Ma-po (or ma po or mapo) tofu is a signature dish of Chinese Sichuan cuisine, but it’s quite easy to make at home.
Food historians say that “ma-po” means something like “crater-faced old women,” referring to the creator of the dish, a Chengdu woman who suffered from smallpox as a child. Whatever it’s origins, ma-po tofu is one of the most delicious dishes you’ll ever encounter.
The key to success in making this dish is preparation. It cooks really fast, so you’ll want to have all the ingredients lined up and ready to go before you turn the stove on.
- 1 package (1 lb.) firm or extra-firm tofu
- 1/4 lb. ground pork (you could also use beef or even ground turkey or chicken)
- 2 tbsp. hot bean sauce (available at Asian markets)
- 1 tsp. minced ginger
- 1 14-oz. can chicken broth
- 2 tbsp. cooking oil (peanut, vegetable or canola)
- 1/2 tbsp. soy sauce
- 1 tsp. rice wine
- 1/2 tsp. sesame oil
- 1 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp. cornstarch
- 2-3 minced scallions
- Drain and pat dry the tofu to get rid of excess water. I let the tofu sit on paper towels for a half-hour or so before using.
- Dice the tofu into approximately 1/2-inch cubes and set aside.
- Place the hot bean paste and minced ginger in a small bowl or ramekin.
- In another small bowl or ramekin, mix together the soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil and pepper.
- In a third bowl or ramekin, make cornstarch paste using equal parts cornstarch and water (1 tbsp. each)
- Heat the cooking oil in a wok or deep skillet over medium-high heat.
- When the oil is hot, add the pork, bean paste and ginger. Quickly stir-fry until the pork until just browned.
- Add the chicken stock, tofu and the soy sauce/sesame oil, rice wine, pepper seasoning mixture to the wok and stir well.
- Simmer the mixture over medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated – about 10-20 minutes.
- Add the cornstarch paste to the wok and stir thoroughly to incorporate. If the sauce is too thin, add more cornstarch paste. The sauce should be gravy-like, not soupy.
- Remove from the heat, toss in the minced scallions and serve with steamed rice.
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.