Please help me improve my Mapo Tofu.

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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!

While I have no info about your first couple of questions, as I don’t think I’ve ever had real Szech cuisine <though it sounds right up my alley!> I can answer the third, I think.

Find an asian grocery market that’s big enough to have more than canned goods. In the back, there will probably be a deli-type counter, with various meats. There will also be ‘fresh’ tofu, which will sell by the pound, and it will be in blocks floating in water, sold in various consistencies.

I do not know how fresh tofu is made, and it may smell a little funny, but I am betting THAT is what you want for the right consistency. Be warned that it will not last long in the fridge, and you want to keep it either in the water it comes in, or maybe rinse it with fresh water once a day or something. If you can ask the grocery, it might be a good idea. But supposedly it will not last long in the fridge no matter what, so use it quickly.

I am so hungry, reading all these threads!

hookay, linky no workee but sounds like your recipe is a Japanese derivative of real mapo Doufu. That would likely be an abomination. Full disclosure - I really dislike the key ingredient in all Sichuan food of ‘sichuan peppercorn’ aka ‘huajiao’ aka ??.

Firstm you must use this spice for any authentic Sichuan food.

Second, silken tofu is absolutely the wrong kind. I think in the US, it is probably medium but Ild bet hard or soft would work asd well. Silken is a different breed of doufu.

third it is doufu and not toufu. Toufu is the Japanese spelling.

Fourth, the stuff I get in non sichuan china is brown and usually not very spicy.

Fifth, doubanjiang ??? spicy bean sauce is essential.

Sixth, I would get authentic Sichuan peppers. Probably from a jar in the US. I t will be salty, so rinse or got light on the salt/soy sauce.

Beyond the above, I got nuthin’

Maybe our resident ‘Shichuanese’ Even Sven is a Mapo Doufu master.

Note - just so you don’t put hoof in mouth, ‘eating doufu’ is Chinese slang for performing oral serx on a woman. :wink:

Not sure if my pda generated characters will show up

Up here it just means hitting on a girl, CG!

Well, hell, you more or less live in Russia so I’m not surprised :wink:

Just warning the OP so He (if he is a he) understands why he gets slapped or smiled at.

Also, I thought we were talking about sichuan cai not guangdong cai :stuck_out_tongue:

Anyway, hijack over.

Thanks for the replies! I never considered that the recipe (which indeed comes from a Japanese chef) could add to my confusion and lack of success making the dish. Northern NJ has many “Asian” grocers, but they are usually of the Japanese and Korean variety. The one I patronized had doubanjian as well as tenmenjian, in small-ish jars, and as mentioned above the recipe as a whole didn’t have much heat to it.

Can anyone suggest a better recipe, knowing that I’m looking for something similar to the pics above? I’m pretty decent at making brown mapo tofu (or doufu, but I’ll probably pronounce them the same :stuck_out_tongue: ), but my goal is to make something like I get at my local Sichuan restaurants. Thanks again!

This recipe looks ok:

-siracha is a quick and dirty, yet surprisingly acceptable infusion of spiciness in most asian dishes.
-there’s a difference between doubanjian and la doubanjian. the la means spicy. i wouldn’t use much tienmienjian. a dab for flavor. too much would render the entire dish too sweet and brown.
-if you don’t like the tofu then feel free to change it. firm tofu (lao doufu) is probably what you’re looking for in your dish.

eating tofu has both connotations in Taiwan, but mainly hitting on. it gets dirtier with inflection, i guess.

I made my version of Ma Po Tofu last night. I won’t share the recipe, because I’m sure it’s not “authentic”, although it’s pretty close to what I eat in seemingly authentic restaurants around here in Silicon Valley. I will say that I get excellent results cutting the ground pork with ground turkey (50/50) and using a little oil when cooking it (the pork has enough fat that it’s doesn’t need oil). I like to think it’s a bit healthier.

I’ve used silken tofu (firm) in a pinch, and it’s fine. Takes some careful handling, but some of the regular tofu that is sold in grocery stores is just awful.

One other idea. I’m sure this is blasphemous to a real Chinese person, but I add in some stir-fry vegetables (spring onions, asparagus, mushrooms) just because I like to get my veggies and I’m too lazy to make 2 separate dishes. :slight_smile:

In conference with my Chinese friends, they all insist that the kind of tofu I’m looking doesn’t come in a package: it is indeed bought at the counter. See, that’s the kind of common-sense-yet-not-to-me knowledge that I come to the dope for.

I’ll give this another go probably this Wednesday when I can get back to an Asian grocer near work. I was already planning to double the doubanjiang and practically tripling the hot chili oil.

One more question. The pork or beef that’s used in the above pics is very soft, almost silty. How can I get my ground pork like that? Put it in a cuisenart or something? Or am I wrong, and what I think is pork or beef is actually something else?

I don’t speak Chinese, and I guess this whole tangent is…tangential, but is there a way to say that you want to eat tofu in the context of wanting to eat tofu?

It’s all in the context. For example, 'I like Chinese food like doufu, roast duck, snow peas, etc"

versus talking to your buddies, “I’m going out tonight to eat some doufu”

Pretty obvios which is which. If you’re talking with a Chinese lady, she’ll probably not realize you’re making a double entendre (as it would be unexpectted you understand).


Sleazy Dude in a Nightclub: Damn, baby. I’d love to eat your tofu!

Guy Buying Tofu from an Old Woman at a Street Stall: I want to eat some of your tofu.

Both understood, though even the real “eat tofu” in the normal context might get some snickers of delight out of the less mature folks in this country.

Now, what if you said "I want eat your 臭豆腐 "?

probably the same way people would say “let’s do it” and have it sound either decisive or sexual. or… let’s hide the salami. or… i’m in the mood for some fish tacos…

Alright, here’s my two cents:

As said before, your recipe is definitely Japanese-themed, not Chinese. Instead of whachamacallit peppers, I’d just use the dried red chilis you can get in plastic packages in the spice aisle. I’ve never encountered proper Mapo that is ‘nuclear orange/red’; it’s always some shade of brown. Those pictures you linked to probably have a color balance that doesn’t match the true dish. That being said, it does appear, at least in the last picture, that they used a lot of chili oil.

John Mace: Mapo really is a peasant sort of dish. Thus the true ‘authentic’ version really is ‘put whatever you have on hand into the pot’. I see nothing wrong with adding veggies.

Maybe that’s newer usage? My hunting the wild doufu days ended about 15 years ago when I married my Shanghaiese wife.