Ma Po Tofu, Sjurygg's Guide
Probably one of the most well-known Sichuan dishes in the west, second to Kung Pao chicken. Essential ingredients are good tofu of either the firm or soft variety (I prefer a little firm), lots of sour, tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorns and blisteringly hot chili peppers, and dòubànjiàng, a kind of fermented bean paste seasoned heavily with chilis. It looks like this:
Most recipes include a little minced pork or beef, in the manner that Chinese vegetable dishes often use minced or finely shredded meat as a seasoning more than as a main ingredient. It can be made vegetarian, in which case I recommend adding a little MSG and a little more chili bean paste.
If you're the "fuck it, bring it on" type when it comes to chilis, I recommend you actually go heavier on the Sichuan peppercorn than the chilis for this dish. Sichuan cuisine isn't about dry-angerfistfucking your tongue in the ass, figuratively speaking, and while a good heat is appreciable by any true gentleman, you should still realize that a lot of the "Sichuan heat" phenomenon is as much about marketing and restaurants trying to compete as it is about authenticity.
- Roast in a dry pan until fragrant, crush and sift out black seeds
- 2-4 tbs Sichuan peppercorn
- Brown over high heat
- 100-300g ground pork, beef (or even chicken or turkey)
- Add and fry
- 2-4 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1-3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
- 2-4 tablespoons chili bean paste
- 1-2 tablespoons finely chopped hot bird's eye chilis, or more to taste
- Add a cup of chicken stock, and
- 4-600g good-quality tofu in die-sized cubes
- half the ground Sichuan peppercorns
- a splash of rice wine or dry sherry, if liked
- a teaspoon of sugar
Simmer for a few minutes. Thicken with cornstarch slurry, season with salt, soy, chili bean paste and MSG. You are looking for sour, tongue-numbing savouriness with a good heat from the chilis to it.
Serve garnished with scallion greens, chopped chilis and a dusting of ground Sichuan peppercorn. If you have some good chili oil, sprinkle some of that on top.
Variations are welcome, if anybody wishes to bring them up. I think this is a pretty good recipe, and it's officially approved by the Chinese in-laws.