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Ma Po done right

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34 replies to this topic

#1 Doodad

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 04:48 AM

I love Ma Po tofu. Love it. I make it all the time and have tried various recipes and they just are not up to snuff. I have had good versions in restaurants and can't replicate them for the life of me. I tend to come out too dry or if the sauce is the right amount and consistency, the flavor is not right. Can someone give me an authentic recipe that ends up with the right proportion of ingredients and flavor? Thanks in advance.

#2 liuzhou

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 05:29 AM

I doubt there is one definitive version. Every Sichuan cook has their subtle differences.

Fuchsia Dunlop's version from her excellent "Land of Plenty" is very similar to what I have eaten in Sichuan.

The recipe is on line at her publisher's UK website, here.

Edited by liuzhou, 11 April 2011 - 05:32 AM.


#3 Shaun Ginsbourg

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 06:54 AM

I cook dishes from all around the world and ma po dofu is possibly my favourite of all of them. Made well, it has a most wonderful combination of explosive flavours and delicate textures.

Like Luizhou my favourite version (I have tried many) is Fuchsia Dunlop's, with the following notes:

1. I make my own tofu. I have posted my recipe elsewhere on the site. If you are not going to these lengths I would recommend a soft (but not silken) Chinese-style fresh tofu, coagulated with gypsum. Dice it into 2cm cubes.

2. I use Lee Kum Kee brand toban jian as it is easy to get and I believe good quality. The more hardcore option is to find paste which is made in Pixian, which I have managed to do once or twice. It has a more depth of flavour, however its earthy, musty taste may not appeal to everybody.

3. If you use the right tofu you need to take care not to break it up when adding it or completing the dish. Once I have added the tofu I avoid stirring for the remaining stages of the dish and instead shake the pan to coat and mix ingredients.

4. I like to simmer the tofu for a good 8- 10 minutes in the sauce before thickening in order to ensure good penetration of flavour. Be careful not to boil down the sauce too much: there should be plenty of it without it being soupy.

5. I add about 100g peas a minute or two before thickening the sauce. They add a sweetness that balances nicely with the other flavours. If you take this step you can cut back the sugar in Fuschia's recipe to a pinch.

I would love to hear other peoples tips for cooking this magnificent dish!

#4 robirdstx

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 07:56 AM

This is one of my sister's favorite dishes and I am planning on making it for her when she comes to visit next month. I recently acquired Dunlop's Land Of Plenty and was going to use her recipe but I noticed that she uses ground beef rather than ground pork. Would it be wrong to use pork instead of beef?

#5 liuzhou

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 07:59 AM

Nothing is "wrong". Cook it as you like.

I seem to recall that she merely points out that beef was the traditional choice. Certainly in Sichuan today, they use beef or pork, depending on the cook's whim or preference.

I'm in China and had it as one dish for lunch today. It was pork.

Edited by liuzhou, 11 April 2011 - 08:00 AM.


#6 robirdstx

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 08:17 AM

Nothing is "wrong". Cook it as you like.

I seem to recall that she merely points out that beef was the traditional choice. Certainly in Sichuan today, they use beef or pork, depending on the cook's whim or preference.

I'm in China and had it as one dish for lunch today. It was pork.


Thank You! Whenever I have been with my sister, when she orders this dish, she has always asked for a bit of pork to be added if it was not already to be included.

#7 Dejah

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 08:19 AM

Maybe it's more Toisanese, but I've always used ground pork. I haven't used Fushia's recipe. I've always gone blithly on from what I remember and what I liked - most likely unorthodox. :rolleyes:
I also do not add fermented black beans or sugar :unsure: , but I do add a splash of vinegar...
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#8 Doodad

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 12:10 PM

The recipe cited is almost exactly how I make mine, but it comes out dry unless I up the amount of stock and it still lacks something. I think I may try some new brands of black bean and chili paste.

#9 mbhank

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 12:32 PM

There are pre mixed Do Fu sauces that you can get in the Asian section of most grocery stores. They come in both Mild and Hot versions. All you do is add the tofu and ground pork. I get the Hot version and then boost it to my taste with Oyster, Chili Garlic sauces, and a bit of soy. I usually make a one pot meal out of it by adding bok choy, garlic, ginger and mushrooms to the ground pork and tofu.

It's one of my favorite dishes.
'A person's integrity is never more tested than when he has power over a voiceless creature.' A C Grayling.

#10 Dejah

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 12:44 PM

As mention in my previous post, my version is unorthodox. Here is a picture of the one I made last month. I threw in a Chinese eggplant that was left in the bottom of my fridge. It's fusion: Fish fragrant eggplant and mapo tofu! Most of the sauce had settled to the bottom of the dish.

1tofu4512.jpg

I also like to throw in fresh mint - for any spicy dishes I make.
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#11 jmolinari

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 01:24 PM

The recipe cited is almost exactly how I make mine, but it comes out dry unless I up the amount of stock and it still lacks something. I think I may try some new brands of black bean and chili paste.


