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Sichuan fire: Mapo Tofu 麻婆豆腐

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陳德聰

Love this dish. I usually add a tablespoon of the red oil from my jar of 老乾媽 along with the black bean and 豆瓣醬, and then a teaspoon-ish of sugar with the soy sauce if it feels too spicy.

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abcdefg

Like you, I add some sugar if it feels too spicy. Glad you mentioned that. I will go back and include that tip in the recipe.

 

Wish I had some of that hand-made 老干妈 red oil. I'm jealous!

 

----------------------

Edit: I now see 老干妈 is a brand of bottled chili sauce. Found it offered on Amazon. Looks good.

 

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0051D84JU/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B0051D84JU&linkCode=as2&tag=chinesehotp0a-20 

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somethingfunny
47 minutes ago, 陳德聰 said:

I usually add a tablespoon of the red oil

 

Yeah.  I was going to mention this.  While it looks delicious, it's a little less red than I'm used to seeing.  I think a true Sichuan version would be significantly more oily and that would involve adding some 红辣椒油 or whatever it's called.

 

I never really enjoyed ordering this dish in restaurants as I'm not a fan of softer tofu and the way it seems to get away from you when you're grabbing at it with your chopsticks.  I made it once, under someone else's guidance, and it was absolutely brutal - all of the Sichuan peppercorns were sprinkled generously over the top.

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abcdefg
21 hours ago, somethingfunny said:

While it looks delicious, it's a little less red than I'm used to seeing. 

 

True 郫县豆瓣酱 comes from the place of that name in Sichuan, and is said to be special at least in part because of the water and climate there where it is made. What I've read is that it also is distinguished from "ordinary" 豆瓣酱 by the type of beans used (only broad beans, not a mix of broad beans and soybeans) and the complimentary seasonings. Some cooks even use a little orange peel in the manufacture, for example. (That's supposed to be a family secret.) The best of this is fermented a long time, up to 3 years. It slowly acquires a truly complex taste profile.

 

IMG_20171001_123025.thumb.jpg.70c8a5bd5fd3c0bdc47211e3443803c9.jpg

 

The spice lady tried explaining it to me, but it was real complicated and I kind of got lost. She loves her specialty and often goes into more detail than I can grasp. She had 4 kinds of douban jiang 豆瓣酱 on hand that day, as shown in the attached photo. She said the one top left was the most authentic, and it does have a somewhat redder color. She said it also was sweeter. But she steered me to the one at bottom left, saying she thought it was "better tasting" all around. I didn't press her hard enough on the details.

 

59db1ce0a8423_pixiandoubanjiangjar.JPG.f6855f69ccf394a1f4694dc0c4d9234d.JPG

 

Some that I've seen for sale on the shelves of stores 超市 here do have a stronger red color. And some of the recipes I found on the Chinese internet in researching how to make the dish, did suggest adding some red chili oil. I've also learned that many Sichuan home cooks who makes their own douban jiang add red chili oil 红油 to it in the process.

 

But I didn't have any on hand. Maybe next time I will buy some and try it as an addition, kind of like 陈老师 suggested above. It came out real good without it but, who knows, that might make 麻婆豆腐 even better. Stay tuned and I'll report back before long!

 

 

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Shelley

Thank you for your continued efforts to bring us a little bit of "genuine" chinese home cooking. Looks nice but it not for me, again too spicy and I really don't like ginger and garlic. I know, I know - What you don't like ginger and garlic? what are you some sort of food loony?

 

I hope all of you who do like these things will enjoy it.

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abcdefg

Thanks for your comments, @Shelley. It's OK that you don't like certain foods. Not everyone is the same. If I recall correctly, you also aren't fond of the mouth-numbing 花椒 sensation, and that spice features heavily in this dish. At least now you know that if someone invites you to a Sichuan restaurant, you should not order the Mapo Tofu.

