In the comments of my post on Peng's Homestyle Bean Curd, KevinK asked if I'd make some Ma Po Dou Fu, Chongqing-style. Now I'm not sure if this is Chongqing style, but I think it turned out fairly good. According to the Missus; "hey, this is not too bad." Translation: "This is one of the best things you've made in a while. You better be able to duplicate it!"
First, let's clarify a few things. First, there must be thousands of different versions of this dish; I've seen it in everything from Muslim Chinese to Japanese Restaurants. In fact, Chopstix has a version they call Mabo Ramen, a very sweet, soy laden ground meat dish. But if I'm having the real deal, there are 2 things I always look for; a nice layer of red, spicy oil, and this:
The legend regarding this dish is well known, though I've read at least 3 variations. For me, the "Ma" stands for "numbing", which can only be provided by Sichuan Peppercorns. And for me, any place serving a classic rendition of this dish must use Sichuan Peppercorns.
This recipe is based on the version in Fuchsia Dunlop's Land of Plenty. I've made a few changes. Since the Missus wanted this vegetarian, I eschewed the ground meat. In most cases, the meat is ground pork, but in Land of Plenty, Ms. Dunlop notes that in Sichuan, the traditional recipe calls for Ground Beef, which is pretty unique. No stock, meant increasing a few ingredients, and adding a few. I added Chinkiang Black Vinegar, minced garlic, and grated ginger, all of which added depth to the dish. I wasn't able to find any Pixian Chili Bean Paste, or Chili Bean Paste made with Broad Beans, which has a much better flavor than the stuff made with soy beans. I ended up adding twice the amount of bean paste to adjust. I also used scallions instead of leeks. One last thing, I knew we had tofu in the frig, I just didn't realize that it was firm bean curd, I'd have preferredsoft tofu. So here it is:
Ma Po Dou Fu (The Pock-marked Old Woman's Bean Curd)
1 Block Bean Curd
2-3 Scallions cut in "Horse Ear" slices
2/3 Cup Canola Oil
4 Tb Sichuan Chili Bean Paste
1 Tb Fermented Black Beans, rinsed
2 Tb Ground Red Chilies
1 1/2 Cup Water
2-3 Tb Sugar
3 Tb Light Soy Sauce
2 Cloves Garlic minced
2 Tsp Grated Ginger
Salt to taste
Chili Oil to Taste
3 Tb Cornstarch mixed in 4 Tb Cold Water
1 Tsp Ground Roasted Sichuan Peppercorn
1 - Cut bean curd in to 1" by 1" cubes, and steep in simmering water.
2 - Heat oil in a wok over medium heat. When oil shimmers add bean paste and ground chilies and stir fry until oil turns red in color. Add Fermented Black Beans, Ginger, and Garlic and stir fry for about 30 seconds, until oil is fragrant.
3 - Pour in stock and stir well.
5 - Add 2Tb sugar, vinegar and soy sauce. Mix carefully, and taste. Add salt, chili oil(if desired), and more sugar if necessary.
7 - Add scallions
8 - With mixture simmering add cornstarch mixture a little at a time until the sauce has thickened to the desired texture.
9 - Serve in a bowl, topped with ground Sichuan Peppercorns.
There you go Kevin, I hope it meets with your approval!