Go to Dinho market in ATL Chinatown. They carry Pixian toban jian. It's in a clear flat plastic pack with red chinese letters. On the barely legible writing on the back it says something on the order of "chili paste with broad beans" or something to that effect. It's normally in the semi refrigerated section near the vegetables.

#12 scamhi

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 01:34 PM

no one mentions the ma po tofu recipe by hzrt8w

Ma Po Tofu

Edited by scamhi, 11 April 2011 - 01:38 PM.


#13 mbhank

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 01:36 PM

I threw in a Chinese eggplant that was left in the bottom of my fridge. It's fusion: Fish fragrant eggplant and mapo tofu! Most of the sauce had settled to the bottom of the dish.

I also like to throw in fresh mint - for any spicy dishes I make.


You've made me hungry! I forgot that in addition to the bok choy and mushrooms I have often used eggplant. When I serve it I put it over spaghetti.

Edited by mbhank, 11 April 2011 - 01:37 PM.

'A person's integrity is never more tested than when he has power over a voiceless creature.' A C Grayling.

#14 djyee100

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 06:09 PM

I've always liked Joyce Jue's version of ma po tofu. It's made with ground pork. I cook a recipe from one of Joyce's classes. It contains a generous dose of ground roasted Szechuan peppercorns (1 1/2 tsp), in addition to the white pepper.

The recipe (without the Szechuan peppercorn) is here:
http://community.coo...ead.php?t=78660

Edited by djyee100, 11 April 2011 - 06:17 PM.


#15 heidih

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 06:13 PM

no one mentions the ma po tofu recipe by hzrt8w

Ma Po Tofu


This is a great pictorial with lots of comments - worth checking

#16 ojisan

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 06:42 PM

I think mapo dofu is one of those comfort foods that if you ask 20 folks for their favorite recipes, you get 50 versions. I started back in the '70s with Robt. Delf's classic, refining, refining, refining over the years until my notes became illegible. Part of this is because many ingredients and brands have changed over the years (Delf mentions that chicken blood was used as a thickener - which makes sense, as who had cornstarch in China back in the day?). More importantly, everyone's recipe is based on their tastes and what's available to them.

Hot and Sour Soup is also a classic comfort food that has no definitive "recipe".

Edited by ojisan, 11 April 2011 - 06:51 PM.

Monterey Bay area


#17 djyee100

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Posted 11 April 2011 - 06:57 PM

...I started back in the '70s with Robt. Delf's classic...


I was curious about Delfs' recipe and found it online. Or so the recipe credits Delfs' book. Sounds like a good one. I like that touch of fermented black bean. The recipe, with some anonymous editorial comment, is here:
http://www.recipesou...po-dou-fu1.html

#18 DickL

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Posted 12 June 2011 - 02:41 PM

I made this today for lunch, using the Fuchsia Dunlop recipe, which I had downloaded from the Penguin UK website linked to in the second post of this thread. For those familiar with the recipe, a question: one of the ingredients is shown as "3 tablespoons potato flour mixed with 4 tablespoons cold water"-- is this right? If so, what is meant by "potato flour"? Potato flour is extremely sticky stuff-- 4 tablespoons of water produces a heavy dough (as I had expected, but I try to follow recipes the first time); 4 cups of water would probably still produce too thick a mixture. Is this ingredient what some would call "potato starch" (similar to cornstarch or tapioca starch)? It still seems like a lot for the dish; I used 1 tablespoon of tapioca starch with about half a cup of water, which worked pretty well (I had to add about another 1/4 cup of water to get the thickness of the sauce right).

I used pork instead of beef, which is always the way I've had ma po tofu; and instead of using ground pork (I hadn't bought any), I chose to take "minced" literally and minced the 150g of meat with a chef's knife rather than getting the grinder dirty. I liked the texture of the result. (I suspect that "minced" vs. "ground" is a UK:US translation issue, as may be the "potato flour"/"potato starch" distinction.)

For the ground chile component I used 1 teaspoon of what is probably a much milder ingredient, some Indian ground Kashmiri chile; that, along with the chile in the chile bean paste produced the right level of heat for my taste.

The dish turned out well. My thanks to the various posters for their efforts.
Dick in Northbrook, IL

#19 MikeHartnett

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Posted 12 June 2011 - 02:57 PM

My copy says 4T cornstarch to 6T water, I believe, and references potato starch, but concludes that cornstarch is more easily obtainable in the West.

I use pork too, and it's one of my favorite recipes on earth. I've been eating quite a lot of it lately.

#20 Shalmanese

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Posted 15 June 2011 - 10:45 PM

I've seen a couple of mapo dofu recipes that tell you to simmer the tofu in water before adding it to the dish. What does this do? At home, we've always just added it directly to the dish.
PS: I am a guy.

