th-century Chengdu, Chen Mapo ran an eatery on a route travelled by porters who worked up a hunger carrying heavy goods. As one story goes, a labourer moving rapeseed oil asked Chen Mapo to cook lunch in exchange for some of his haul. She tossed together what she had, topped it with infused chilli oil, and her namesake dish was born.

You’ll need
2 tsp plus 1 tbs huajiao
(Sichuan pepper)
1 tsp cornflour
2 tsp water
2 tbs Shaoxing wine
1 tbs soy sauce
¼ cup (60mL) chicken stock
680g (1½lb) medium-firm
bean curd, cut in 2.5cm (1in)
cubes
¼ cup (60mL) vegetable oil
110g (¼lb) beef, thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and
diced
Small knob of fresh ginger,
peeled and diced
2 tbs fermented broad-beanchilli
sauce
¼ cup (60mL) chilli-sesame oil
3 suanmiao (wild leek shoots),
or you can substitute spring
onions, tender parts only,
bias sliced

Cooking Method
1 Toast 2 tsp of huajiao in a wok over a medium-high heat, stirring continuously, for 30 seconds. Transfer to a mortar and pestle. Let it cool, then grind finely.
2 Whisk together the cornflour and water, then add the wine, soy sauce and stock.
3 Cover the bean curd in water in a saucepan, bring to the boil and boil for about 5 minutes. Drain.
4 Pour the oil into the wok set over a medium heat. Add the remaining 1 tbs huajiao. Cook for 30 seconds, stirring continuously until you see a thin wisp of smoke. Remove the peppercorns, retaining the oil.
5 Turn the heat to medium-high. Add the beef. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds.
6 Add the garlic and ginger. Stir-fry for 30 seconds.
7 Add the broad-bean-chilli sauce. Stir-fry for 30 seconds.
8 Pour in the cornflour mixture. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
9 Carefully add the bean curd and chilli oil, trying not to break up the bean curd. Bring to the boil and then immediately turn off the heat. Transfer to a serving bowl.
10 Top with a dusting of the ground huajiao and suanmiao.

Tasting notes
Known for its distinctive ma-la (numbing and hot) flavour, Sichuan cuisine (called Chuan) is distinguished by spicy, oil-based sauces, huajiao (Sichuan pepper) and dried chillies. In a dish of mapo doufu, that combination is utterly transfixing – it quickens the pulse, dilates the pupils, and drops you into a euphoric stupor. In proper mapo doufu, tender bean curd luxuriates with slivers of beef in a generous pool of dayglo-red sauce – a salty, spicy, numbing stew of sorts that’s over-the-top good. Whether in an open-air street stall or a fancy restaurant, it is best accompanied with a plate of simple, stir-fried greens – and maybe some rice to temper the heat.

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