Apologies for the lack of posts – I’ve been away for a week. But I’m back with a vengeance, and racing through the remaining four items from my Riverford meat box to make up for lost time. I started this week with a recipe I’ve always wanted to cook – ma-po tofu, which requires minced beef or pork. I’ve never tried this Szechuan dish; my knowledge of Szechuan food is limited, but I did pass through the Szechuan province once and recall a very spicy cuisine where everything was literally swimming in red chilli oil.
The legend of ma-po tofu is thus:
Ma-po literally means ‘pockmarked old lady’ in Chinese. An severely pockmarked old lady from Chengdu lived in the outskirts of the city because of her disfigurement. One night, some rich traders were passing by and asked to seek shelter from the rain. The old lady was delighted to have their company, and set up about making them the dish that we now know as ma-po tofu. The merchants were so impressed that they spread the word about her dish, and more and more people came to taste the famous ‘beancurd made by a pockmarked old woman’.
To make my own pockmarked creation, I needed the following:
- 1 cube of tofu – I used the Nigari brand, medium/firm
- Riverford minced beef, 450g
- 2 leeks, sliced diagonally
- 4 cloves chopped garlic
- 2 tsps minced ginger
- 2 tbsps fermented black beans, which I didn’t have so replaced with black bean sauce
- 3 tbsps of chilli bean paste – or more if you dare?
- 2 tsps Szechuan peppercorns – I shockingly didn’t have any so substituted with normal black pepper
- 350ml chicken stock
- Chinese rice wine
- Sesame oil
- Soy sauce
The dish was so simple and quick to make. First I browned the minced beef all over for a few minutes, then added the leeks, garlic and ginger, sweating off a lot of water. Then followed the black bean sauce, chilli bean paste and pepper, which worked up a rich, dark reddish brown oily sauce. I added the hot chicken stock, and then tipped in the tofu, cubed into quite large chunks. You could cube it smaller than I did, but I was afraid of it disintegrating too much (though this shouldn’t be a problem with firm tofu). I brought it all to a boil and added in the rice wine, oil, soy sauce (in generous ‘sloshes’) and 1 tbsp of sugar. After 5-10 minutes of simmering, I added some cornstarch to thicken the sauce and it was ready.
Ma-po tofu is best served with white rice, and lots of it. You want to soak up the hot and sloppy spicy sauce (especially if you added the Szechuan peppercorns). I must say that is where I failed to give it that real authentic kick, but I am terrible with very spicy food so it may have been for the best. Ma-po has also been read to have a double meaning, as ‘ma‘ also means numbing; the peppercorns numb the tongue. Contrasting textures in Chinese cuisine is very important, and the lovely rich beef from Riverford was perfectly complemented by the silky tofu. All in all – a good first stab at some Szechuan cuisine!
450g of organic minced beef from Riverford costs £4.45.
Recipe borrowed from the wonderful Appetite for China.