Mapo tofu, the authentic way (麻婆豆腐)

Tender tofu cooked in an aromatic and spicy sauce, accompanied by minced meat, Mapo tofu is one of the most popular ways to prepare tofu in China.

Tender tofu cooked in an aromatic and spicy sauce, accompanied by minced meat, Mapo tofu is one of the most popular ways to prepare tofu in China.

Tofu (aka Doufu, Bean curd) is one of my favourite ingredients. As a very healthy source of protein, it can be prepared in so many scrumptious ways: in salads, stir-fries, stews, soups, etc. It never fails to please my palate. Once I asked a group of non-Chinese friends who had experience of real Chinese food: “What is your favourite tofu dish?” They all answered : “Mapo tofu!” It didn’t surprise me at all. Today I’d like to show you how to cook this classic dish the authentic way (without any western adaptation).

Mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐) is named after its inventor Mapo (means pockmarked elderly lady) who ran a small restaurant over a century ago in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. It’s a signature dish of Sichuan cuisine, presenting its characteristic flavour: Mala, namely numbing and spicy. Over recent years, Mapo tofu started appearing on the menus of oversea Chinese restaurants. Unfortunately, I’m disappointed most of the time (many Chinese living aboard have similar complaints). What is often served are just plates of spicy tofu. In terms of the general flavour, the level of hotness and the texture, such dishes have little to do with what you should expect from Mapo tofu.

Tender tofu cooked in an aromatic and spicy sauce, accompanied by minced meat, Mapo tofu is one of the most popular ways to prepare tofu in China.

In fact, like many Chinese dishes, Mapo tofu is much simpler to prepare than it seems to be. Get the right ingredients and follow the instructions, then you will be on the way to success. For a better understanding of Mapo tofu, five Chinese characters are used to describe the key features of this dish:

  • 麻 (numbing): This particular taste comes from Sichuan peppercorn. Use freshly ground Sichuan pepper if possible (read related post here).
  • 辣 (spicy): Both of Sichuan chilli bean paste (aka spicy Doubanjiang) and chilli powder contribute to the spiciness. The latter is also used to enhance the reddish colour of the dish. Different brands of Sichuan chilli bean paste may vary in saltiness, hotness and texture. Adjust the volume accordingly. I normally use Pixian Douban (郫县豆瓣), a well-known variety, which needs to be coarsely chopped prior to cooking.

Tender tofu cooked in an aromatic and spicy sauce, accompanied by minced meat, Mapo tofu is one of the most popular ways to prepare tofu in China.

  • 香 (aromatic): Apart from Sichuan chilli bean paste which makes the dish flavoursome, fermented black beans (aka black beans) also provides a particular aroma. Remember to rinse and chop them.
  • 烫 (physically hot): Mapo tofu needs to be served hot for the best taste. However, since tofu holds heat very well, I recommend that you break the tofu cubes apart with chopsticks before putting into your mouth.
  • 嫩 (tender): It’s better to use Chinese soft tofu (嫩豆腐) for tender texture. The tofu I bought from Chinese shops in England is marked as “medium firm”. I found it great for this dish (Japanese-style silken tofu is not recommended). Make sure you blanch the tofu cubes in salty water first. This is to make the cubes less breakable. And you need to be gentle when handling  them throughout the cooking process.

Tender tofu cooked in an aromatic and spicy sauce, accompanied by minced meat, Mapo tofu is one of the most popular ways to prepare tofu in China.

In an authentic version of Mapo tofu, beef or pork mince are used to enhance the flavour. If you wish, skip it or replace it with vegetarian ingredients, such as shiitake mushroom or soybeans. I will write a separate post in the future on how to convert this classic dish to a vegetarian-friendly version.

In terms of the level of hotness and numbing sensation that Sichuan pepper provides, my Mapo tofu recipe is not adapted for non-Sichuanese tastes. You might find it too tangy if you are not accustomed to it. Please feel free to alter the amount of relevant ingredients. You may also add a little sugar to reduce the spiciness as well as the saltiness.

Tender tofu cooked in an aromatic and spicy sauce, accompanied by minced meat, Mapo tofu is one of the most popular ways to prepare tofu in China.

Tender tofu cooked in an aromatic and spicy sauce, accompanied by minced meat, Mapo tofu is one of the most popular ways to prepare tofu in China.

Mapo tofu, the authentic way (麻婆豆腐)
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Prep Time: 8 minutes

Cook Time: 12 minutes

Serving Size: 2 persons

Mapo tofu, the authentic way (麻婆豆腐)

Tender tofu cooked in an aromatic and spicy sauce, accompanied by minced meat, Mapo tofu is one of the most popular ways to prepare tofu in China.

Ingredients

    For the tofu
  • 600g / 21oz, medium firm tofu
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • For the sauce
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, minced
  • 100g / 3.5oz minced meat (beef or pork)
  • 1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine
  • 2 tablespoons Sichuan chilli bean paste (see note 1)
  • 1 tablespoon fermented black beans (aka black beans), rinsed and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chilli powder (or to taste)
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 500ml / 2 cups unsalted stock or water
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch, mixed with 3 tablespoons water
  • For the garnish
  • 1 stalk spring onion, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Sichuan pepper (or to taste)

Instructions

  1. Cut the tofu into 2.5cm / 1inch cubes. Gently slide the cubes into a pot filled with cold water. Add the salt. Bring the water to a boil then simmer for a further 2-3 minute. Drain the tofu in a colander. Set aside.
  2. Heat up the oil in a wok (or a deep frying pan), put in ginger then leave to sizzle for 10 seconds. Add minced meat and rice wine. Stir fry until the meat becomes pale.
  3. Stir in Sichuan chilli bean paste, fermented black beans, chilli powder and garlic. Fry until fragrant.
  4. Pour in stock/water then bring to a boil. Gently slide in drained tofu. Leave to boil (uncovered) until the volume of the liquid reduces by one third.
  5. Pour half of the starch & water mixture into the wok (stir well beforehand). Leave to boil for 10 seconds or so. Add the other half. Remove the wok from the heat when the sauce is thickened.
  6. Sprinkle with spring onion and Sichuan pepper. Serve it hot with plain rice.

Notes

1. Different brands of Sichuan chilli bean paste (aka spicy Doubanjiang) may vary in saltiness, hotness and texture. Adjust the volume accordingly. Best to use Pixian Douban, a well-known variety, which needs to be roughly chopped prior to cooking.

2. In terms of the level of hotness and numbing sensation, this recipe is not adapted for non-Sichuanese tastes. You might find it too tangy if you are not accustomed to it. Please feel free to alter the amount of relevant ingredients. You may also add a little sugar to reduce the spiciness as well as the saltiness.

https://redhousespice.com/mapo-tofu-authentic-way/

Hope you find this recipe helpful. If you like Sichuan cuisine as much as I do, my blog is the right resource to follow. Stay tuned by subscribing to my blog  (in the sidebar) or follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest.

Have a yummy day!

An enthusiastic cook with a Chinese palate and a global mindset.

Discover more recipes which are super spicy:

Hot and sour glass noodle soup (酸辣粉)

Make your own Chinese chilli oil (油泼辣子)

Tender tofu cooked in an aromatic and spicy sauce, accompanied by minced meat, Mapo tofu is one of the most popular ways to prepare tofu in China. Tender tofu cooked in an aromatic and spicy sauce, accompanied by minced meat, Mapo tofu is one of the most popular ways to prepare tofu in China.
Tender tofu cooked in an aromatic and spicy sauce, accompanied by minced meat, Mapo tofu is one of the most popular ways to prepare tofu in China.

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