• 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.

  • product-image-quickten.png.a40203b506711f7664fc62024e54a584.pngDid you know that these all-volunteer forums are operated by the 501(c)3 not-for-profit Society for Culinary Arts & Letters? This holiday season, consider a tax-deductible Quick Ten Bucks to support the eG Forums and help us remain completely advertising-free. Thanks to all those who have donated so far!

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 their 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)

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
      Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China, where I live, is sugar central for the country. Over two-thirds of China's output of sugar is grown right here, making it one of the largest sugar production areas on the planet. I have a second home in the countryside and it is surrounded by sugar cane fields.

      Much of this is produced by small time farmers, although huge Chinese and international companies have also moved in.
       
      Also, sugar is used extensively in Chinese cooking, not only as a sweetener, but more as a spice. A little added to a savoury dish can bring out otherwise hidden flavours. It also has medicinal attributes according to traditional Chinese medicine.
       
      Supermarkets have what was to me, on first sight, a huge range of sugars, some almost unrecognisable. Here is a brief introduction to some of them. Most sugar is sold loose, although corner shops and mom 'n pop stores may have pre-packed bags. These are often labelled in English as "candy", the Chinese language not differentiating between "sugar" and "candy" - always a source of confusion. Both are 糖 (táng),

      IMPORTANT NOTE: The Chinese names given here and in the images are the names most used locally. They are all Mandarin Chinese, but it is still possible that other names may be used elsewhere in China. Certainly, non-Mandarin speaking areas will be different.

      By the far the simplest way to get your sugar ration is to buy the unprocessed sugar cane. This is not usually available in supermarkets but is a street vendor speciality. In the countryside, you can buy it at the roadside. There are also people in markets etc with portable juice extractors who will sell you a cup of pure sugar cane juice.


       
      I remember being baffled then amused when, soon after I first arrived in China, someone asked me if I wanted some 甘蔗 (gān zhè). It sounded exactly like 'ganja' or cannabis. No such luck! 甘蔗 (gān zhè) is 'sugar cane'.
       
      The most common sugar in the supermarkets seems to be 冰糖 (bīng táng) which literally means 'ice 'sugar' and is what we tend to call 'rock sugar' or 'crystal sugar'. This highly refined sugar comes in various lump sizes although the price remains the same no matter if the pieces are large or small. Around ¥7/500g. That pictured below features the smaller end of the range.


       
      Related to this is what is known as 冰片糖 (bīng piàn táng) which literally means "ice slice sugar". This is usually slightly less processed (although I have seen a white version, but not recently) and is usually a pale brown to yellow colour. This may be from unprocessed cane sugar extract, but is often white sugar coloured and flavoured with added molasses. It is also sometimes called 黄片糖  (huáng piàn táng) or "yellow slice sugar". ¥6.20/500g.
       


      A less refined, much darker version is known as 红片糖 (hóng piàn táng), literally 'red slice sugar'. (Chinese seems to classify colours differently - what we know as 'black tea' is 'red tea' here. ¥7.20/500g.


       
      Of course, what we probably think of as regular sugar, granulated sugar is also available. Known as 白砂糖 (bái shā táng), literally "white sand sugar', it is the cheapest at  ¥3.88/500g.



      A brown powdered sugar is also common, but again, in Chinese, it isn't brown. It's red and simply known as 红糖 (hóng táng). ¥7.70/500g


       
      Enough sweetness and light for now. More to come tomorrow.
    • By Dejah
      [Host's note: This topic forms part of an extended discussion which grew too large for our servers to handle efficiently.  The conversation continues from here.]
       
       
      Supper: Yeem Gok Gai:

      Mock Fried Rice - grated cauliflower

      Baby Shanghai Bok Choy and ginger

    • By liuzhou
      eG member @Carolyn Phillips has just published her ten-year-long-gestated Chinese cook book, All Under Heaven. 500 pages on China's 35 cuisines. Gathering rave reviews. I've ordered my copy. Can't wait.

      Simultaneously, her "Dim Sum Field Guide is published.
       
      She hasn't posted much here recently, but who would or could while writing two books at the same time - one of them a huge tome?

      Congratulations Carolyn.

       
    • By liuzhou
      A few weeks ago I bought a copy of this cookbook which is a best-selling spin off from the highly successful television series by China Central Television - A Bite of China as discussed on this thread.   .
       

       
      The book was published in August 2013 and is by Chen Zhitian (陈志田 - chén zhì tián). It is only available in Chinese (so far). 
       
      There are a number of books related to the television series but this is the only one which seems to be legitimate. It certainly has the high production standards of the television show. Beautifully photographed and with (relatively) clear details in the recipes.
       
      Here is a sample page.
       

