I am an enormous fan of Sichuan cuisine, with its signature spiciness and heat. Among its most famous dishes is Mapo Tofu, a really spicy tofu dish usually served over rice. I like it so much, that I’ve tried (with varying degrees of success) to make it myself. Here is the recipe I’ve decided to follow, and it’s come pretty close to what I usually get from my local Sichuan restaurants.
There are three main areas where I need improvement, and was hoping the teeming millions could share their input to make my mapo better.
The heat. The only ingredient I didn’t have from the above recipe was the togarashi peppers. I don’t even know what that is. Is it a chili pepper? Do you buy it whole? Is it already dried? Or does it come in a jar that you sprinkle out like McCormick spice shakers? I do have various dried Thai chili peppers, but while they add a stinging, tear-inducing heat, it comes attached with a tea-like flavor that I don’t particularly like with my mapo.
The color. My mapo always comes out brown. To its credit, the recipe above has a pic of the finished product, and it is clearly brown. Every time I’ve ordered mapo from a legitimate, authentic Sichuan restaurant (as “authentic” as northern NJ is going to get), it is nuclear orange/red. I’m guessing that the tenmienjan (brown bean/sweet bean paste) is kicking up the brown color in my mapo, and it’s a key ingredient responsible for a lot of the “mapo flavor” of the dish (in concert with the doubanjan, the chili bean sauce), so I don’t want to lessen the amount the recipe calls for. Does the pro version I get at my restaurants just have a heck of a lot more hot chili oil, or something else that I’m missing?
The tofu. I’ve never ever been able to get this right, even in dishes that aren’t mapo tofu. The recipe calls for soft tofu. I know plenty of brands and places to get soft tofu. I like soft tofu, I eat it often. But the soft tofu I get at stores is not the same tofu I get when I order mapo at the restaurant. It’s not the same tofu in those pictures above. The stuff I get, while being “soft”, doesn’t have the jello-like, almost pudding-like appearance or texture of the stuff I get in restaurants. What is that stuff; what is it called and where can I get it?
I’ve tried “silken” tofu, but when I opened the package, it was more like… thin sheets of bean curd, like phyllo dough, stacked on top of one another. It was like tofu “pulp” and couldn’t easily be cut with a fork. The consistency of the tofu I get when I order mapo at a restaurant, unlike the “soft” tofu I buy at the store, as no “pores” (for lack of a better term).
As it stands right now, the recipe that I followed above does taste a lot like the restaurant mapo, but it lacks these three key elements. Can anyone offer any insight, techniques or thoughts I’m overlooking? Thanks!