#21 mbhank

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Posted 15 June 2011 - 11:00 PM

I just put it right in like you do.
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#22 Alex

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Posted 16 June 2011 - 07:02 AM


no one mentions the ma po tofu recipe by hzrt8w

Ma Po Tofu


This is a great pictorial with lots of comments - worth checking

Thanks for the link, Heidi. This is the one I use. I cut back a little bit on the Szechuan peppercorn, but otherwise I do it exactly as written. As my fellow Michigander Tony the Tiger would say, "It's Grrreat!"
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#23 Alcuin

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Posted 16 June 2011 - 07:43 AM

I've seen a couple of mapo dofu recipes that tell you to simmer the tofu in water before adding it to the dish. What does this do? At home, we've always just added it directly to the dish.


I've always thought this was about thoroughly heating the tofu before it hits the wok so you don't have to move it around to heat it through and risk breaking it up too much. I don't do it either, but I use silken tofu so I'm not going to risk even that. I try to let the tofu come up to room temp if I remember (I never do).
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#24 heidih

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Posted 17 June 2011 - 05:16 PM

As mentioned earlier, member hzrt8w has done a great pictorial on ma po and other dishes. Here is the link to the index of dishes.

#25 metea

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Posted 05 September 2011 - 05:38 PM

Lots of great advice here, I too can't wait to try some of it out.

I have been using this along with some fermented black beans (although I think there are some in that sauce). I'm generally OK with handling heat, but this sauce seems like too much. I'm using less and less each time and I think it's slowly causing me to tamper too much with other ingredients to balance it out. Maybe it's time to experiment with another sauce. Has anyone else used the Koon Yick soy chilli sauce?

#26 metea

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Posted 06 September 2011 - 08:07 AM

Also, is "chili bean sauce" the same thing as "soy chilli sauce"?

#27 Will

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Posted 06 September 2011 - 12:10 PM

Finding good huajiao (Sichuan peppercorn) is hard -- even here, where we have a wealth of Chinese markets catering to a mostly Asian clientele (and even in China, for that matter). I have heard that some of the Asian supermarket brands are dyed pink - if the pink color leaches out in water after about 15 minutes, this may be the case. A friend recommended trying the Chinese herb store vs. a supermarket. The numbing taste of the finished dish should be pretty intense -- the version of this dish without pork is called mala doufu (i.e., numbing-spicy tofu), and I heard someone say once that the dish should be numbing, spicy, salty, and sweet in that order. If the pins and needles sensation isn't taking over your mouth for a good 10-20 seconds or more after each bite, add more huajiao.

For the chili / broad bean paste, what you want is dòubànjiàng (豆瓣酱), and I would actually go to the trouble of finding a Sichuan style one, preferably made in Sichuan (though I've tried some made in Taiwan ones as well, and this is a good route to go if you want to avoid products produced in Mainland China). I would avoid Lee Kum Kee if possible, despite it being widely available. They will vary in ingredients and spiciness level. The fermented black beans (douchi) are something different. Most authentic recipes I've seen don't seem to add them.

http://www.fuchsiadu...lli-bean-paste/
has a summary of what to look for, and mentions a few specific brands.

Also, is "chili bean sauce" the same thing as "soy chilli sauce"?

English names can vary quite a bit... the English name of the sauce is less important than what it actually is. If you post a closer-up view of the label, with the Chinese name and / or ingredients, that would be more helpful.

Edited by Will, 06 September 2011 - 12:10 PM.


#28 metea

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Posted 06 September 2011 - 12:48 PM

English names can vary quite a bit... the English name of the sauce is less important than what it actually is. If you post a closer-up view of the label, with the Chinese name and / or ingredients, that would be more helpful.


Posted Image


Ingredients: red pepper, red pepper powder, soy sauce, fermented black beans, soy oil, sugar, garlic, flavor enhancer (E621)

#29 eternal

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Posted 06 September 2011 - 06:37 PM

So i happen to be in lhasa tibet right now and there is a decent sized food market with spices and lots of huajiao. I picked up a couple cups of the peppers because i want to work on sichuan cooking when i return. This thread makes me think i should pick up even more. Hw long does this dried pepper keep and how much is typical to use? One stall had two different varieties that seemed to smell the same. Oe was slightly more pink. Any major difference there?

#30 Shalmanese

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Posted 06 September 2011 - 10:25 PM

So i happen to be in lhasa tibet right now and there is a decent sized food market with spices and lots of huajiao. I picked up a couple cups of the peppers because i want to work on sichuan cooking when i return. This thread makes me think i should pick up even more. Hw long does this dried pepper keep and how much is typical to use? One stall had two different varieties that seemed to smell the same. Oe was slightly more pink. Any major difference there?


Whole, they last for about a year or two. Toasted and then ground, 3 - 6 months.
PS: I am a guy.





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