Metal Recipes: Mapo Duofu (RIP Anthony Bourdain)

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On June 8, Anthony Bourdain was found dead of an apparent suicide. There’s not much to say that hasn’t been said already; he was by turns an influence, a hero, or simply an amusement to many here and millions of others around the globe, and his death has hit very hard. When watching an episode of Parts Unknown the other night, I noticed him mention one of his most treasured dishes: mapo duofu.

I thought it’d be a decent thing to do, in his memory, to put this recipe out there- and to give us sorry lot something to do when we’re lonely, or when others expect us to feed them, or, per below, just when in serious need of savor, salt, and enough heat to wake you up before you lapse into a food coma.

Tony’s favorite hangover cure was Sichuan food, two aspirin, a small bottle of Coke, a joint, and a nap. The hangover is not necessary here, nor anything else but the food, but it is an option. Most of the ingredients can be found at major supermarkets, but you might as well just hit up an Asian grocery to get them all in one trip, and for much cheaper. In most major cities you can find an H-Mart, which will have all of them, and there are plenty of independent shops to choose from as well (Denver folks: Pacific Mercantile downtown, hint hint).

Mapo duofu’s major selling points are that it gets incredible savor and depth of flavor from the bean pastes, but is kept lively by the heat of the chiles. The heat, in turn, is intense, but the peculiar numbing effect of Sichuan peppercorns allows you to handle it- and not stop until it’s all gone. Some people are put off by Sichuan food’s liberal use of oil. Others are put off by tofu (I often am). Too bad for them, because here both work excellently.

  • Cost: $5-6
  • Time: 20-25 minutes, including prep
  • Feeds: 4
  • Equipment Needed: wok, mortar and pestle. If you are missing one or both, just use a saucepan and common sense.
  • Dietary Notes: not low-sodium. Not vegetarian. Not low-fat. Optionally low-carb. Not Paleo. Not Primal. Not Atkins. Not raw. Possibly gluten-free. Not bland.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 lb extra-firm tofu, preferably silken, in ½” cubes
  • ¼-½ lb ground pork
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 ½ T fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 T Sichuan peppercorns*
  • ½ star anise (optional)
  • 3-4 T peanut or neutral oil, e.g. canola or grapeseed
  • 2 T chili oil
  • 2 T fermented black bean paste*
  • 1 T fermented red chili bean paste*
  • 2 T Xiaoxing wine*
  • ¼ c chicken stock, or in a pinch, water
  • 1 T cornstarch, dissolved in 2 T water
  • ½ c chopped scallions
  • White rice (for serving), preferably jasmine

 

Instructions

  1. Get the rice cooking on the side. Having a rice cooker helps; if not, might as well make it ahead of time.
  2. Prep your mise**, since you’ll be adding stuff quickly once you get started and won’t have time to prep on the fly. In discrete bowls, and as pictured below (from top left):1
    • T Sichuan peppercorns, and star anise
    • Stock and Xiaoxing wine
    • ¼ c of the scallions
    • Cubed tofu
    • 1 T Sichuan peppercorns
    • Cornstarch slurry
    • Fermented black bean paste
    • Garlic, ginger, and fermented red chili bean paste
    • Ground pork

 

 

3. Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add tofu and cook 1 minute, then drain in a colander and set aside, covered.

4. Set the wok over medium heat. Add 1 T of the peppercorns and toast them off for 1-2 minutes, shaking occasionally, until very fragrant (when you can smell them while standing away from the pan, they’re ready). Remove them to the mortar and pestle and set aside.

5. Add peanut oil to the wok and increase heat to medium-high. When the oil is shimmering, add the star anise and remaining peppercorns. Fry about 30 seconds, until very fragrant, then remove them with a slotted spoon and discard.

6. Add the garlic, ginger, and fermented red chili bean paste. Cook about 30 seconds, stirring frequently.

 

7. Add the pork, break it up with a wooden spoon, and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost cooked through.

8. Stir in the stock, wine, and fermented black bean paste, and bring to a boil.

9. Stir in the cornstarch slurry (give it a quick whisk first to make sure it hasn’t settled out) and cook about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. You should see the sauce start to thicken and become glossy.

 

 

10. Add the tofu and stir gently to coat, being careful not to break the cubes. Cook 30 seconds.

11. Stir in ¼ c scallions and the chili oil. Cook 30 seconds.

 

 

12. Remove to serving bowl. Grind the peppercorns that have been cooling in the mortar and pestle. Serve over generous helpings of white rice, with the ground pepper (not optional, you need it) and remaining scallions scattered on top. Vegetables never hurt also.

 

Done! Hope you find this as easy and satisfying as I do- and if not, I’m sure there’s an ancient Hot Pocket or two at the back of your freezer.

 

 

*Available at Asian groceries.

**Mise-en-place. It’s French for “having your shit together and all laid out before you get cooking.”

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