• Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create an account.

Doodad

Ma Po done right

35 posts in this topic

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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 (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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 (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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...


Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.


Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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 (log)

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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.cookinglight.com/showthread.php?t=78660


Edited by djyee100 (log)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

no one mentions the ma po tofu recipe by hzrt8w

Ma Po Tofu

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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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 (log)

Monterey Bay area

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I just put it right in like you do.


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

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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!"


Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."
 

The mosque is too far from home, so let's do this / Let's make a weeping child laugh. -Nida Fazli, poet (translated, from the Urdu, by Anu Garg, wordsmith.org)

 

The greatest enemy of knowledge is the illusion of knowledge. -(origin unclear)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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).


nunc est bibendum...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

  • Similar Content

    • By liuzhou
      I think you’ll see in a moment why I didn’t just post this on the Lunch! topic. It was exceptional. An epic and it has been an epic sorting through the 634 photographs I took in about three hours. If I counted correctly, there are only 111 here.
       
      Like so many things, it came out of the blue. I was kind of aware that there was a Chinese holiday this week, but being self-semi-employed I am often a man of leisure and the holidays make little impact on my life. This one is in celebration of the Dragon Boat Festival (端午节 duān wǔ jié) and although it features nothing boat-like, it was festive and there is a dragon link.
       
      It started with this invitation which appeared on my WeChat (Chinese social media) account.
       

       
      Longtan (龙潭 lóng tán) means Dragon’s Pool and is more of a hamlet. It is about an hour’s drive north of Liuzhou city. I’d never heard of it and certainly never been there, but a friend of a friend had decided that a “foreign friend” would add just the right note to the planned event. I’ve seen many pictures of such “Long Table“ lunches and even attended one before – but this one was different and I was delighted to be invited.
       
      So, I was picked up outside my city centre home at 9 am and the adventure began. We arrived at the village at 9:45 to be met by the friend in question. He led me to what appeared to be the head man’s home, outside which was a large courtyard with a few men sitting at a trestle table seemingly finishing a breakfast of hot, meaty rice porridge washed down with beer or rice wine. I was offered a bowl of the porridge, but declined the beer or rice wine in favour of a cup of tea. After downing that and making introductions etc, I was left to wander around on my own watching all the activity.
       
       

       

      Rice Porridge
       
      Here goes. I'm posting these mostly in the order they were taken, in order to give some sense of how the event progressed.
       

       
      These two men were the undisputed kings of this venture, organising everyone, checking every detail, instructing less  experienced volunteers etc. It was obvious these men had been working since the early hours. and their breakfast was a break in their toil. There were piles of still steaming cooked pork belly in containers all over the courtyard.
       

      Some of this had been the meat in the rice porridge, I learned.
       
       

      This young lad had been set to chopping chicken. Not one chicken! Dozens.
       

       

       

       

       

      Entrails, insides and fat were all carefully preserved.
       
      In the meantime, the two masters continued boiling their lumps of pork belly. This they refer to as 五花肉 - literally "five flower" pork", the five flowers being layers of skin, fat and meat.
       

       

       
      Another man was dealing with fish. Carp from the village pond. He scaled and cleaned them with his cleaver. Dozens of them. 
       

       

       

       

       
      And all around, various preparations are being prepared.
       

      Peeling Garlic
       

       

      Gizzards and intestines.
       

      More Pork . You can see the five layers here.
       
      to be continued
       
    • By Soul_Venom
      The best Chinese food restaurant I have ever been to is a place called the Imperial Buffet in Aberdeen SD. Their General Tso's is unlike the Tso's anywhere else. The closes comparison I could make is the Orange Chicken at the Panda Garden only 3x better. Their Lo-Mein Noodles are done with the skill of a master Italian pasta chef & perfectly seasoned. They also used to do a mean fried squid. I say used to because they had it when I lived in Aberdeen from 02-04 but didn't when I visited in 15'. One of their other discontinued specialties was a dish advertised as 'Golden Fried Cauliflower'. Note, this was NOT a breaded product. The cauliflower was cooked as though it had been boiled perfectly. It was not greasy as I recall but was a golden orange color as was the sauce it was evidently cooked in. I never could identify the flavors in that sauce. I wish I could describe it better but it has been well over a decade since I had it. Is anyone familiar with it or something similar? I can't seem to find anything like it online & all my searches just bring up links to breaded deep-fried crap.
    • By liuzhou
      An old friend from England contacted me yesterday via Facebook with a couple of questions about Five Spice Powder.

