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Now reading Mission Chinese Food’s Mapo Tofu

Mission Chinese Food’s Mapo Tofu

A contemporary take on the Sichuan classic.

At Mission Chinese we talk about mapo all of the time. We talk about all of the little, teensy things we’re going to tweak here or there. This dish is basically Danny Bowien’s pet; it’s really an obsession of his. He’s always like, How can we do it better? How can we do it better?

Our original mapo tofu recipe started with a sofrito. It had Thai chilies for heat, cubed pork shoulder, and all these sweet spices—cinnamon, anise, and clove—and was braised for four hours. Through the years, we’ve simplified things. We removed some of those sweet spices—you couldn’t really taste them anyway. Then we started messing around with a vegan mapo, which was made with dried shiitake mushrooms; we’d hydrate them in soy and then let that sit in the fridge for a week so that they’d get really nice and soft and super soy-saucy. For a week or two, we mixed in barely cooked pork belly that was still nice and bouncy. You would get cubes of tofu and then the cubes of what was basically fat, which I really liked.

Here at our new restaurant, we looked to simplify things even more. We realized that we only needed that long braise if we had pork shoulder in there, so we kicked it out. We decided that we were just going to do ground pork and that we’d cook it in rendered aged beef fat, which adds depth and funk.

At the time, Danny was like, Oh, this is the best, but he thinks every new thing is the best. So maybe by the time this is out, we’ll be doing a different one. —Angela Dimayuga

Ingredients

Makes 4 to 6 servings
  • + salt
  • 1 lb fresh firm tofu, cut into 1" cubes
  • 2 oz beef fat, preferably from an aged steak, diced (about 1/4 C)
  • 1/2 lb ground pork (about 1 C)
  • 1 t mushroom powder (an MSG-like flavor booster), optional
  • 1/4 C chicken stock
  • 2 T dry white wine
  • 1/4C + 2 T chili oil
  • 1 T garlic-black bean sauce
  • 1 t coarsely ground Sichuan pepper
  • 1 T chili crisp
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 2 T doubanjiang
  • 2 T chopped fresh Thai chilies
  • 1/2 t fish sauce
  • 2 T demerara sugar
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 3 T cornstarch
  • 2 T chopped Chinese chives, for garnish
  • 2 T chopped scallion greens, for garnish
  • + cooked rice, for serving

Garlic-Black Bean Sauce

  • 2 T soybean oil
  • 1 T fermented black bean sauce
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1 t fish sauce

Chili Crisp

  • + soybean oil
  • 10 dried Tianjin chilies

Preparation

Make the Garlic-Black Bean Sauce

Garlic-Black Bean Sauce
  • 2 T soybean oil
  • 1 T fermented black bean sauce
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1 t fish sauce
  1. Heat a wok or sauté pan over high heat, and add the oil. Once that’s smoking hot, add the black bean sauce, garlic, and fish sauce. Take off the heat, and stir until combined.

Make the Chili Crisp

Chili Crisp
  • + soybean oil
  • 10 dried Tianjin chilies
  1. Heat a wok or sauté pan over medium-high heat, and add a slick of soybean oil. Add the dried chilies and fry until a dark red, about 3 minutes. Let cool, and then grind in a spice grinder.

Make the Mapo Tofu

Ingredients
  • + salt
  • 1 lb fresh firm tofu, cut into 1" cubes
  • 2 oz beef fat, preferably from an aged steak, diced (about 1/4 C)
  • 1/2 lb ground pork (about 1 C)
  • 1 t mushroom powder (an MSG-like flavor booster), optional
  • 1/4 C chicken stock
  • 2 T dry white wine
  • 1/4C + 2 T chili oil
  • 1 T garlic-black bean sauce
  • 1 t coarsely ground Sichuan pepper
  • 1 T chili crisp
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 2 T doubanjiang
  • 2 T chopped fresh Thai chilies
  • 1/2 t fish sauce
  • 2 T demerara sugar
  • 1 T soy sauce
  • 3 T cornstarch
  • 2 T chopped Chinese chives, for garnish
  • 2 T chopped scallion greens, for garnish
  • + cooked rice, for serving
  1. Put a large pot of water on to boil and salt it well. Blanch the tofu cubes for 4-5 minutes, just to warm them through and firm them up a bit. Drain and set aside.

  2. Heat a wide saucepan over medium heat, and add the diced beef fat. Let the fat melt, making sure the beefy bits don’t burn, about 3 or 4 minutes.

  3. Turn the heat up to high. Season the ground pork with mushroom powder, if using. Press the pork into the pan; you’re trying to create a crust (fond) on the bottom. After 4 or 5 minutes, once the meat is a light blond, break up the pork and continue to cook until fully cooked but still juicy. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

  4. Turn the heat down to medium. Add about 1 tablespoon chicken stock and 1 tablespoon white wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up all the brown bits. Dump the liquid into the bowl with the pork.

  5. Heat 2 tablespoons chili oil in the same pan over medium heat. Add the Garlic-Black Bean Sauce, Sichuan pepper, Chili Crisp, garlic, and doubanjiang. Cook for 3–5 minutes, adding the remaining chicken stock and wine in splashes to deglaze the pan as needed.

  6. Add the pork and juices to the pan, along with the Thai chilies and fish sauce. Turn up the heat to high. Add the reserved tofu to the pan and gently fold it into the mixture, trying to keep the cubes as intact as possible. Once the mixture is bubbling, turn the heat down to a simmer and add the sugar and soy sauce. Taste it; you want the sugar to balance out the heat and savoriness. Add more if needed.

  7. While the mixture is still bubbling, make a cornstarch slurry: whisk together the cornstarch with 3 tablespoons cold water in a small bowl. Add the slurry to the pan and stir to combine. Take off the heat, and add the remaining chili oil. Garnish with Chinese chives and scallion greens. Serve with rice.