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Authentic recipe for mapo tofu?

loratliff Jul 28, 2012 08:18 PM

Despite fairly in-depth Googling, I can't find a recipe for mapo tofu that seems authentic...

They all seem to fiddle with it in some way: no spicy red oil (a must), adding frozen peas (what?), using mushrooms in lieu of pork, and some even using regular black pepper instead of Sichuan peppercorns (!!!).

Anyone have a recipe with lots of oil, ground pork, and real peppercorns? I know all of the basic ingredients, but just need a little guidance.

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  1. paulj RE: loratliff Jul 28, 2012 08:41 PM

    How about linking some of the better recipes you find on line, and pointing out specific faults.

    What do you think of this (about the 4th one I looked at via a search)

    1. z
      zzDan RE: loratliff Jul 29, 2012 05:02 AM

      http://www.pbs.org/food/fresh-tastes/... looks good. Add your own spicy red oil and you are there. Add a little cayenne and I don't think you will miss the spicy red oil.

      How can you go wrong with Fuchisia Dunlop? http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/20...

      1. BigSal RE: loratliff Jul 29, 2012 05:59 AM

        In addition to Fuschia Dunlop's excellent version that zzDAn links, Kenji Lopez-Alt has a recipe for what he calls the Real Deal Mapo Dofu. http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/20.... I use less oil to fry the peppercorns and beef (I use pork instead), but otherwise follow the recipe with delicious results.

        1. alkapal RE: loratliff Jul 29, 2012 07:01 AM

          boy howdy, thanks to you, i was sure having fun on food gawker looking at all the mapo tofu dishes! http://foodgawker.com/?s=mapo&cat=0

          i have pinned several versions, and really got a good feel for checking out which ones to go to precisely because of the photos. this recipe looks pretty darn delicious! and it is from a PBS program, so i think that lends some cred.


          20 Replies
          1. re: alkapal
            zzDan RE: alkapal Jul 29, 2012 09:05 AM

            " boy howdy, thanks to you, i was sure having fun on food gawker looking at all the mapo tofu dishes! http://foodgawker.com/?s=mapo&cat=0 "

            Let a thousand Mapos bloom

            1. re: alkapal
              RetiredChef RE: alkapal Jul 29, 2012 12:01 PM

              Wow, that foodgawker link is great - thanks.

              1. re: alkapal
                mcf RE: alkapal Jul 29, 2012 12:12 PM

                Interesting that it used the silken tofu (as I've often had it and loved it) because Alton, I think it was, said never to use it due to its fragility.

                1. re: mcf
                  RetiredChef RE: mcf Jul 29, 2012 12:22 PM

                  In Sichuan I never had anything but Silken tofu used in this dish and come to think of it I don't think I have seen any restaurant in American use anything but Silken.

                  1. re: RetiredChef
                    mcf RE: RetiredChef Jul 29, 2012 12:32 PM

                    I've seen it with soft tofu, never firm. Someone should tell Alton.

                    1. re: mcf
                      RetiredChef RE: mcf Jul 29, 2012 12:44 PM

                      There are a lot of things Alton needs to be told ;-)

                      1. re: RetiredChef
                        mcf RE: RetiredChef Jul 29, 2012 01:34 PM

                        I agree.

                      2. re: mcf
                        huiray RE: mcf Aug 1, 2012 01:50 PM

                        I've also never had any mapo tofu worth eating that did not use silken tofu.

                        1. re: huiray
                          biondanonima RE: huiray Aug 1, 2012 02:39 PM

                          I sometimes use non-silken firm tofu at home when I make mapo tofu - it's good, but I do prefer firm silken tofu.

                          1. re: huiray
                            mcf RE: huiray Aug 2, 2012 06:05 AM

                            I've had very good ones with soft, but I love silken, and I've never had it dissolve the way Alton warns of.

                            1. re: mcf
                              linguafood RE: mcf Aug 2, 2012 06:50 AM

                              I've only ever had it with soft, not silken. Sounds like it would be messy.

                              1. re: linguafood
                                mcf RE: linguafood Aug 2, 2012 07:11 AM

                                It's not, cooked properly. Usually very large bits of tofu. They can be a bit difficult to hold onto with chopsticks, but I always use them no prob. Just sort of slide the sticks under the piecies and lift, I guess.

                                1. re: linguafood
                                  biondanonima RE: linguafood Aug 2, 2012 08:27 AM

                                  I thought silken would be messy too, but if you get FIRM silken, it holds together quite nicely in the sauce, but kind of dissolves on your tongue when you eat it.

                                  1. re: biondanonima
                                    linguafood RE: biondanonima Aug 2, 2012 09:59 AM

                                    Maybe firm silken is just another term for "soft"?

                                    1. re: linguafood
                                      huiray RE: linguafood Aug 2, 2012 10:24 AM

                                      It may well be. When I think of "silken" tofu I think of the *Chinese* variation, not the Japanese, which I suspect many posters here default to, and which is more "liquid" than the Chinese varieties.