      Thought there me be some interest here, too.

      Is there anything more typically Chinese than five spice powder (五香粉 - wǔ xiāng fěn)?
       
      Well, yes. A lot.
       
      Many years ago, I worked in an office overlooking London’s China town. By around 11 am, the restaurants started getting lunch ready and the smell of FSP blanketed the area for the rest of the day. When I moved to China, I didn’t smell that. Only when I first visited Hong Kong, did I find that smell again.
       
      In fact, FSP is relatively uncommon in most of Chinese cuisine. And if I ever see another internet recipe called “Chinese” whatever, which is actually any random food, but the genius behind it has added FSP, supposedly rendering it Chinese, I’ll scream.

      I get all sorts of smells wafting through the neighbourhood. Some mouth-watering; some horrifying. But I don't recall ever that they were FSP.
       
      But what is it anyway? Which five spices?
       
      Today, I bought four samples in four local supermarkets. I would have would have preferred five, but couldn’t find any more. It's not that popular.
       
      First thing to say: none of them had five spices. All had more. That is normal. Numbers in Chinese can often be vague. Every time you hear a number, silently added the word ‘about’ or ‘approximately’. 100 km means “far”, 10,000 means “many”.
       
      Second, while there are some common factors, ingredients can vary quite a bit. Here are my four.

      1.


       
      Ingredients – 7
       
      Star Anise, Fennel Seed, Orange Peel, Cassia Bark, Sand Ginger, Dried Ginger, Sichuan Peppercorns.
       
      2.
       

       
      Ingredients – 6
       
      Cassia Bark, Star Anise, Fennel Seed, Coriander, Sichuan Peppercorn, Licorice Root.

      3.
       

       
      Ingredients – 15
       
      Fennel Seeds, Sichuan Peppercorns, Coriander, Tangerine Peel, Star Anise, Chinese Haw, Cassia Bark, Lesser Galangal, Dahurian Angelica, Nutmeg, Dried Ginger, Black Pepper, Amomum Villosum, Cumin Seeds, Cloves.

      4.
       

       
      Ingredients – 6
       
      Pepper (unspecified – probably black pepper), Sichuan Peppercorns, Star Anise, Fennel Seeds, Nutmeg, Cassia.
       
      So, take your pick. They all taste and smell almost overwhelmingly of the star anise and cassia, although there are subtle differences in taste in the various mixes.
       
      But I don’t expect to find it in many dishes in local restaurants or homes. A quick, unscientific poll of about ten friends today revealed that not one has any at home, nor have they ever used the stuff!
       
       
      I'm not suggesting that FSP shouldn't be used outside of Chinese food. Please just don't call the results Chinese when you sprinkle it on your fish and chips or whatever. They haven't miraculously become Chinese!

      Like my neighbours and friends, I very rarely use it at all.

      In fact, I'd be delighted to hear how it is used in other cultures / cuisines.
    • By liuzhou
      For the last several years Cindy's* job has been to look after me. She takes care of my residence papers, my health insurance, my travel, my housing and associated repairs. She makes sure that I am supplied with sufficient cold beer at official banquets. And she does it all with terrific efficiency and great humour.
       
      This weekend she held her wedding banquet.
       
      Unlike in the west, this isn't held immediately after the marriage is formalised. In fact, she was legally married months ago. But the banquet is the symbolic, public declaration and not the soul-less civil servant stamping of papers that the legal part entails.
      So tonight, along with a few hundred other people, I rolled up to a local hotel at the appointed time. In my pocket was my 'hong bao' or red envelope in which I had deposited a suitable cash gift. That is the Chinese wedding gift protocol. You don't get 12 pop-up toasters here.
       
      I handed it over, then settled down, at a table with colleagues, to a 17 or 18 course dinner.
       
      Before we started, I spotted this red bedecked jar. Shaking, poking and sniffing revealed nothing.
       
