Pock-faced Grandma's Tofu
- I'm particularly fond of using silken tofu (beancurd) for this dish in order to better contrast the rough minced meat against the extra-smooth tofu sliding down your throat, though any kind of soft tofu may be used (no however to tau-kwa, tau-pok, deep-fried or firm tofu - the texture is just not the same).
- The tofu (1 block, about 500g) is cut into 1/2-inch cubes and placed in a pot of simmering slightly salted water and cooked for a short while.
- The original recipe calls for ground beef, though it is very common to use ground pork in its stead - personally, I prefer ground beef (about 180g to 200g) which is more fragrant.
- Heat up wok and stir-fry the ground beef together with 1 teaspoon of minced ginger until it changes color (note: the usual mapo doufu recipes do not include minced ginger, but I like to add this particular aromatic root to dishes whenever possible, hopefully without hubby noticing too greatly its presence).
- Reduce heat to medium and add 2 to 3 tablespoons of chilli bean paste (if you can get hold of the authentic Sichuanese Pixian chilli bean paste - made from red chillies and broad beans, all the more power to you!) and stir-fry until the oil becomes a red-hot chilli color (about 30 seconds or so). At this stage, some suicidal people (oops, I meant chilli enthusiasts) also add 1 tablespoon or more of ground chilli paste (even better if they can get their hands on Sichuanese round chillies, chao tian jiao) - I'm not however suicidal.
- Add the beancurd, approximately 1 cup of chicken broth, 2 teaspoons of light soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 tablespoon of Chinese Shaoxing wine, bring the whole mixture to a boil and simmer for about 5 minutes until the beancurd has absorbed the flavors of the sauce. Try not to stir too much in case the beancurd becomes too broken-up, which may result in a horrible mushy-looking mess.
- Add chopped spring onions (unfortunately, I didn't have any at hand this time around) and thicken the sauce with a bit of cornstarch or potato flour mixture.
- Dish up into a deep bowl and for that final touch, sprinkle ground Sichuan pepper on top of dish.
Mapo doufu condiments which you can find in any supermarket in Singapore - Lee Kum Kee's chilli bean sauce (toban djan) and McCormick's ground Szechuan (Sichuan) pepper. In fact, you can even buy Sichuan peppercorns (reddish brown in color), roast over low heat in a dry wok until fragrant and crush/grind in a pepper-mill. They are particularly fragrant, adding that bit of 'kick'.
A little bit of history/folklore behind this dish: The origin of this dish can apparently be traced back to the Qing Dynasty during the reign of the Emperor Tong Zhi (1864-74).
- The wife of a restauranteur (who was unfortunate enough to suffer the scars of small-pox) served this dish to a weary emperor travelling through his kingdom, and it was so delicious that a royal edict was issued pronouncing it fit for a king.
- In another version, this pock-marked lady served this spicy dish to labourers/coolies who stopped by her humble abode daily for their noon repast.
- 'Pock-marked' (or "ma") is the common denominator here, and unkind as it may seem, the lady has certainly gained immortality thru' this dish - the same chinese character "ma" in this case also means numbing, and that is certainly apt as well.