                                      1. re: huiray
                                        emily RE: huiray Aug 2, 2012 10:43 AM

                                        I use Vitasoy's "Multi-Use" tofu for ma po do fu, which falls in between their "Silken" and "Soft" tofus.

                                      2. re: linguafood
                                        biondanonima RE: linguafood Aug 2, 2012 10:58 AM

                                        No, any tofu not marked "silken" has a distinctly different texture - silken tofu is a lot like a creme caramel or flan custard, whereas regular tofu is spongier and sturdier. Silken comes in soft, medium and firm just like regular tofu does, but firm silken tofu is quite a bit softer than firm regular tofu. Here's a link that explains some of the differences: http://vegetarian.about.com/od/vegeta...

                                        1. re: biondanonima
                                          linguafood RE: biondanonima Aug 2, 2012 11:41 AM

                                          I get the Nasoya brand, soft, and it appears to be the same texture as the ma po I get at our local Sichuan restaurant.

                                          1. re: linguafood
                                            biondanonima RE: linguafood Aug 2, 2012 11:46 AM

                                            Hm. I have never bought Nasoya soft, but they do make a silken in addition to soft so I assume it must be somewhat different.

                                            1. re: linguafood
                                              huiray RE: linguafood Aug 2, 2012 12:10 PM

                                              In any case, and whichever variety I use, what I often do is to literally hold the block of tofu on my hand and break it apart in my hand into pieces/irregular lumps into the pan/whatever of bubbling stuff - so it really does NOT matter that the tofu "retain its shape". Other times I do cut it up into cubes, but even there retention of the cubic shape is not at all important. What would matter is if the tofu "melted" into a goo, and that has NEVER happened when I make the dish.

                        2. m
                          MikeG RE: loratliff Jul 29, 2012 09:45 AM

                          Keep in mind that asking for a single authentic recipe isn't really realistic. It's kinda like asking for "the" authentic recipe for a hamburger or tuna casserole. If you like a lot of oil, add more oil! Once you're working with the right group of ingredients, I think it's more a question of personal taste than "authenticity".

                          That aside, I imagine Fuchsia Dunlop's recipe is probably the closest to what is currently being made in its home province, noting that I believe beef is actually the more "authentic" meat, for what it's worth. At least the basic ratio of seasoning ingredients should be reliable.

                          1. chefj RE: loratliff Jul 29, 2012 10:40 AM

                            Here is another thread that contains a few recipes

                            1. RetiredChef RE: loratliff Jul 29, 2012 12:11 PM

                              Don't want to get into a fight but I would posit that "spicy red oil" is NOT authentic to the dish. We had three different versions on our culinary tour of the Sichuan provenance and not a single one used any spicy red oil instead the heat was from doubanjiang and the Sichuan pepper corns.

                              Fermented black beans are also a must in this recipe and two times leeks were used instead of green onions and one time both leeks and green onions were used. I prefer the all leek method.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: RetiredChef
                                jibberjabberwocky RE: RetiredChef Aug 1, 2012 12:01 PM

                                I was just going to add, that when my mom makes it at home (grandparents from Szechuan) she uses a a chili oil.

                                She also makes the chili oil herself with Szechuan, chili, peanuts etc and adds the actual chilies to the dish. But I think the idea of adding chili oil to spice up the dish doesn't make it unauthentic, the recipe just assumes you don't have a Chinese mom to make the peppercorn oil for you : )

                              2. m
                                MelMM RE: loratliff Jul 29, 2012 12:35 PM

                                As has already been mentioned, Fuschia Dunlop's recipes are probably a good place to start for authenticity, if that is really your goal. That said, my favorite recipe is from Kylie Kwong's book "My China". It is available online here:

                                What sets this recipe apart from the rest is that instead of the doubanjiang, this recipe has you make your own chile paste, from a combination of fresh and dried chiles. I won't comment on authenticity, but the result is a much fresher, brighter tasting dish. Whether it's authentic or not, in my mouth, it blows Dunlop's versions, and all the others I've tried, out of the water.

                                1. paulj RE: loratliff Jul 29, 2012 12:43 PM

                                  Robert Delts, The Good Food of Szechwan (one of the first books on this cuisine)
                                  "Variations on this popular dish are numerous -- some restraurants prepare it using garlic and ginger, some cooks replace the pork with beef, some recipes call for fermented black beans."

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: paulj
                                    femmevox RE: paulj Jul 29, 2012 01:54 PM

                                    Tatsu on the Boston Board posted this link to his recipe. Haven't made it myself, but it sounded right.


                                    1. re: femmevox
                                      alkapal RE: femmevox Jul 29, 2012 11:01 PM

                                      wish it were easier to read

                                  2. ipsedixit RE: loratliff Jul 31, 2012 08:42 AM

                                    I'm not even sure what "authentic" means in this context. If you believe legend (or one of several legends), ma po tofu was basically a dish made by some pockmarked female chef using chili oil brought by wayfarers. I'm not sure that original dish would even be very good to our modern palates.

                                    Ma Po Tofu is essentially a dish that's open to just about any type of interpretation, sort of like Mac N Cheese.

