Hey there heat eaters! Today we’re making one of my favourite chinese dishes, Mapo Tofu.
Before we jump right into the recipe, however, I’d like to give you the opportunity to read up on the backstory to this dish and pick which of my three versions you’d prefer from my overview here.
This particular version is my anime inspired one. A powerful version with a little more depth of flavour to compliment its high heat.
The particular anime that inspired this recipe is the one that first introduced me to the dish, Angel Beats, in which only one small girl is actually capable of finishing it and it plays a small but surprisingly important role in the story.
Here’s what it looks like in the show:
And, to make it for real, you will need:
6 cloves of garlic
an equivalent volume of ginger
1½ tablespoons of szechuan peppercorns (available from most chinese supermarkets)
5 good sized dried chillies, preferably “dried long” (this sort is used in many chinese restaurants)
4 spring onions
1½ teaspoons of cornflour
50 grams ground pork or mince
16 tablespoons of groundnut (peanut) oil
1¼ tablespoons of fermented broad bean paste (see the overview for my source)
1 dried ghost pepper
And, not in the picture:
500g of silken tofu
300ml of chicken stock
a few chives
But, before we can start cooking, you’re going to have to press the moisture out of the tofu so that it can soak up the flavour of the dish. I find that the easiest way to do this is to wrap it between sheets of kitchen roll, three top and three bottom, then place it between a pair of plates or chopping boards with something heavy on top like so:
The kitchen roll should then be changed once it has soaked through, roughly twenty to thirty minutes after you begin pressing, but your silken tofu should be ready to be chopped within the hour.
And, while we have all that time on our hands, we might as well make the most of it by making our own chilli oil. You can, of course, use one that has been premade but I find that few have the richness of flavour and full bodied intense heat that a carefully prepared ghost pepper ground nut oil brings to the table.
To do this, break your regular dried chillies into as small a saucepan as you can, along with with 8 tablespoons of your oil. You’ll notice we’re using a little more here than in the basic recipe, so as to be able to cover the whole ghost pepper or habaneros we’re using.
To get the most out of said pepper(s), as well as to stop it/them from exploding disastrously, you’ll need to pierce the skin with a knife in a few places before you add it/them to the pan.
Once you’ve done so, heat your oil as gently as possible to kickstart the infusion without browning the chillies and carry on heating it until the oil begins to turn red. You want to keep this going for a good while if possible so remove your pan from the heat briefly if it ever looks to be getting too warm and make sure to flip the whole chilli(es) regularly.
The longer we keep the oil hot the greater the chilli heat and flavour we will see in our final dish but do be careful. If we burn the chillies even slightly then they be black and bitter by the time the oil has cooled. In fact, we’re only doing this in a pan because I found my wok just wouldn’t keep cool enough.
But they will darken a little before they burn so, as long as you stop then, you should be ok. You just might not get the full heat of the dish.
When you’re done, if everything has gone right, your oil should look like this before you leave it to sit for a bit:
We won’t need it for a while yet but, if we leave it alone for a while, it should continue infusing as it cools and take on an even redder colour. In the mean time we can get on with the rest of the cooking but first I’d like to talk about my choice of chillies a little.
You’ll see here that I’ve been using the ghost pepper, an indian chilli, and that I recommend a popular mexican chilli as an alternative. Despite both being from the “chinense” subspecies, neither is actually a chinese style of chilli.
They are, however, both fairly popular in use in china, with the habanero long having been a mainstay of their challenge dishes. The sort of dish that this clearly represents in anime.
The ghost is a far more recent addition to their culture and, assuming my research is correct, still hasn’t caught on fully. It is, however, a lot easier to find in the middle of winter than red habaneros are and the strong, meaty flavours of this dish pair far better with a powerful red pepper than anything with as much subtlety as the orange ones in my carrot cake.
So, while red habs would have been my first choice, I wound up stuck with the ghost and was surprised by how much of its flavour actually shone through.
Angel Beats describes its own version as inedibly hot but with a wonderful flavour that follows, making you forget all about the pain. Vastly superior to any other form of the dish.
