Ma Po Tofu


The 11th installment! 11 in decimal to be sure, because in binary 11 would just be the third installment. Anyways… this installment sees me reverting back to my roots with a classic Chinese tofu dish, ma po tofu. I’ve eaten at quite a few Chinese restaurants across the United States, but I don’t ever recall eating a single ma po tofu dish that I found satisfactory. Here I will present my own take on ma po tofu. I’m not an expert on the dish and I actually don’t know what is the “real” traditional way to cook the dish, but that didn’t deter all those phony Chinese restaurants, that won’t deter me, and it should definitely not deter you either.

Ingredients

A quick note before we begin. This recipe features many distinctly Chinese ingredients that may be unfamiliar to many non-Chinese readers. I will provide descriptions for these ingredients and point out the important characteristics of these ingredients that you should look for. Also, this is a vegetarian variation of this dish I’m making for a friend. The meat counterpart will be mentioned but not photographed.

If you're not Asian, a little extra shopping may be in order

1 Package tofu, preferably soft/medium
3-4 ounces ground meat (chopped mushrooms pictured)
Fresh Garlic (I only had garlic powder, still works)
Flour/corn starch
Chili garlic sauce*
Chili black bean sauce**
Coriander***
Cilantro****
Cooking oil
Chinese rice wine
Chinese black vinegar*****
C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER

Rice on the side to serve with the dish.
Check out this Food in Mind installment if you need help with your rice.

*This is your standard chili garlic sauce. It should be quite common and can be found under many different brands in your local Asian goods store.
**Look for a chili sauce that specifically contains black beans. These strongly flavored black beans will be like burrowed banelings of flavor in your dish.
***Not a typical ingredient in ma po tofu, but I think it’s just grand.
****Most ma po tofu dishes call for scallions, but IMO cilantro just provides a far more poignant contrasting flavor. Use scallions if you want.
*****Again, a very traditional Chinese ingredient. If you don’t use this regularly, you probably don’t want to buy an entire bottle just to make this dish. Substitute regular vinegar or anything else sour.

Here’s a closeup of that bean sauce, note the black specks:

According to the camera, this is one of a few select foods that looks similar when going in as it does going out

Here’s a picture of the Chinese brown vinegar:

There probably have been less helpful pictures, but not many

Prep

Tofu is delicate shit. Don't work with it if you are either currently angry, or have just lost three very close games in a major tournament and will soon have to play a game that doesn't matter. (Sorry Naniwa)


If you are using minced meat, you do not have to work with it too much. Stick it in a small bowl and pour a little cooking wine over it and let it steep. If you are using mushrooms, slice them into bite-sized pieces.

Rinse the small bunch of cilantro (probably 1 1/2 tbsp?) and chop into 1/2 inch segments. Set aside.

Take your package of tofu, make a slit in the package and drain the water. Gently remove your tofu block from the package and rinse it over with water. Cut the block of tofu into roughly 1/2 inch pieces. My block of tofu yielded 3x4x6 blocks.

Also, you may wish to pre-emptively open all the cans/bottles you will use at this point in time. I found it rather annoying wiping my wet hands every other minute to open bottles while trying to prevent shit in the pot from burning during the cooking process.

Cooking

Crank the stove heat up to medium-high. Pour about a tablespoon of oil into the pot, let it sit until it begins to smoke. Add your mushrooms/minced meat. You want to saute the mushrooms and brown the meat. The mushrooms will turn a lovely light brown color as it cooks.

It's actually browner than it looks. No, I didn't throw a flashbang grenade just as I took the picture, I just don't know how to control the camera flash correctly.

Once the mushrooms/meat has been sauteed/browned, add about half a tablespoon of chili garlic sauce and half a tablespoon of the black been chili sauce. Also add a splash of cooking wine and a splash of vinegar, and let the ingredients cook together for a few minutes. Taste the sauce at this point and add salt if needed (you probably won’t). At this point in time, you are basically cooking the sauce to evaporate all of the alcohol.

Meanwhile, it’s now time to whip out dat coriander. Take about a teaspoon of coriander and place it on your cutting board. Lay the flat of your knife over the coriander and press down with your hand to crush the seeds. This will allow the flavor in the seeds to leak out faster. Dump this into your pot.

Heart of the Sauce, expansion pack to Wings of Riberty by Brizzard

After a few minutes you can finally dump tofu into the pot. Gently fold it into the sauce and let it simmer in the sauce. On the side, dissolve about a teaspoon of flour/corn starch in a small bowl of water, and pour it over your tofu. Gently stir everything together with a spatula (don’t wreck those tofu cubes) and cover the pot. Simmer for 2-3 minutes. Pour your tofu out onto a plate and spread cilantro over the dish. Serve hot with rice.

The Result

Christmas colors by complete happenstance

4.4 / 5 I have to admit I kind of fucked up when I was cooking this (lol). I added some salt before adding the chili sauces, which made the dish wayyyy too salty. That’s why I recommend you add the sauces first then check to see if you need to add more salt. Otherwise, it’s a pretty fucking tasty dish. Don’t fuck up like I did and it’ll come out great. Like, better than 4.4 out of 5 great.

Conclusion

And thus the dish “ma po tofu” passed into the annals of Food in Mind history. It’s a fairly easy dish to make, and very customizable to boot (pretty much every restaurant I’ve eaten at has a different take on this dish).

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