Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mapo Doufu (Mapo Tofu)

Since watching Bizarre Foods Tuesday night and seeing Andrew Zimmern sweat his way through Chengdu, I have had an insatiable craving for spicy Sichuan food. I love the tingly-numb feeling I get in my mouth after enjoying a steaming bowl of Mapo doufu (Mapo tofu), but, sadly, most Chinese restaurants here tend to REALLY tone down the spicy factor. Even my favorite local Chinese restaurant, which is miles ahead of the competition as far as authenticity is concerned, doesn't have quite the kick I need in my Mapo tofu, though it's still excellent. TRUE Mapo tofu should meet 7 criteria of Chinese cuisine: numbing, spicy hot, hot (temperature), fresh, tender/soft, aromatic and flaky. 

Mapo tofu requires specific Sichuan ingredients such as Sichuan peppercorns, fermented black beans (dou chi) and chili bean paste (doubanjiang/toban djan), and often is cooked with minced pork. However, many restaurants and recipes omit the pork in order to keep the dish vegetarian. You should be able to find both the bean pasta and black bean sauce at any good Asian market - Lee Kum Kee is a good brand that is easily found in most stores, including the "ethnic" aisles of most better supermarkets. 

Sichuan peppercorns - WAY hotter than your standard black peppercorns...

I used a coffee grinder to grind mine.

As requested by MB, this recipe comes straight from Diana Kuan of Appetite for China with some influence from Bee Yinn Low from Rasa Malaysia; the only changes I have made is to use chili black bean sauce in place of the fermented black beans. I have also added chili oil and chili powder for more kick. Just be warned that this recipe is SPICY. Like, HOLY CRAP spicy (This disclaimer brought to you by the National Foundation for the Prevention of Srirach-ass).

PRO TIP: This recipe cooks VERY quickly; it REALLY helps to have everything prepped and mixed and ready to go :)
Mapo Doufu (Mapo Tofu)
adapted from Appetite for China and Rasa Malaysia

1 block silken tofu, drained and cut into cubes
2 Tbsp peanut oil
3 Tbsp chili oil (I cheated and used storebought)
1/2 lb ground pork (omit this if vegetarian)
2 leeks, green parts discarded, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp minced ginger (I grated mine)
2 1/2 Tbsp chili bean paste (I used toban djan)
1/2 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorns
1 cup chicken stock (vegetarians, use vegetable stock)
1 Tbsp Shaoxing Chinese rice wine
2 Tbsp Asian chili powder
2 tsp soy sauce or tamari
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp white pepper
1 Tbsp cornstarch mixed with 2 Tbsp cold water
1 scallion, thinly sliced

Heat a large wok or or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the peanut and chili oils and swirl to coat the sides. Add the pork (if using) and stir-fry 2-3 minutes or until crispy and starting to brown. Reduce the heat to medium; add the leeks, garlic and ginger. Stir-fry for 1 minute. 

Add the black bean sauce, chili bean paste and Sichuan pepper; stir fry for 1 minute or until the oil is a rich red color. If using whole fermented black beans, simply mash them with a spoon before adding.

Add the stock and stir well. Carefully add the tofu; fold the mixture gently to prevent the tofu from breaking apart. Add the Shaoxing wine, chili powder, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar and white pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes, then stir in the cornstarch slurry. Mix carefully but well, and cook for several minutes or until the sauce thickens. Serve with scallions and hot steamed rice.


  1. Looks awesome. Hot enough to kill off a flu?

  2. Julia, this looks delicious!

    Mike from Bessemer (Doctor Mike from Flickr)

  3. Thanks, Mike! It was awesome, but MAN did it burn!

  4. I just made it. Not as purty as yours but delicious!

  5. Great shot on the Sichuan peppercorns! I like them so much that I can probably eat them raw (although I prefer cooked).

    The tofu looks really delicious!

  6. Thank you, Yi!! I LOVE the flavor and slow heat that Sichuan peppercorns adds!

  7. Thank you for writing up this recipe!!! This is one of my all time favorite Chinese dishes, and so difficult to find in any restaurant, and yes, not quite the same as in China. I love your posts, found by chance, and will be following you daily from now on. Keep up the good work. From another Alabamian (transplanted from Seattle)

    1. Hello to a fellow Alabamian! Thanks for your kind words!