Mabo Tofu (or Mapo Doufu) is a popular Chinese dish that originated from the Szechuan province. The dish consists of tofu set in a spicy chili and bean-based sauce that is mixed with minced meat, usually pork or beef. The original Szechuan recipe is made to be powerfully spicy, although in America, the dish’s heat has been considerably toned down to appeal to a wider consumer base (aka me). Despite the westernizing, the remaining result is still a wonderfully aromatic, soft-textured dish with a great combination of spicy flavors. I especially love how this dish somewhat deludes me into thinking that the healthiness of the tofu will cancel out the fattiness of pork. The ratio is 2:1!
When I first made Chinese Mabo Tofu, I went the “Easy Mac” route. Premade Mabo Tofu sauce can be found in any Chinese grocery store. All you have to do is add ground meat and tofu and TA DA — instant mabo tofu! It will take you 10 minutes maximum, unless you have trouble opening the box or something equally sad. I highly recommend using silken tofu if you are making the dish this way.
The premade stuff is absolutely delicious, but we all know the alluring power of MSG. I decided to be more adventurous and make the sauce from scratch, which still took only 15-20 minutes to cook. The main flavor of the sauce is derived from Dou ban jiang (or Toban Djan), which is a spicy, salty paste made from fermented broad beans, soybeans, salt, rice, and various spices. It can be found in Chinese groceries, usually labeled as “Chili Bean Paste.” I did not actually have any in my cupboard, but I did have Black Bean sauce and Chili Garlic sauce, and combined the sauces essentially constitute Chili Bean Paste.
When it comes to choosing tofu types, I love silken tofu best with this dish. The silken tofu is so soft and tender, and it just melts in your mouth. However, firm tofu is much easier to work with when it comes to stir-frying, so I had to pick my battle. I used firm tofu in the recipe below, which still turned out delicious but I let it cook for a while to tenderize. If you use silken tofu, make sure to add it AFTER you have already thickened the sauce. Don’t try to stir-fry silken tofu or else it will break up and become mush. Also, I would avoid extra firm tofu.
Yields: 4 servings
- 1/2 lb ground pork
- 1 T vegetable oil
- 1 T garlic, minced
- 1 T fresh ginger root, minced
- 1 16oz package firm tofu (or silken tofu*), cubed
- 5 T soy sauce
- 2 T chili bean paste (or 1T black bean sauce + 1 T chili garlic sauce)
- 1 tsp white sugar
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 1 T water
- 1/4 C scallions, chopped
- 1 tsp sesame oil
Brown ground pork in a small skillet over medium high heat. Drain fat.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and ginger, and cook until fragrant. Stir in the firm tofu and cook for 2 minutes, until some edges turn golden. (*If using silken tofu, don’t add the tofu here. Proceed to making the sauce and then add the silken tofu after the sauce has thickened.)
For the sauce: combine the soy sauce, chili bean sauce, and sugar in the skillet and stir.
Stir in the cooked pork and scallions.
In a small bowl, mix the cornstarch with the water. Sprinkle the cornstarch and water mixture over the sauce; cook and stir until thickened, about 2 minutes. Drizzle the sesame oil over the thickened mabo tofu and stir. (*If using silken tofu, at this point you can add the tofu to the sauce and ground pork. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring gently.)