Pock marked old lady tofu is not the most tasty name I'd come up with for this amazing tofu dish, but that's the literal translation for Ma Po Tofu. The story goes that at the outskirts of town in Chengdu, the capital city of the Sichuan province, there lived an old pock marked face lady. She was a poor old widow and would often have farmers on the way to the city stay as borders in her house. This was an inexpensive, an easy dish to make, that garnered her much notoriety amongst the travelers. There are seven different distinct characteristics about this dish. To start, the dish is served cauldron boiling and bubbling hot. The chili bean paste and chili oil adds the heat to the taste. The flower pepper, or Sichuan pepper adds a hot and numbing mouth effect, and a medicinal flower aroma. The feel of the silken soft tofu on the pallet brings a tender and soft texture, while the black beans bring a freshness to the dish. These seven characteristics are considered to be the most defining of authentic Ma po Tofu. I've made this dish with ground beef, ground pork, and vegetarian style. The pork suites my pallet best, but because there are so many layers of flavors here, this dish can still stand perfect, meatless.
Ma po Tofu
2 Tbsp chili oil
1/2 Tbsp ground Sichuan pepper
1. Fry the ground beef or pork until it's cooked through. Remove from wok and set a side.
2. Put chili oil into wok and heat until it's extremely hot.
3. Once the oil is hot add the Sichuan pepper, garlic, and ginger until you smell the fragrance, then turn down the heat.
4. Add bean paste, and Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, sugar until the sauce is thick.
5. Add the cooked meat to the sauce.
6. Blend the cornstarch with enough oil to make a rue.
7. Turn heat up and add in the chicken stock.
8. Add the black beans to the mixture.
9. Add the tofu slowly to the mixture, and tenderly toss in sauce. Making sure not to crush the soft tofu.
10. Reduce heat and let it simmer until the sauce thickens.
11. Top off with sesame oil after you remove from the heat.
12. Garnish with scallions.
When thickening the sauce, mix the cornstarch with oil first to make a paste. This paste, called a roux will
thicken the sauce, and alleviate lumps of cornstarch.
Add the sesame at the end so that the flavor of the sesame doesn't burn off. Dark sesame oil (Asian) has a stronger flavor and is used in small quantities, generally only for flavoring foods.
This once again another dish I find that is better the second day. This extra time allows the flavors to soak into the tofu. But the contrast of the strong sauce with the bland tofu is great as well on the first day.