An easy mapo tofu recipe that creates the authentic taste of China.
Mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐, ma po dou fu) is one of the most popular classic Sichuan dishes. It has a spicy, pungent, and appetizing flavor that goes perfectly with steamed rice.
I love cooking mapo tofu for a quick lunch or dinner. Sometimes I double the meat and sauce, so it will be enough to serve two people as a one-dish meal. I also like to add a handful of greens (mustard greens or spinach) at the end of braising, to create a more nutritious and balanced meal. I often replace the ground pork (used in the authentic version) with ground turkey to cut calories.
For special diets, you can make it less spicy and skip the rice so it will be paleo friendly. You can also make it into a vegan dish by replacing the meat with mushrooms.
Yes, mapo tofu is such a versatile dish!
I’m sharing my basic mapo tofu recipe below. It creates the very authentic taste that you’d get at a restaurant in China. However, based on this recipe, you can easily twist the dish according to your preferences.
Doubanjiang (豆瓣酱), also known as spicy fermented bean paste and broad bean sauce, is the most important ingredient in this dish. Try to find “Pixian Broad Bean Sauce” at an Asian market. Pixian is a small county in Sichuan province that produces the best broad bean paste. If you’re using this brand, you’re already halfway there. You can also purchase this brand on Amazon here.
The other important ingredient is chili oil (辣椒油). Although you can purchase bottled chili oil at the grocery store, I highly recommend you make it at home. Freshly cooked chili oil tastes much better than store-bought and is free of additives. You only need five minutes to cook it and it is really easy. You can find an easy chili oil recipe here. If you have more time, you can also refer to the more complicated chili oil in this recipe. It takes some effort to cook, but you won’t look at chili oil the same way after you try this one.
You will usually cook more chili oil than you’re able to use in one meal. You can store the the extra oil in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to two weeks or in the fridge for up to two months. You can use the chili oil in various dishes, including bang bang chicken, Lanzhou beef noodle soup, green beans with spicy peanut Sauce, and dan dan noodles. You can also add it into a dipping sauce for potstickers, or add it to wonton soup to enhance the flavor.
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Authentic Mapo Tofu (麻婆豆腐)
Marinade (*see footnote 1)
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch (optional) (*Footnote 2)
- 2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns increase to 3 teaspoons if you like your dish extra numbing
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons Doubanjiang (spicy fermented bean paste)
- 2 tablespoons green onion , chopped
- 1 block (400-g / 14-oz) firm or medium firm tofu , cut into 1.5cm (1/2 inch) squares
- 1 cup water (or chicken stock)
- 2 teaspoons homemade chili oil (1 teaspoon for a less spicy dish)
- 1/4 teaspoon five-spice powder
- 1 teaspoon sugar (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon green part of chopped green onion for garnish (optional)
- steamed rice to serve with (optional)
- Combine ground meat, cooking wine, soy sauce, and ginger in a bowl. Mix well.
- Combine cornstarch with 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl. Mix well and set aside.
- Heat vegetable oil and Sichuan peppercorns in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. When the Sichuan peppercorns turn dark brown and crispy, scoop them out with spatula and transfer into a bowl layered with paper towel to soak extra oil. Save to use for garnish the dish.
- When oil is hot, add ground meat and Doubanjiang. Stir-fry over medium heat with a spatula, until pork is evenly coated with Doubanjiang. Add green onion and stir fry for another minute.
- Spread tofu evenly on top of ground pork (*See footnote 3). Add chili oil, five-spice powder, and sugar. Pour in water and cook until bringing to a simmer. Simmer, covered, over low heat for 10 to 15 minutes, until tofu becomes tender and the sauce has reduced to half the original amount. Taste the tofu with some broth (be careful, it will be very hot!). Adjust seasoning by adding salt. If the dish is too spicy, add another teaspoon of sugar. Gently mix well with spatula.
- Meanwhile, ground the fried Sichuan peppercorns (you used when heating up the oil) in a coffee grinder or by using mortar and pastel.
- Mix cornstarch water again until fully dissolved and swirl it into the skillet. Gently stir a few times with a spatula, until sauce thickens. Turn off heat and transfer everything to a bowl.
- Garnish with green onion and a small pinch the ground Sichuan peppercorns (*Footnote 4), if using. Serve warm over steamed rice or by itself as main.
- You can skip the meat and make this dish a vegetarian one. In this case, I highly recommend replacing the meat with mushrooms (such as rehydrated dried shiitake mushrooms) to enhance flavor.
- If you like the tofu with more broth, you can braise the tofu for a shorter time and use the cornstarch slurry to thicken the broth. Alternatively, you can uncover and braise until most of the liquid evaporate. The tofu will absorb more flavor this way.
- Do not stir the tofu immediately after adding it into the skillet, in order to keep the pieces from breaking apart. The tofu will get firmer after braising and you can stir it once it's cooked.
- The Sichuan peppercorns add a numbing nutty aroma to the dish. The fried Sichuan peppercorns has a more roundup body so it is works great for garnishing the dish or in a salad. You only need a small around in this recipe to finish up the dish. Store the rest in an airtight container no longer than a month.
This recipe was originally published 23 November 2013.