It’s been a long time since my last blog post. I have been rotating around various communities and living out of a suitcase for about six months, which meant I was AFK (away from kitchen) and eating for sustenance mostly rather than for pleasure. For those of you reading in the future, I am writing this on March 23, 2020, in the midst of the pandemic of SARS-CoV-2, or more commonly known as coronavirus, the causative virus of COVID-19. Many jurisdictions around the world have imposed lockdown and strict, enforced rules against congregating in groups. The death toll at the time of writing is 16,497 and is continuing to climb. On a positive note, most of us are hanging out at home with plenty of time to cook, which was the inspiration for me to write this recipe.
Atop a mound of steaming white rice, mapo tofu really is the epitome of comfort food, especially if you are craving those spicy, Sichuan flavours. I’ve made this a few times now, each in hindsight during a stressful period, as if I unconsciously gravitated toward this dish to make me feel better. I mean, that’s what comfort food should do, right? I am sure that ALL of us are in need of some of that right now.
Cooking is a cultural, iterative process, building on what others have done before. That is to say that I absolutely cannot take credit for this recipe. I am not of Sichuan descent nor have I been to Sichuan: I just really appreciate their cuisine as made here in the comfort of my Canadian kitchen. I have used Woks of Life’s recipe as a springboard from which to build my own, making it arguably better but only slightly more complicated which, to some, may not be worth the effort. If you have the additional ingredients on hand (namely, shaoxing wine and light soy sauce), then I would say read on. If you are determined to go get these additional ingredients when you are no longer morally (or, perhaps soon, legally) obligated to stay the fuck home, then read on. If neither of these describes your scenario at the current moment, you might be better off with WOL. I have also made this dish spicier than WOL’s because personally, I really needed that extra spice.
Before I go on to the recipe, I will add a final point to reiterate what I’ve already said: you get what you put in. That means having available relatively fresh, whole Sichuan peppercorns that you grind up yourself; homemade chili oil; chicken stock made from scratch (I use Pippy Eats’ recipe for this to make a big batch and freeze portions); good quality local ground pork.
Makes 4-5 servings
Neutral oil (peanut oil is best)
2 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns, freshly ground
12 dried hot chilis, freshly ground
3 tablespoons ginger, freshly grated
3 tablespoons garlic, crushed
250 grams ground pork
2 tablespoons doubanjiang (chili bean paste)
Splash (~2 tablespoons) shaoxing wine
1 cup homemade chicken stock
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 cup homemade chili oil
450 grams silken tofu, in 1/2″ cubes
~1 tablespoon sugar, to taste
~2 tablespoons light soy sauce, to taste
green onions, finely chopped
- Heat a good amount of oil in a cast iron pan on medium. Add the ground Sichuan peppercorns and chilis to the hot oil and cook until fragrant, stirring occasionally, about 1 minute. Then, add the ginger and garlic and stir until very fragrant, another minute. Add the ground pork, turn up the heat to medium-high, and break up the pork into tiny pieces. Stir only occasionally to allow for browning action to take place.
- Once the meat has cooked through but not totally dried out, add the doubanjiang and stir in to incorporate. Then add a splash of shaoxing wine to deglaze and scrape off all of those flavour bomb bits from the bottom of the pan. The wine should evaporate away fairly aggressively. At this point, add the gelatinous chicken stock and stir in.
- While the delicious concoction is brought to a simmer, make the cornstarch slurry by whisking the cornstarch in a splash of cold water. Add this to the pan and stir in thoroughly. You may at this point assess and adjust the thickness by adding more cornstarch slurry to thicken or more stock/water to thin. Bring once again to a simmer then reduce the heat to medium-low.
- Now add the chili oil and stir in. Throw in the tofu now and gently coax everything together.
- Add the sugar and soy sauce: you can start low and titrate up to taste. The sugar will help round out the strong and sharp flavours and the soy sauce will add an element of depth. Trust your buds and taste as you go!
- Let everything simmer and intermingle for another 5 minutes or so. Serve on some fluffy white rice with a generous pile of green onions and blanched greens (bok choy/yu choy) on the side.
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