                                    Why not just develop a recipe that *you* like to eat?

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: ipsedixit
                                      AlkieGourmand RE: ipsedixit Aug 1, 2012 08:14 PM

                                      I know you're not a fan of recipes, and to some degree I share your sentiments. But it's darn difficult for someone who grew up in the United States to develop his own recipe for ma po tofu.

                                      1. re: AlkieGourmand
                                        ipsedixit RE: AlkieGourmand Aug 1, 2012 09:56 PM

                                        I wasn't really ranting about using a recipe per se in this instance, but merely pointing out the possible fallacy in the OP's quest for an "authentic" recipe.

                                        1. re: ipsedixit
                                          mcf RE: ipsedixit Aug 2, 2012 06:06 AM

                                          The OP didn't ask for *the* authentic recipe, just a recipe that is authentic.

                                    2. alkapal RE: loratliff Aug 1, 2012 09:17 AM

                                      this is a list of recipe ingredients from one of my chinese cookbooks -- "china, the beautiful cookbook" published in hong kong by the "culinary authorities of beijng, shanghai, guangdong and sichuan":

                                      soft bean curd, small dice
                                      lean tenderloin, minced
                                      green onions
                                      fermented black beans
                                      light soy
                                      hot bean paste
                                      sichuan peppercorns
                                      chicken stock

                                      1. a
                                        AlkieGourmand RE: loratliff Aug 1, 2012 08:17 PM

                                        I made ma po tofu today following Fuchsia Dunlop's recipe in Land of Plenty. This came out quite well and was very easy. I find, however, that Fuchsia Dunlop uses much less sichuan pepper than I am accustomed to, and I like a strong roasted sichuan pepper flavor, so I used maybe three times as much as she called for.

                                        Also, do try grinding on black pepper after serving. I am convinced that black pepper, albeit inauthentic, mixes well with sichuan pepper generally and improves the dish.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: AlkieGourmand
                                          huiray RE: AlkieGourmand Aug 1, 2012 09:45 PM

                                          If that is what you wish to do, have you tried grinding on WHITE pepper instead? White pepper in a general sense is more compatible with "Szechuan" and Chinese-type tastes in many senses over black pepper, IMO. Many peppery soups/dishes in these styles would call for white pepper rather than black pepper - but use what you like in the end. (I myself would reach instinctually for the white pepper over the black pepper)

                                          1. re: huiray
                                            AlkieGourmand RE: huiray Aug 1, 2012 10:02 PM

                                            I'm aware that white pepper is more traditional in Chinese cooking. I like the flavor of white pepper in Chinese soups. But I like black pepper in ma po tofu. It's specifically the earthy/dirty notes of Tellicherry peppercorns, not the sharp, make-you-sneeze peppery notes, that I find pleasing. But to each his own. I'd take white pepper too. Or no pepper. It's all good! Except there has to be lots of Sichuan pepper. Without Sichuan pepper, there would be nothing special about Sichuan cooking to me.

                                        2. Miss Needle RE: loratliff Aug 2, 2012 07:19 AM

                                          I find that Fuschia Dunlop's recipe (with Kenji's tweaks of the red oil and heating the peppercorns in oil) yields the best result. You also need to add a lot more oil than the recipe calls for if you want it like Szechuan Gourmet's version. The dou bian jian is really important to the flavor of the dish. Use the wrong one and it doesn't taste quite right.


                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: Miss Needle
                                            AlkieGourmand RE: Miss Needle Aug 2, 2012 10:24 AM

                                            "You also need to add a lot more oil than the recipe calls for if you want it like Szechuan Gourmet's version."

                                            Looking at a photo online (http://www.chubbychinesegirleats.com/...), I wonder if part of the difference is less cornstarch. Certainly Ms. Dunlop's recipe, which calls for a *half cup* of oil for just one block of tofu, seems quite oily until it is thickened.

                                            1. re: AlkieGourmand
                                              Miss Needle RE: AlkieGourmand Aug 2, 2012 11:12 AM

                                              Where did you get half a cup of oil from? I see 3 TBS oil per block of tofu.

                                              1. re: Miss Needle
                                                AlkieGourmand RE: Miss Needle Aug 2, 2012 05:59 PM

                                                Land of Plenty, page 314, 1/2 cup peanut oil.

                                                1. re: AlkieGourmand
                                                  Miss Needle RE: AlkieGourmand Aug 6, 2012 10:08 AM

                                                  Interesting! The seriouseats.com link above has Fuscia Dunlop's recipe which calls for 3 TBS oil. But you're right! Just looked at my copy of Land of Plenty and see that it's 1/2 cup of oil.

                                                  1. re: Miss Needle
                                                    alkapal RE: Miss Needle Aug 7, 2012 04:49 AM

                                                    was that divided somehow? just thinking out loud.

                                          2. huiray RE: loratliff Aug 2, 2012 10:29 AM

                                            Why isn't anyone talking about Cantonese/Hong Kong versions of mapo tofu?

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