Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mapo Tofu

Chinese-Style Spicy Tofu with Pork
from Let's Cook Japanese Food by Amy Kaneko

Ingredients:
6 green onions
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced

Sauce:
2 teaspoons chili bean paste
1/2 cup reduced fat, low-sodium canned chicken broth
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sake
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 teaspoons water
About 1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
1/2 pound ground pork
2 packages (14 ounces each) soft tofu, drained
3 cups hot cooked rice

Guys in particular like this hearty dish of tofu and pork in a spicy sauce, and it is great served with rice. The Japanese make a joke that husbands don't cook at all. Actually, they are known for being able to prepare a standard repertoire of "husband" recipes: curry rice, fried rice, and ramen noodle soup I guess that I am luckier than most wives because Shohei likes to cook what he wants to eat. Fortunately for me, he has a wideranging appetite, and a first-rate mapo dofu is among his specialties.

Mapo dofu is also found in Chinese restaurants in Japan, and many lunch counters serve a mapo dofu rice plate, which is how you should serve it at home-with a big bowl of rice. Sometimes Shohei likes to change it up a bit and makes mapo nasu with deep-fried eggplant instead of the tofu. It's also great. You'll note that a couple of Chinese bottled sauces are used in this recipe. Most well-stocked supermarkets carry these, or they can also easily be ordered online. If you can't find the chili bean paste, you can use chili garlic paste or chili garlic sauce, though the soybeans in the chili bean paste add a wonderful deep, rich flavor to this dish. You can use medium or firm tofu, if you like, but the texture will be crumbly, closer to that of the pork, denying you the contrast between the soft tofu and the rough-textured pork.

Mince the white parts and tender green tops of 4 green onions, and then mince the white part only of the remaining 2 green onions. Cut the tender green tops of these last 2 onions in half lengthwise, and then cut crosswise into 1-inch lengths. Place the minced green onion, garlic, and ginger in 3 small separate bowls. Set the green onion tops aside separately.

Ready the sauce ingredients. Measure the chili bean paste into a small bowl. In another small bowl, stir together the chicken broth, oyster sauce, soy sauce, sake, and sugar. Set the bowls near the stove. Have the cornstarch-water mixture and the bottle of sesame oil near the stove as well.

Place a wok or large frying pan over high heat. When it is hot, add the canola oil and swirl the pan to coat the bottom and sides with the oil. When the oil is very hot, add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly with a spatula so it doesn't burn, until fragrant. Then add the ginger and minced green onions, stir well, and reduce the heat to medium. Add the ground pork and continue to stir constantly, breaking up the pork and integrating it with the other ingredients. When the pork is just cooked, after about 2 minutes, add the chili bean paste and pour in the stock mixture. Using the spatula, combine all the ingredients well with the sauce.

Place the tofu in the pan and, using the edge of a ladle or a spoon, cut it into large chunks. Cook over medium heat until the tofu is heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir the watercornstarch mixture to recombine, pour it slowly into the pan, and then stir gently until the liquid in the pan thickens and becomes glossy, about 1 minute. Drizzle in a little sesame oil and garnish with the reserved green onion tops.

Spoon the tofu-and-pork mixture into a serving bowl or onto a platter, family style, and serve each diner a bowl of rice. Or, spoon the mixture over individual bowls of rice and serve.

Serves 4

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