Mapo Tofu is a dish, much like Bolognese for the Italians, that has a strong foundation in traditional preparation – which is essential to understand before tinkering around with it. This recipe represents ten years of tweaking and substituting, before finally arriving at what I love personally.
All of these are pretty standard in the Asian pantry, but there are a few ways to up your game here. The most important is sourcing Shaoxing wine with no salt added – the flavor is vastly superior and will reflect in your Mapo Tofu. The choice of soy sauce is all about what you prefer; I like the double fermented style because of the beefiness of the dish. To add the traditional fermented black beans, I essentially buzz them into a paste with the ginger and garlic because I prefer the texture. In choosing a Doubanjiang, try to find one that utilizes broad beans instead of soybeans – as, with all of these condiments, a little research goes a long way. The ketchup, while it may seem unorthodox, is a good thing. Lastly, buy high-quality Sichuan peppercorns and grind and sift them yourself for maximum effect.
The Meat & Tofu
For the longest time, I made this dish with ground pork (and chicken stock in the sauce) until one day, I randomly tried ground beef. I much preferred the outcome, fair use for the high-quality ground beef that is often a bit lean to use in things like meatballs, but perfect here because there are plenty of other sources of fat. I recommend Heiwa Tofu because it is delicious and made locally, so obviously, this may vary for you. What will not differ is that the better the quality of tofu, the better your Mapo Tofu will be.
Many people would find my use of coconut rice downright appalling – and I am comfortable with that. To me, the buttery, luxurious style of the rice is the perfect foil for the many levels of spicy brought on by the Mapo Tofu. I am still happy eating the dish over plain steamed rice, as that is the way it is traditionally enjoyed.