       
      A few minutes later, a waitress turned up and opened and emptied the jar into a serving dish. Spicy pickled vegetables. Very vinegary, very hot, and very addictive. Allegedly pickled on the premises, this was just to amuse us as we waited for the real stuff to arrive.
       
       
      Then the serious stuff arrived. When I said 17 courses, I really meant 17 dishes. Chinese cuisine doesn't really do courses. Every thing is served at roughly the same time. But we had:
       
      Quail soup which I neglected to photograph.
       
      Roast duck
       
      Braised turtle
       
      Sticky rice with beef (the beef is lurking underneath)
       
      Steamed chicken
       
      Spicy, crispy shell-on prawns.
       
      Steamed pork belly slices with sliced taro
       
      Spicy squid
       
      Noodles
       
      Chinese Charcuterie (including ducks jaws (left) and duck hearts (right))
       
      Mixed vegetables
       
      Fish
       
      Cakes
       
      Fertility soup! This allegedly increases your fertility and ensures the first born (in China, only born) is a son. Why they are serving to me is anyone's guess. It would make more sense for the happy couple to drink the lot.
       
      Greenery
       
      Jiaozi
       
      There was a final serving of quartered oranges, but I guess you have seen pictures of oranges before.
       
      The happy couple. I wish them well.
       
      *Cindy is the English name she has adopted. Her Chinese name is more than usually difficult to pronounce. Many Chinese friends consider it a real tongue-twister.
    • By liuzhou
      A few days ago, I was given a lovely gift. A big jar of preserved lemons.
       
      I know Moroccan preserved lemons, but had never met Chinese ones. In fact, apart from in the south, in many parts of China it isn't that easy to find lemons, at all.
       
      These are apparently a speciality of the southern Zhuang minority of Wuming County near Nanning. The Zhuang people are the largest ethnic minority in China and most live in Guangxi. These preserved lemons feature in their diet and are usually eaten with congee (rice porridge). Lemon Duck is a local speciality and they are also served with fish. They can be served as a relish, too. They are related to the Vietnamese Chanh muối.
       
      I'm told that these particular lemons have been soaking in salt and lemon juice for eleven years!
       

       

       
      So, of course, you want to know what they taste like. Incredibly lemony. Concentrated lemonness. Sour, but not unpleasantly so. Also a sort of smoky flavour.
       
      The following was provided by my dear friend 马芬洲 (Ma Fen Zhou) who is herself Zhuang. It is posted with her permission.
       
      How to Make Zhuang Preserved Lemons
      By 马芬洲
       
      Zhuang preserved lemons is a kind of common food for the southern Zhuang ethnic minority who live around Nanning Prefecture of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in China. The Zhuang people like to make it as a relish for eating with congee or congee with corn powder. This relish is a mixture of chopped preserved lemons, red chilli and garlic or ginger slice in soy sauce and peanut oil or sesame oil.
       

       
      Sometimes the Zhuang people use preserved lemons as an ingredient in cooking. The most famous Zhuang food in Guangxi is Lemon Duck, which is a common home cooked dish in Wuming County, which belongs to Nanning Prefecture.
       
      The following steps show you how to make Zhuang preserved lemons.
       
      Step 1 Shopping
      Buy some green lemons.
       
      Step 2 Cleaning
      Wash green lemons.
       
      Step 3 Sunning
      Leave green lemons under the sunshine till it gets dry.
       
      Step 4 Salting
      If you salt 5kg green lemons, mix 0.25kg salt with green lemons. Keep the salted green lemons in a transparent jar. The jar must be well sealed. Leave the jar under the sunshine till the salted green lemons turn yellow. For example, leave it on the balcony. Maybe it will take months to wait for those salted green lemons to turn yellow. Later, get the jar of salted yellow lemons back. Unseal the jar. Then cover 1kg salt over the salted yellow lemons. Seal well the jar again.
       
      Step 5 Preserving
      Keep the sealed jar of salted yellow lemons at least 3 years. And the colour of salted yellow lemons will turn brown day by day. It can be dark brown later. The longer you keep preserved lemons, the better taste it is. If you eat it earlier than 2 years, it will taste bitter. After 3 years, it can be unsealed. Please use clean chopsticks to pick it. Don’t use oily chopsticks, or the oil will make preserved lemons go bad. Remember to seal the jar well after picking preserved lemons every time.
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.