I woke up half way through hibernation, hungry and cold. I glanced outside to the blizzards and wish there was already food on the table so I could quickly eat it and go back to doing my thing. Since I have a block of tofu in the fridge, and there was a foot of snow outside and still blizzarding, I thought of the spicy mapo tofu to warm me up from inside out.
While I was reminiscing about the best Mapo tofu I've ever had, which was at South Ocean Seafood restaurant in Richmond, BC, I started looking through hundreds of recipes, and each had different ways of making it. As I was wondering what the easiest way would be to tackle this dish, I have to give thanks to chef Ben who helped me simplify this recipe, making it easier for me to follow through.
I couldn't find the 2 main ingredients, szechuan peppers and chili bean oil, anywhere in my kitchen. There was no way I was going to drive out and get stuck in the snow for them that day either. But it wasn't about to stop me from making Mapo tofu. I ended up using Lau Gan Ma brand of chili oil instead. The essential elements of a good Mapo tofu are the heat (spicy and in temperature), freshness, aromatic, and soft texture. Thanks to Lau Gan Ma, it substituted for both the bean paste and Szechuan pepper, a 2 in 1 rescue. The flavours actually turned out quite nicely, and packing a lot of heat. Here's the easy way of making Mapo tofu, my way.
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
300 g ground pork
2 tbsp. chopped garlic
2-3 tbsp. Lau Gan Ma chili oil
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. Chinese cooking wine
1 tbsp. sugar
85 g soft tofu, cubed
2 tsp. cornstarch
45 ml water
chopped green onion and cilantro for garnish
In a large saucepan at high heat, sauté garlic and ground pork together until well cooked. Time to add the seasoning! Throw in chili oil, soy sauce, cooking wine and sugar and swish the saucepan until the seasonings are well mixed. Pour in cubed tofu into the mixture and gently stir and swirl the sauce around. Be careful not to break the tofu. Dilute cornstarch with water and add it to the saucepan. Gently stir and cover with a lid. Lower the heat and let simmer for 5-10 minutes. Once the mixture is boiling and thickened, turn off heat and transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with chopped green onion and cilantro, and serve with steamed rice.