Personally, I wouldn’t say that °my basic version° pales in comparison to this one but the ghost pepper sure does fit into the role of insane heat followed by a stunningly good depth of flavour. Perhaps my lack of habaneros was truly for the best?
Now, moving on with the dish, it’s time to make sure we have everything prepared ahead of the main cooking or I can practically guarantee that something will burn.
The ginger should be skinned and chopped, the garlic crushed and chopped and the spring onions sliced into rings. Your tofu aught to be in cubes and your stock should be warm and ready. Your meat most certainly should not be frozen at this point.
When you’re sure you’ve got everything ready, add your remaining eight tablespoons of oil to a wok and begin to heat it on low, just like you did your saucepan. As the oils is warming up, crush your szechuan peppercorns between your fingers, breaking them up just enough to release their unique, floral, woody and just a little metallic smell.
Doing things this way means that they release their flavour into the oil but still hold together and have their mild anaesthetic effect when bitten into. This adds an extra burst of spiciness to the dish but also numbs your tongue slightly as the meal wears on, reducing the heat to slightly more manageable levels and keeping you from becoming too overwhelmed by the intense flavour.
You’ll notice that we’re even using half a tablespoon more for this recipe as the extra heat does demand a little extra soothing power to balance things out.
Once they’ve cooked for two to three minutes, we’re ready to bump up the heat of our stove just a tad, turning it to medium to quickly fry in the ginger and garlic. This takes little more than a quick swirl of the wok to accomplish, though, before we cook in the meat.
Because our meat is either ground or minced, it should be fine enough to cook through quickly without any special attention. Just turn the heat right up to high as you pop it in.
As in the basic recipe, your wok will be looking a little dry about now so it’s time to stir in the bean paste and then add most of the stock, reserving just enough to mix with our cornflour.
Once you’ve made that cornflour mixture, make sure the contents of your wok are simmering away nicely and stir it in.
Keep everything bubbling for a bit and, once your meal’s begun to thicken, it’s time to swirl in your chilli oil, chilli segments and all.
Do not forget to fish out your ghost pepper, though, if you’ve used one like I did. Or, at the very least, break up the habaneros. You do not want to bite into either kind of pepper whole when you’re already eating a dish this hot. You have been warned!
And, with that little warning out the way, we can move on to gently tossing in the tofu cubes. Give them about five minutes in the wok, then we can finally add the whites of the spring onions.
Once those have turned a little translucent, your meal is ready to serve and eat hot, though it can be reheated later if need be. You have, after all, made enough for two servings of this deliciously rich and strong flavoured dish.
Both me and the anime this dish has appeared in recommend having it with rice. Normally, I’d do so because its sheer strength of flavour benefits from the nice, bland, fluffy bulk on the side but, in this particular instance, having something there to soak up a little of that superhot oil makes a lot of sense. This anime inspired version is hot!
A somewhat gentle but quick build to a powerful
if you managed to make your oil just right, dropping down to a low four as the effects of the szechuan peppercorns kick in. It’s not for the faint of heart and, while I’ll happily enjoy sauces above this level, even I wouldn’t have my whole meal this strong very often.
But there is one last touch I want to add before we finish off here. Chives.
Again, they’re not at their best or their most readily available during winter but, chopped finely with a pair of scissors, we can see that they’re the perfect thing to add that touch of green from the show.
And they do the same for the taste, providing a little bit of contrast to the otherwise all dark and rich flavours.
Sadly, what we see here does not perfectly match the anime image but that’s less the fault of my cooking and more an issue with my serving.
My meal was made during the day and stored for some time before serving, causing it to see several container changes that broke up the larger tofu chunks. And, as for why there’s not much of that stunning, blood red oil on show, that’s because I had to drain it off when it threatened to overflow my plate.
I can assure you that, when first prepared, my dish was much more show accurate but, either way, it was still both shockingly hot and utterly delicious so please do treat yourself to it or one of the other two versions mentioned in my overview.
And, if anime inspired dishes are something you’d like to see more of, I do have one or two coming up later in the year but why not check out my fellow blogger Itadakimasu Anime, who’s posts are completely dedicated to this sort of thing.