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Alex_Hart

Nice recipe, abcd! 麻婆豆腐 was the first Chinese dish that I really fell in love with, and it sparked a long romance that continues to this day. I used to buy it from a restaurant called "Little Pepper" alongside "Stir Fried Snow Pea Tips" every Friday night. Heaven. This was when I was around 16 or 17. When I was 20, I went to Chengdu for three months and ate it two or three times a week. Little Pepper's Mapo Doufu never shined as brightly - the ones in Chengdu blew it away. It was also the first dish I tried making at home, first using Fuschia Dunlop's recipe before riffing off that. I asked my now-girlfriend out on a date three times over 9 months (a mix of 脸皮厚 and miscues), but she only showed any interest after coming to my apartment on a frosty October night and eating homemade 麻婆豆腐 and 回锅肉 (another recipe you should post about!). Still, no dish I made (or tasted) really stood up to the standards of the most humble Chengdu joints. After conversations with Sichuanese natives both back in NYC and here in Hangzhou, I blame this on the lack of "homemade" ingredients like oil. I've since started making my own spicy oil, but I'm not sure they have anything other than jarred 豆瓣酱 here. Chengdu’s streets were much like Kunmings, with tables covered in 20-30 different jars of pastes. Can't help but think that's part of the key!

 

My recipe is pretty much the same as yours, but I use way more chilis and peppercorns. I never measured, but I'd say at least a tablespoon of peppercorns. I also ladle over some spicy oil at the end. I change my oil up, but basically use five spice powder and change up the chilis. As you might guess, I make a double serving of rice when I'm planning on eating Mapo tofu.

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abcdefg

@Alex_Hart-- Do you make a vegetarian version using mushrooms instead of ground meat? I've seen recipes for that which look excellent.

 

Quote

Chengdu’s streets were much like Kunmings, with tables covered in 20-30 different jars of pastes. Can't help but think that's part of the key!

 

I'm sure you are right! These hand made pickles, sauces and pastes are nearly always superior to their mass-produced factory versions. For one thing, they are less full of preservatives. For another, they seldom have artificial coloring ingredients intended to boost eye appeal on the shelf.

 

In researching this dish, mapo doufu, I looked up the Fucsia Dunlop version (in "Land of Plenty.") It's a good, simple, basic approach, with less frills than many recipes that I found on the Chinese internet. I always appreciate her "no-nonsense" approach to these things.

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Alex_Hart

I sometimes chop mushrooms small and give them a light fry to put on top, and I've done the same with the strips of 将油豆腐 that I love here. I also tried it once with smoked tofu. I often skip this step, though.

 

A lot of the jarred versions also have a funky flavor mixed in. Not sure if this is the preservatives or what. It's what prompted me to start making my own 辣油.

 

Her recipes are great for reference. Can easily add stuff, and I usually reference two or three online recipes whenever I want to cook something new to compare.

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somethingfunny

I wonder how you make your 辣油.  I've tried making it once and it was fairly complicated, but the result was pretty powerful.

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Alex_Hart
2 hours ago, somethingfunny said:

I wonder how you make your 辣油.  I've tried making it once and it was fairly complicated, but the result was pretty powerful.

I think 红油 is pretty simple. There are so many different renditions that you can make it really complex or really simple based on your needs - my friend's mom spends 2 months making it, apparently. I've yet to try her's so sadly can't comment on the differences. 

 

I take whole spices and toast them lightly in a pan before crushing them with the butt of a knife. Pestle and mortar would be better, but I don't have one. I usually use Chinese cinnamon, star anise, fennel, cloves, Sichuanese peppercorns, black pepper and coriander seeds - the 阿姨 at the store has little bags like this prepared for people making 茶叶蛋. You can use any neutral oil, but I like using 茶油, tea seed oil, which I get from my girlfriend's father. We have a "high grade" and a "low grade" in the apartment, I just use the low grade one for this. Vegetable, corn oil, etc should all be fine. 

 

Put a pan on low heat, add the oil (I've never measured, but you can adjust this for how much "spice" flavor you want) and the spices. Keep it on a low heat for 30 minutes. This is the hardest part as high temperatures will burn it, but low temperatures won't infuse fast enough. I think Fuschia Dunlop just heats the oil up and then pours it over the spices, I haven't tried that yet but will do so one day as it's more convenient - I've burned my spices more than once, partly due to my Chinese stove's high minimum temperature and partly because I got distracted. If you do the low heat infusion, be sure to stir frequently. 

