Mapo tofu is a traditional Sichuan dish that blends the unique, numbing flavor of Sichuan peppercorns with silken tofu and savory ground pork. The dish is known for its intense spiciness, but the numbing sensation makes you want more. Sichuan pepper’s unique spice and floral notes set it apart from other types of spicy flavors. If you prefer less heat, you can adjust the seasoning to your taste.
This dish is both saucy and delicious, especially when served over rice to balance the spice and saltiness. It is also one of the few Chinese dishes that is commonly served with a spoon to scoop up the delicious sauce.
What Is Mapo Tofu?
Mapo tofu is a traditional Sichuan dish of silken tofu, ground pork, Sichuan peppercorns, and a few other seasonings. It has a spicy and savory flavor with a tender texture thanks to the tofu and bits of chewiness and crunch thanks to the pork and chile.
The dish is said to have been named after the elderly woman with pockmarks who originally developed the recipe. “Ma” refers to pockmarks and “po” to grandma.
Where to Find Sichuan Peppercorns
Sichuan peppercorns, available in Asian supermarkets and chains like Whole Foods, are best purchased as split dried red berries. These retain more flavor and aroma than ground Sichuan peppercorns. To make the most of their flavor and prolong their shelf life, grind the peppercorns with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder in small batches.
How to Adjust the Spice Level
This recipe for mapo tofu utilizes three sources of heat: Sichuan peppercorn, Pixian chili bean paste, and chili crisp. Each ingredient offers a different level of heat intensity.
The Pixian chili bean paste provides the majority of the heat and sodium, so you can adjust the amount to suit your taste and add salt as needed to maintain flavor balance. Sichuan peppercorns offer both spiciness and numbing sensations, so adjust the amount to your liking.
The chili crisp adds color, texture, and flavor, including a light spiciness. I recommend using the called-for amount since it doesn’t greatly affect the spice level.
What Kind of Tofu to Use
Silken tofu is the creamiest, softest variety of tofu. Although this recipe calls for silken tofu for its smooth and silky texture that blends seamlessly with the saucy texture, soft tofu will work as well. Avoid firm or extra firm tofu.
More Sichuan Spice
- Sichuan Eggplant
- Sichuan Style Stir-Fried Chinese Long Beans
- Three Tea Cup Chicken
- Noodles with Cucumbers and A Lot of Chili Crisp
- Kung Pao Chicken
Brown the ground pork:
Add the ground pork to a wok or a large skillet and place over high heat. Toss occasionally until the ground pork is browned and the excess fat has rendered out, about 4 minutes.
Add the aromatics:
Add the ginger, garlic, and Sichuan peppercorns. Toss until aromatic, about 30 seconds.
Add the spice:
Add the chili bean paste and chili crisp. Toss until combined, about 30 seconds.
Add the broth and tofu:
Add the chicken broth and tofu to the wok. Gently fold the tofu in from the sides towards the center, combining it with the spicy broth.
Make the cornstarch slurry:
Add the cornstarch and water to a small bowl and mix to combine. Add the cornstarch slurry to the pan and lightly mix (to avoid breaking up the tofu too much) until combined.
Simmer and serve:
Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the tofu starts to take on some color and the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Garnish with scallions and serve.
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