Ma Po Tofu: Szechuan Spicy Tofu with Pork

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(serves 6)

1 lb lean ground pork (or substitute ground beef)
1/4 cup Chinese dark soy, divided
3 Tbsp Shaoshing rice wine, divided
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp tapioca starch
3 Tbsp peanut oil
6 dried hot Chinese chiles or Mexican Chiles de Arbol, whole
3 Tbsp garlic, finely chopped
1-1/2 Tbsp ginger, finely chopped
3/4 cup gau choy fa (Chinese flowering chives) or garlic stem, finely chopped, divided
3 Tbsp hot bean sauce
2 Tbsp Chinese whole bean sauce
2 Tbsp preserved radish, finely chopped
2 tsp sugar
chicken stock
1-1/2 lb medium tofu cut into 3/4″ cubes
sea salt
chile oil
1-1/2 tsp tapioca starch dissolved in an equal amount of water (optional)
1/4 cup gau choy fa, finely chopped, from above
2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns, toasted crushed and sieved, or 1 tsp sancho (Japanese “pepper”)


Photo: Yosh Kasahara

Place the meat in a bowl along with 2 tablespoons of the dark soy, 2 tablespoons of the rice wine, the sesame oil and the tapioca starch and mix together with chopsticks. Heat a wok or large skillet, and when hot, add the peanut oil. When the oil begins to smoke add the chiles. Cook for a few seconds then add the garlic and ginger. After a few seconds more, add the meat and its marinade and cook for a minute or two, breaking up the lumps until the meat looses its pinkness – do not brown. Add half a cup of the chopped chives, the hot and whole bean sauces, preserved radish, sugar, the remaining soy and rice wine and just enough chicken stock to make the mixture soupy – about half a cup. When the mixture comes to a boil, add the tofu and turn the heat to low. Simmer for about five minutes, gradually adding salt and drops of chile oil, to taste, and more stock if too dry. Add the tapioca starch mixture and cook until the sauce has thickened. Serve in a shallow bowl, sprinkled with the remaining chives and dusted with Szechuan peppercorn or sancho.

Recipe © 2011, Don Dickson / South China Seas Trading Co. Limited