Tofu. It’s such a divisive food – either you like it, or you avoid it like the plague. Maybe it’s the rubbery texture you don’t like, or if you’re on the other side of the camp, the silken texture that you love. Some might say it’s bland and flavourless, while others would counter with tofu’s ability to soak up flavours like a sponge.
The thing is, we agree with everything that people say about the white fleshy substance. It can bore you with its tameness. Make you wonder why it was included in the dish. But it can also invigorate with its teasing of complex textures and flavours, and leave you wanting more. How you use it, care for it and how much you believe in its power to challenge all assumptions can make or break a tofu experience.
In this recipe for Mapo Tofu, it’s all about taking the innocuous cubes of soy product and transforming it into a marvellous of explosion of flavour. Before the tofu even hits the pan, we create a sauce base that is supercharged with umami and spice (watch the video to hear us talk about all the trinkets that go into the sauce). And only then, do we submerge the tofu in the flavoursome bath until the cubes are drunk on deliciousness and pillow-soft with moisture.
With that sort of TLC injected into every morsel of tofu, you’ll convert any tofu hater to a tofu lover.
From The Dumpling Sisters Cookbook
Serves 4, with rice
500g soft tofu, cut into 1-2cm cubes
2 tsp cornflour
100g beef mince
vegetable oil, for cooking
1 clove garlic, finely diced + the same amount of ginger, finely diced
2 tbsp chilli bean sauce
1 tbsp fermented black beans, roughly chopped (optional)
½ tsp granulated sugar
1 spring onion, very thinly sliced diagonally
salt and ground white pepper
½ tsp ground Sichuan pepper, to serve
1. Steep the cubed tofu in lightly salted boiling water (about a ¼ teaspoon salt per 500ml) while you cook the beef. This well help firm up the tofu, stopping the cubes from falling apart during cooking.
2. Mix ½ teaspoon cornflour into the beef. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large frying pan over a high heat and briefly fry half the garlic and ginger until fragrant. Add the beef and fry until browned. Remove and set aside.
3. Mix the remaining cornflour and 2 tablespoons water into a slurry and set aside. Carefully drain and discard the water from the tofu. Heat 3 tablespoons oil over a medium heat and stir-fry the chilli bean sauce for a few minutes until the oil turns a deep red colour and you feel like you’re standing inside a comforting cloud of spicy smells
4. Stir in the remaining ginger and garlic, and fermented black beans, if using, then return the beef to the pan, slide in the tofu, and pour 125ml water on top. Gently slide your frying pan back and forth over the hob to encourage the tofu cubes to nestle together under the liquid. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for a few minutes as the tofu works on soaking up the flavours. Gently stir in a pinch of pepper and the sugar.
5. Stir the cornflour slurry and drizzle into the pan. Delicately stir the mixture as the sauce thickens and becomes glossy. Stir through the spring onion and serve with the ground Sichuan pepper sprinkled on top.
Dumpling sisters’ tip
Make it vegetarian by simply omitting the beef (there’s very little in the recipe anyway) or replacing it with a vegetable that will soak up the flavours equally well: asparagus, mushrooms and aubergine all do the trick. Just pre-cook as you would for the beef.
I just bought tofu, but it is firm instead of the soft you call for in the recipe. Will firm tofu work?
Yep you can def use firm tofu, if that’s what you have. You can just skip the steeping in salted water step at the start. You might also want to cook the tofu in the sauce for a bit longer to helped soften it, and add more liquid if needed to help the tofu swell up so they’re pillowy soft 🙂 Good luck!
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