A few years ago, I came across Iron Chef Chen’s mapo tofu recipe online at:
I initially made it for my parents with the caveat that I had to tone down the spiciness of the dish for them. At that time, I had reduced the spiciness down to about 1/8 of what the original recipe specified. I’d been meaning to get back to doing the dish again at full strength, but never seem to find the occasion until this past Saturday. I’ve had mapo tofu at various restaurants in and around the Boston area and always seem to find them disappointing. So after a conversation this past week with my wife, I decided to take another crack at the dish, motivated by the fact I had Chen Kenichi’s cookbook.
Chen Kenichi Mapo Tofu For Two
(based on Iron Chef Chen’s Knockout Chinese)
1 (12.3 oz) block of firm tofu
1 scallion – separated into minced white and minced green parts
3 oz ground pork (dark meat turkey) – originally 2 3/4 oz
1 t+ 1/2t tobanjang (I use Lee Kum Kee garlic chili sauce here)
1/2 t tianmianjang
1 t minced fermented salted black beans
1 t+ 1/2t gojugaru (korean chili flakes/powder, Chen says ‘cayenne’)
1 t+ 1/2t chili oil (as 2 x 3/4 t chili oil)
3 oz Chen chicken broth (which he calls ‘stock’)
1 t+ 1/2t sake + 1/2 t soy + pinch (1/8 t?) salt
1/2 t ground szechuan peppercorn
1 T starch mixed with 1 T water
1. Soak the fermented salted black beans for 15 mins
2. boil 1″ cubed tofu in salted water for about 6 minutes, then take it off the heat and set aside
3. Grind the szechuan peppercorns
4. Drain and rinse the fermented black beans and mince fine, set aside
5. wash, trim the ends of the scallion; separate the white from the green part
a. mince the white part, set aside
b. mince the green part, set aside
6. measure out the tobanjang, set aside
7. measure out the tianmianjang, set aside
8. measure out the korean chili flake/powder or cayenne powder, set aside
9. measure out TWO portions of 3/4 teaspoons of chili oil, set THEM aside
10. mix the sake, soy and salt, set aside
11. make a 1 Tablespoon starch + 1 Tablespoon water slurry and set aside.
12. Into a hot wok, I added at about three tablespoons of rice oil, then the ground dark turkey meat and stir fried the ground meat until it was cooked through (at high heat).
13. quickly add, the tobanjang, tianmianjang, black beans, korean chili flake/powder, and the first 3/4 teaspoon does of chili oil
One of the things I discovered when making this recipe, I observed that I had to add about 2 more oz of liquid by the time I had completely added the first dose of chili oil in order to prevent burning. Iron Chef Chen indicates that until you get to adding the starch slurry, the cooking heat is high. After cooking the ground meat through, I realized that I had to cook and add the seasoning ingredients quickly. I think when I repeat this recipe, I’d combine the tobanjang, tianmianjang, black beans, korean chili and chili oil in one container so they get added all at once. The cooking process went by so fast that I couldn’t get the time to show the wok cooking part of the process!
14. add the drained tofu, broth and the minced white scallion parts and boil for about 3 or 4 minutes.
15. add the sake/soy/salt mix, ground szechuan peppercorns, the second 3/4 teaspoon dose of chili oil and then the minced green scallion parts
16. lower the heat to medium, and add the starch slurry; cook until the mapo tofu thickens
Upon tasting the finished recipe, my wife and I both agreed that the first couple of bites of the mapo tofu (spooned atop rice) was fiery. The spicy heat was reminiscent of my first experience with the Korean spicy seafood/noodle stew “jambong”. After a few more bites, the szechuan peppercorns started to do their job, and the ‘painful’ bite from the chili’s faded – something which I had been expecting to happen (which I don’t normally get with the local chinese restaurant versions of this dish). One other comment: as can be noted, I chose to use ground dark turkey meat, because I was thinking ahead to a time when I might need to make this for friends who can’t have pork. My wife was delighted with the way the dish turned out; she pretty much could not tell if it was pork or dark meat turkey in the dish!
Thank you Iron Chef Chen for sharing your wonderful Mapo Tofu recipe. I hope to get to your Chili Shrimp recipe (and presenting the chili shrimp a la ‘Battle Shiba Shrimp’!) this coming weekend.
Femented (and Salted) Black Beans – Whole Foods, Newton, MA at Walnut/Beacon Streets
Tianmianjang – Kam Man (Golden Gate) Market, Quincy, MA
(Asian) Chili Oil – Whole Foods, Newtonville, MA
For Chicken Broth, Iron Chef Chen-Style – please see the Sheung Tong Broth recipe at:
and drop the ham and orange peel ingredients and add 4 tablespoons of sake or chinese rice wine. Iron Chef Chen says he brings the ingredients to a boil and then reduces the to a simmer and cooks the broth for about a half hour.