Mapo tofu (also called mabo tofu) is a popular Chinese dish that originates from the Szechuan province. These days, it can be found in a variety of Asian countries, including Japan. While growing up, it was one of my household’s staple recipes. It’s very simple to make, doesn’t take too many unusual ingredients, and can be whipped up quickly.
In anime, mapo tofu is seen every so often, though its most famous appearance is probably remembered from episode 6 of Angel Beats!.
About the recipe:
This is a general recipe for mapo tofu, which does not contain any chili peppers or other spicy ingredients. For the super spicy version seen in Angel Beats!, please check out the following link for the “Super Spicy Mapo Tofu That No One Dares Order“.
As for the cooking process involved, there’s really only 2 things to keep in mind:
- Break the ground meat into very small pieces, the smaller the better. This will help make the pork more seasoned and tasty, and will allow the meat to meld better the sauce without causing it to be too chunky.
- After adding the tofu, be careful and very gentle when mixing. Mixing too vigorously will cause the tofu to break into small pieces. Try using a folding technique or a back and forth motion with your spatula to stir the mapo tofu.
About the ingredients:
Ground pork is my meat of choice when it comes to mapo tofu, though it can also be made with beef as well. Oftentimes, I have found store-bought ground pork to be too fatty, therefore, I like to buy a lean piece of pork (such as tenderloin or pork chop) and grind it myself. Mixing the ground meat with soy sauce and cornstarch helps to tenderize the meat, as well as add some flavor. For this recipe, I recommend using Chinese soy sauce instead of Japanese soy sauce.
Bean sauce is an important ingredient in this dish, giving the mapo tofu much of its seasoning and flavor. When I make this at home, I like to use a combination of brown bean sauce and black bean sauce, which gives the dish a more complex flavor. Brown beans are more mild in flavor than the distinct taste of black beans. The two bean sauces help to balance each other out, helping to create a delicious dish. However, it’s fine to use only one type of bean sauce! I would opt for brown bean sauce over black bean sauce in such a case.
Medium or soft tofu is recommended for this recipe. Avoid firm tofu for this dish because you want to have the tofu simply melt in your mouth as you eat it! Of course, because soft tofu can be difficult to work with and can break apart easily if moved around too vigorously, it is tempting to use firm tofu. However, you will sacrifice a lot of the silky texture that makes this dish so delicious! Be gentle with the tofu, but there’s no need to be afraid of touching or moving it around the pan!
Cornstarch is also used at the end of the recipe to thicken the mapo tofu sauce. Make sure to dissolve the cornstarch in some water before adding it to the pan. If you add it directly to the hot pan, your sauce will become lumpy.
Makes 4 servings
- 1 lb ground pork
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- 2 tbsp Chinese soy sauce
- 1 tbsp brown bean sauce
- 1 tbsp black bean sauce
- 3 cloves garlic, pressed
- 1 block of medium or soft tofu, drained of water and cut into 1 inch cubes
- 2 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 tbsp water
- 1 green onion, diced
- Sesame seed oil
1. In a medium bowl, combine ground pork, cornstarch, and soy sauce. Let sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before cooking.
2. Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a wok, and heat over medium high heat until shimmering. Add garlic, brown bean paste, and black bean paste, and cook until fragrant, about 30 – 60 seconds.
3. Add ground pork and cook, breaking it into small pieces (the smaller the better) with a spatula. When the pork is cooked through, no longer pink in color, and broken into very small pieces, add cubed tofu, gently incorporating it into the meat, being careful not to break the tofu.
4, Turn your heat down to medium-low, and cover with a lid. Let it cook with the lid on, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until the water begins to seep out of the tofu, creating some sauce as it mixes with the bean sauce. If your tofu does not produce enough water for sauce, add a dash of water to help it along.
5. Ensure cornstarch is completely dissolved in water, and then add it to the pan, stirring to combine. Bring to a brief simmer and taste and adjust seasonings (add more bean paste, red pepper paste or soy sauce depending on your tastes) and the consistency of the sauce (using additional cornstarch mixed with water to thicken the sauce). The sauce should coat the meat and tofu without being too watery or gelatinous.
Bring to a brief simmer again, then remove from heat and drizzle with sesame oil.
Serve with rice.
Source: My mother!