With the premiere of Big Brother last night, I wanted to cook myself a dinner that would honor the show in some way. I ultimately settled on a much lauded dish from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Sichuan cookbook Land of Plenty. The recipe in question: Ma Po Do Fu, or Mapo Tofu as it’s commonly known in restaurants in America. Many reviews of Land of Plenty have singled out Dunlop’s Mapo Tofu recipe as one of the strongest in the book, and for several months, I had been meaning to try it. Well, this was the perfect opportunity. After all, Dunlop’s version is translated as “Pockmarked Mother Chen’s Bean Curd.” There could be no greater tribute to The Chenbot than to whip up a dish with the name “Mother Chen” in it (although, I do not believe than Julie is pockmarked like the Mother Chen of note here).
After the jump, see the fun and at times dangerous process that went in to making Mother Chen’s bean curd.
Can’t make a tofu dish without the tofu. Here’s a block of firm tofu that I’d been pressing the water out of (at IndianJones’s suggestion) for the past thirty minutes.
More ingredients: Sichuan chili bean paste; fermented black beans; ground Sichuan chiles; light soy sauce; sugar; ground roasted Sichuan peppercorns; a slurry; peanut oil; and leeks.
My drained tofu, cut into cubes. So far so good.
First step: steep the tofu in hot, lightly salted water. D’oh!!
Meanwhile, I slice up the leeks and let them soak for a few minutes. Gotta get rid of that nefarious dirt.
About six ounces of ground beef enter the equation.
Meanwhile, I pour half a cup of peanut oil in the wok. The wok, however, is too hot, and the oil instantly pops and splatters everywhere. I immediately cover the wok with a splatter guard and reduce the flame. Still, there are many explosions, and I’m immediately brought back to my 17 year old self who decided one time to drop frozen spring rolls into a pan with hot oil. It’s a miracle I didn’t burn down my house. And of course my cat decided to wander into the kitchen while hot oil was literally spewing everywhere. To this day I remember screaming at her, “GET OUT!!!!” and stomping my feet to scare her away. It was the most James-Cameron-action-sequence-y moment of my life.
Luckily, there were far less drama associated with this oil fiasco.
At last the oil has settled down. I slowwwwly bring it up to a high flame.
Next, I add the ground beef. There are more oil explosions, but overall, it’s a pretty staid affair.
About four or five minutes later, when the beef has turned brown and crispy, I lower the flame to medium and add the chili bean paste.
Thirty seconds later, the fermented beans and ground chiles go into the wok. The smell is sha-mazing.
Thirty seconds to a minute later, I add a cup of chicken stock into the mixture. Things become very quiet.
Note the red hues the chili paste has given the sauce. Mmmmmm…
Next, the tofu (drained) goes into the mix. The sugar and soy sauce soon follow. Gentle stirring ensues.
About six minutes later, the tofu is tender and hopefully has absorbed much of the flavorings.
In go the leeks, offering some welcomed brightness to the dish.
Mixing ‘n’ stuff.
Once the leeks are cooked, I add the slurry into wok. This thickens up the sauce a bit. I wouldn’t call this the most attractive dish, but I couldn’t wait to try it.
Finally, it’s done.
The verdict: yummmm. This dish was so very good. It was definitely spicy, but not unbearably so. The layers of flavor were intense and varied, thanks in no small part to the bean paste and fermented black beans. The ground beef was actually my favorite part. The crispy texture was amazing, and the flavor addictive. My only problem with the dish was the oiliness. If I were to make it again, I’d probably use less peanut oil and go for a leaner ground beef. Other than that though, everything was delicious. Definitely recommended. Check out the recipe here.