This is the best tofu meal I’ve ever tasted, hands down. The neutral flavors of the tofu soak up all the exotic spices, like the Chinese black vinegar, the thick dark soy, the mysterious Shoaxing wine and the umami bomb Szechuan fermented chili/broad bean paste… all of which makes the tofu glossy when stirred together with the deeply flavorful wok seared ground pork shoulder.
Although few other recipes for Mapo Tofu in America call for Szechuan peppers, it is almost always used in Szechuan province, and for me, this is the real secret for the insane popularity of Mapo Tofu. The tingling mesmerizing qualities of Szechuan peppers is a sensation I associate with authentic meals from this southern region of China, and this meal is far more compelling with it included. The Chinese characters for Szechuan peppers translates to “numb hot”… which is a perfect description of what happens in your mouth when you eat them. It is crazy addictive.
Preparing a Szechuan feast like this was once a bit daunting because of the difficulty of acquiring authentic Szechuan ingredients… but now all these ingredients can be purchased on Amazon. And if you’re looking for a fabulous vegetarian dish, just substitute the pork with the faux meat of your choice.
1 1/2 pounds ground pork shoulder (by far the most flavorful cut for this little feast)
2 pounds tofu, an equal combination of silken tofu AND extra firm tofu, cut into 3/4 to 1 inch cubes, with silken tofu slightly larger so it holds together
2 tablespoons Szechuan peppers, lightly toasted in a pan and then divided, with one half ground and the other half left whole
4 to 5 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
2 inches fresh ginger, grated
2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil, for the pork
6 scallions, white and green separated, using only the green, chopped and set aside
3/4 teaspoon salt, sprinkled on the pork
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
3 tablespoons Shoaxing wine
2 tablespoons chili oil or 2 teaspoons Chinese or Thai ground chili (we use Nguan Soon brand, purchased from Amazon)
3 tablespoons Szechuan fermented chili paste (a crucial ingredient, we use Pixian Broad Bean Paste, purchased from Amazon)
1 teaspoon corn starch
Spread out the pork, sprinkle on the salt, roll the meat into a ball and set aside.
Heat the Szechuan pepper in a small pan until just hot and remove from the heat, allowing it to cool. Grind half, which is 1 tablespoon, into a powder with a spice mill.
In a medium bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the cooking sauce: the chili bean fermented paste, Shoaxing wine, dark soy sauce, Chinese black vinegar, brown sugar, sesame oil, chili oil or ground chili, and corn starch. In a small pan heat the mixture until it just starts to bubble and thicken, and remove from heat.
Cut the firm tofu into 3/4 inch cubes, and the silken tofu into 1 inch cubes.
Fill a large wide sauce pan half full with water and after reaching boiling temperature, gently slide in the extra firm tofu and simmer for about 4 minutes to firm up. When the tofu cubes first start to float, they are ready. Now simmer the silken tofu cubes, and after about 4 minutes they should also just begin to rise up. Using a round screen on a wooden handle, carefully remove both tofu types in turn and set aside to cool, discarding the water. Lay them out on towels or paper towels so that they are as dry as possible in preparation to fry in the wok.
Place the 2 tablespoons of peanut oil into the wok and while still cold, add 1 tablespoon of Szechuan peppers and heat until the peppers foam. Remove the peppers and discard.
Turn up to high heat, when the peanut oil begins to smoke, add the ground pork. Stir until the meat is fully cooked, 3 to 4 minutes.
Clear a space in the bottom middle of the wok with the fried pork on the sides, there should be a little puddle of pork fat on the bottom. Add the garlic and ginger to this nearly smoking fat and simmer together for another minute, until aromatic and just beginning to brown. Now stir in the pork from the sides and mix together with a large steel spatula until the garlic, ginger and pork are aromatic and fully cooked.
Add the cooking sauce and stir steadily until the pork is glossy with the sauce.
Now add the firm tofu and the silken tofu and fry on high heat, stirring often until they are married, 3 to 4 minutes.
Sprinkle onto the tofu and the pork the tablespoon of ground Szechuan peppers and the chopped green scallions, stirring gently another 1 to 2 minutes.
Remove from the heat and serve hot with aromatic white rice. This is the feast I most often crave, it’s an umami bomb that’s mysteriously and wonderfully addictive.