 

Prepare a bowl or jar and fill it with ground chilis - how much is up to you, I use a lot, usually filling as much of the vessel as I can while leaving room for the oil (eyeballing it). This is your most important ingredient, so choose wisely. I've made it with a lot of different kinds of chili, including 四川辣椒 from the store, and have almost always disliked it based on the chili taste. For example, the store bought 四川辣椒 was really 清单, with a monotonous taste and no real spice. The random 辣椒 from the  阿姨 was just spicy with no real complexity behind it. My best luck has been with whole chilis. There is an 阿姨 who will take whole dried chilis and grind them before handing them to you - I don't know if it's the variety of chili or the fresh grind that matters. I also try to mix peppers now, so I use the pepper from my girlfriend's hometown (I'm not sure of the name in 普通话, but I think it's the same as whatever they use in 江西 or 安徽) and mix it with the dried chilis I find in the store here.

 

Strain the spices from the oil, and pour the oil over the chilis in the bowl (you don't need to strain the chili powder/flakes). Let it cool down, cover it and put it away for at least a day, though I usually wait 3 to 4 before trying it. There are infinite variations off this, I think you can add garlic and fresh peppers to get something akin to what I had in 桂林, I also saw a recipe where they added soy sauce. The basic one is good for most recipes though. You can also add or subtract spices based on personal taste. For example, if you don't want the taste of clove in your 麻婆豆腐, taking it out won't hurt anything.

 

Side note: the best 红油 I ever had was in NYC, not China, at a tiny wonton place called "White Bear." I have no idea how they made it, and I wish I could go back just to ask this question, but I used to pour that stuff down my throat. The chili flakes were much darker than the ones I'm accustomed to seeing here, so I'm wondering if they toasted them more or if they used a different variety. One day I'll move to Kunming or Sichuan and make a tour of all the oil places - I've seen in a movie the traditional method of producing oil and would love to go on a tour of "oil houses" like people go on "wine tasting" or "brewery" tours...:oops:

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Alex_Hart

You made me want some 麻婆豆腐 so I'm going to make some tonight and was hunting for different recipes, found this one. Looks good. Unfortunately, I went to the store and they only had the packaged 郫县豆瓣酱 and no ya cai. Will need to travel south and stock up before trying it!

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somethingfunny

What's the verdict on yacai?  We can get some here but only the packaged stuff.  Although, as its just pickled vegetables I guess there's no chance of it going off - I'm just concerned the taste might not be as delicious as it could be...

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Alex_Hart
4 minutes ago, somethingfunny said:

What's the verdict on yacai?  We can get some here but only the packaged stuff.  Although, as its just pickled vegetables I guess there's no chance of it going off - I'm just concerned the taste might not be as delicious as it could be...

I have not had great luck with the packaged pickle type things like 芽菜 and 榨菜(which I can find here fresh) so chose to forego it in the recipe. I've had it fresh elsewhere in China as part of stir fries or on the side and it was quite delicious - just tastes salty when out of the bag. 

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somethingfunny

I used it once to make the gubbins for 担担面 (actually that might have been 榨菜) and it seemed to do the job, but I'm not sure I'd like to eat it by itself.

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roddy

Was having paneer yesterday and it was reminding me of a very firm tofu. I reckon you could substitute them in certain dishes.

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889

I also like paneer. More than tofu actually: it's got a bit more bite and texture.

 

But it's rich, and usually used in quite rich dishes. There's a limit on how much paneer you can gobble down, at least at a single sitting.

 

Tofu, on the other hand is light and never seems to fill your stomach. You could have tofu in one form or another morning, noon and night and still be hungry.

 

So doesn't that suggest the culinary exchange should work in the other direction, using tofu in Indian dishes instead of paneer?

 

Perhaps ABCDEFG can whip up some Tofu Tikka Masala for us, and we'll see.

 

Edit: A quick Google search shows all sorts of recipes for Tofu Tikka Masala.

 

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abcdefg
15 hours ago, Shelley said:

I was quite amazed at the power of Sichuan sauce.

 

That is a surprising phenomenon, Shelley. I had not heard about it.

 

59debd7fc1f40_mcsauce.thumb.JPG.9179349ce4c58fc26b0bf63c11e0b4bc.JPG

 

They could find a medium-sized jar of it on the shelf at my neighborhood store for 9 or 10 Yuan, and it would be the real thing, not something "adapted" and watered down.

 

Quote

The Szechuan Sauce with plum flavor is more of a product to suit the American taste. One food website even decoded that it can be made in 10 minutes with ingredients such as brown sugar, red rice vinegar, ketchup, soybean sauce, and peppers.

 

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