       
      Unlike in most western cookbooks, recipes are not listed by main ingredient. They are set out in six vaguely defined chapters. So, if you are looking for a duck dish, for example, you'll have to go through the whole contents list. I've never seen an index in any Chinese book on any subject. 
       
      In order to demonstrate the breadth of recipes in the book and perhaps to be of interest to forum members who want to know what is in a popular Chinese recipe book, I have sort of translated the contents list - 187 recipes.
       
      This is always problematic. Very often Chinese dishes are very cryptically named. This list contains some literal translations. For some dishes I have totally ignored the given name and given a brief description instead. Any Chinese in the list refers to place names. Some dishes I have left with literal translations of their cryptic names, just for amusement value.
       
      I am not happy with some of the "translations" and will work on improving them. I am also certain there are errors in there, too.
       
      Back in 2008, the Chinese government issued a list of official dish translations for the Beijing Olympics. It is full of weird translations and total errors, too. Interestingly, few of the dishes in the book are on that list.
       
      Anyway, for what it is worth, the book's content list is here (Word document) or here (PDF file). If anyone is interested in more information on a dish, please ask. For copyright reasons, I can't reproduce the dishes here exactly, but can certainly describe them.
       
      Another problem is that many Chinese recipes are vague in the extreme. I'm not one to slavishly follow instructions, but saying "enough meat" in a recipe is not very helpful. This book gives details (by weight) for the main ingredients, but goes vague on most  condiments.
       
      For example, the first dish (Dezhou Braised Chicken), calls for precisely 1500g of chicken, 50g dried mushroom, 20g sliced ginger and 10g of scallion. It then lists cassia bark, caoguo, unspecified herbs, Chinese cardamom, fennel seed, star anise, salt, sodium bicarbonate and cooking wine without suggesting any quantities. It then goes back to ask for 35g of maltose syrup, a soupçon of cloves, and "the correct quantity" of soy sauce.
       
      Cooking instructions can be equally vague. "Cook until cooked".
       
      A Bite of China - 舌尖上的中国- ISBN 978-7-5113-3940-9 
    • By liuzhou
      Introduction
       
      I spent the weekend in western Hunan reuniting with 36 people I worked with for two years starting 20 years ago. All but one, 龙丽花 lóng lì huā, I hadn’t seen for 17 years.  I last saw her ten years ago. One other, 舒晶 shū jīng, with whom I have kept constant contact but not actually seen, helped me organise the visit in secret. No one else knew I was coming. In fact, I had told Long Lihua that I couldn’t come. Most didn’t even know I am still in China.
       
      I arrived at my local station around 00:20 in order to catch the 1:00 train northwards travelling overnight to Hunan, with an advertised arrival time of 9:15 am. Shu Jing was to meet me.
       
      When I arrived at the station, armed with my sleeper ticket, I found that the train was running 5 hours late! Station staff advised that I change my ticket for a different train, which I did. The problem was that there were no sleeper tickets available on the new train. All I could get was a seat. I had no choice, really. They refunded the difference and gave me my new ticket.
       
       

       

       
      The second train was only 1½ hours late, then I had a miserable night, unable to sleep and very uncomfortable. Somehow the train managed to make up for the late start and we arrived on time. I was met as planned and we hopped into a taxi to the hotel where I was to stay and where the reunion was to take place.
       
      They had set up a reception desk in the hotel lobby and around half of the people I had come to see were there. When I walked in there was this moment of confusion, stunned silence, then the friend I had lied to about not coming ran towards me and threw herself into my arms with tears running down her face and across her smile. It was the best welcome I’ve ever had. Then the others also welcomed me less physically, but no less warmly. They were around 20 years old when I met them; now they are verging on, or already are, 40, though few of them look it. Long Lihua is the one on the far right.
       

       
      Throughout the morning people arrived in trickles as their trains or buses got in from all over China. One woman had come all the way from the USA. We sat around chatting, reminiscing and eating water melon until finally it was time for lunch.
       

       
      Lunch we had in the hotel dining room. By that time, the group had swelled to enough to require three banqueting tables.
       
      Western Hunan, known as 湘西 xiāng xī, where I was and where I lived for two years - twenty years ago, is a wild mountainous area full of rivers. It was one of the last areas “liberated” by Mao’s communists and was largely lawless until relatively recently. It has spectacular scenery.
       
      Hunan is known for its spicy food, but Xiangxi is the hottest. I always know when I am back in Hunan. I just look out the train window and see every flat surface covered in chilis drying in the sun. Station platforms, school playgrounds, the main road from the village to the nearest town are all strewn with chillis.
       

       

       
      The people there consider Sichuan to be full of chilli wimps. I love it. When I left Hunan I missed the food so much. So I was looking forward to this. It did not disappoint.
       
      So Saturday lunch in next post.
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.