How to Make Mapo Tofu
Mapo tofu, which is sometimes written mapo doufu, is a delicious Chinese recipe from the Sichuan province in China. It is comprised of tofu in a reddish, spicy bean and chili based sauce. The tofu is usually cooked with ground meat, either beef or pork, along with fermented beans. There are variations of course, and everyone has their own way of making it. Discover how to make mapo tofu and you will fall in love with this dish!
Why is Mapo Tofu Called That?
So how did mapo tofu get its name? Well the ‘ma’ refers to ‘mazi’ which is pockmarks, and the ‘pa’ refers to ‘popo’ meaning old woman or grandmother. So interestingly mapo tofu means pockmarked grandmother or, better, pockmarked grandmother’s beancurd. This presumably refers to the old lady who first invented the dish. Learning how to make mapo tofu means you can relay this interesting history at the dinner table.
The Flavors of Mapo Tofu
This recipe is traditionally fiery, as many Sichuan dishes are, and this dish in particular is described using 7 Chinese adjectives, namely numbing, hot temperatures, spicy hot, fresh, soft and tender, flake, and aromatic.
The most important ingredients are the beancurd (tofu), salty bean paste or chili broad bean paste, fermented black beans, chili oil, garlic, green onions, rice wine, Sichuan peppercorns, and chili flakes. There might also be some starch to thicken up the sauce and often some kind of ground meat.
Mapo Tofu Outside China
You can find mapo tofu recipes outside of China, especially in Korea and Japan where the spices are toned down a lot to offer a medium heat instead of a really fiery one. The dish is often made meatless in American restaurants so vegetarians will be drawn to it.
If it’s made vegetarian it’s often known as Mala Tofu. In the US it comes with a thick sweet-sour sauce without the meat and most of the spice but with some added vegetables. This is quite far from the original recipe and, in my opinion, nowhere near as good!
Mapo Tofu Variations You Might Like
I like to cook some bok choy with mine, adding ginger and garlic as well as a little chicken broth, but you can steam or saute any veggies you like to go on the side. Consider some noodles or white rice too. When I first learned how to make mapo tofu I liked to experiment with it.
- 6 oz (170g) ground pork (pork mince)
- 2 teaspoons chili bean paste
- 14 oz (400g) silken tofu, drained and cut into ¾ inch (2 cm) cubes
- ½ cup (125ml) low sodium chicken broth
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
- 4 minced green onions (spring onions, scallions) - white part only
- 1 teaspoon white sugar
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 minced garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon roughly chopped fermented black beans (or black bean paste)
- ½ teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, black seeds removed before grinding (optional)
- Minced green part of green onion, for garnish
- Put the chicken stock in a bowl with the cornstarch, sugar and soy sauce, and stir.
- Heat a wok until hot, then add the sesame oil, ginger, garlic and green onions.
- Stir-fry until fragrant, then add the black beans and Sichuan pepper (if using) and keep stir-frying.
- Add the meat and break it up using a spatula; cook it until browned.
- Next add the fermented beans or bean paste.
- Add the tofu and toss to mix.
- Do not stir it else it will break up - you need to be careful with silken tofu.
- Pour the stock mixture over the tofu and pork, toss to coat and then boil until the sauce is thick.
- Serve the mapo tofu garnished with the green parts of the green onions.
- You can serve it with hot boiled rice and perhaps some steamed bok choy or similar.