This is the authentic Szechuan way of cooking Mapo tofu, a tofu dish made with a famous Sichuan flavor type - Mapo flavor. The dish combines spicy doubanjiang (broad bean sauce), fermented black beans, ginger, ground meat, and garlic in a classic mapo-style sauce. The mapo tofu is smooth and silky, with a slightly hot and numbing taste that lingers on the tongue. It’s the perfect accompaniment to steamed rice or noodles and can be enjoyed as a main dish or a side.
Who invented MaPo tofu？
When seeing the name, you may wonder what's the meaning of this dish's name. Mapo tofu (Ma Po tofu) is named after its creator. It is recorded that there is a couple who own a restaurant mainly selling vegetarian dishes. The wife, also the cook, gets some pocks (麻子in Chinese)on her face. Her tofu dishes are quite popular among the guests. However, some guests told her that they want to eat some meat rather than just tofu. So she bought some beef and added them to her tofu. That tofu dish with beef becomes more popular and her guests give her the name: Mapo tofu. So Mapo means a woman with pocks on her face. Along with the popularity of this dish, "mapo" has become a kind of flavor that has also been used in other dishes now.
What is mapo tofu made of?
Mapo tofu is made with tofu, ground meat (pork or beef), and a spicy base sauce made with doubanjiang (the soul chili paste from Sichuan cuisine), aromatics (garlic, ginger, and scallion), chili powder, soy sauce, scallion or garlic greens and grounded Sichuan peppercorns.
Why it is so popular
If you visit Sichuan restaurants, you will find it is on almost every menu. This dish is famous throughout China and Asia with many variations worldwide. The hot, numbing, and aromatic flavor comes along with the crispy meat and soft silken texture, which make mapo tofu the best tofu dish. And the thick sauce from this dish can be so good with steamed rice, noodles, or steamed buns.
For home cooking, although the ingredient list seems to be a little bit long, most of the ingredients are quite common and easy to find Sichuan seasonings.
In addition, mapo tofu is a healthy dish that is high in protein and low in calories.
Type of tofu to use
Although theoretically, both soft and firm tofu can be used to make this dish.
I believe that soft tofu is the best choice for mapo tofu. Soft tofu is tender enough but can hold its shape when gently cooked. Firm tofu is not tender enough and silken tofu will lose its shape. If you want to try to use silken tofu, I recommend this one pot tofu and egg because there is almost no moving during the cooking process and that one is really great too. But I don't recommend using firm tofu for this dish.
What to serve with Mapo tofu
Mapo tofu itself is a dish with very strong flavors. When eating alone, it might be slightly salty and spicy. Mapo tofu is best served hot over a bed of white or brown rice. The savory and spicy flavor of the mapo tofu will be absorbed into the grains and give you an unforgettable eating experience. You can also serve mapo tofu with plain staple food, such as noodle soup, steamed rice, steamed buns, and all kinds of porridge.
🧾 Ingredients Breakdown
There are several essential ingredients for mapo tofu that we need to know one by one before starting the cooking.
Doubanjiang is named the soul of Sichuan cuisine and is also known as broad bean paste. It is the essential ingredient for real Szechuan mapo tofu. Real Szechuan doubanjiang is full of flavor after a long time of fermentation. You can search for it in Asian stores or buy it from Amazon.
Dou-chi (豆豉) is also known as fermented black beans. You can try to get some from the local Asian market or purchase some from amazon: Chinese Douchi - Fermented Black Beans - 16 Oz Bag Each. Both two ingredients should be slightly chopped before use.
Grounded Sichuan peppercorn powder
Freshly grounded Szechuan peppercorn powder (现磨花椒粉)is another important seasoning that highlights the dish. In almost every Szechuan-style restaurant, they sprinkle freshly grounded Szechuan peppercorn powder before serving. But it is ok to skip this if you really do not like the numbing taste. But for Szechuan peppercorn lovers, do not skip this step. It will enhance your mapo tofu to another level.
Garlic greens (蒜苗) are the tender plant of garlic. In Sichuan province, people love to use garlic greens in Mapo tofu instead of scallion greens. It is fresh, bright, and with a hint of garlicky flavor. Real Sichuan mapo tofu uses garlic green, but it is completely alternative to scallions or green onions.
How to remove the raw taste
Some people may be sensitive to the raw taste of soy products, especially tofu. If this is the case for you, rinsing or soaking the tofu cubes in boiling water with a little amount of salt can help to make the tofu tenderer and much strong. So you will not break them.
How to keep the shape of the tofu
When you cook Mapo tofu, gently back-push the dish with a spatula or spoon to avoid breaking the tofu. And don't move them too frequently.
Control the salt
Since both doubanjiang and fermented soybeans are salty, then try the dish before adding any amount of salt.
Let the sauce combine
During the braising process, use the slowest fire to cook the tofu and let it simmer for a while so the flavors can be absorbed well.
1. Add ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of ground white pepper with minced beef. Mix well and set aside.
2. Cut tofu into square cubes (around 2cms). Bring a large amount of water to a boil and then add a pinch of salt. Slide the tofu in and cook for 1 minute. Move out and drain.
3. Get a wok and heat up around 2 tablespoons of oil, fry the minced meat until crispy. Transfer out beef and leave the oil in.
4. Add another 1 tablespoon of vegetable cooking oil and fry doubanjiang for 1 minute over slow fire until the red turns red (bring us a lovely red color dish).
5. Add fermented black beans, garlic, scallion white, ginger, and fermented black beans to cook for 30 seconds until aroma. Optionally mix pepper flakes in. Pepper flakes should be added at the end because it contains little water and can be burnt easily.
6. Then pour in water or stock. Add light soy sauce, sugar, and half of the cooked beef (providing more flavor to the soup) after the broth boils and let it continue simmering for 2-3 minutes.
7. Place the tofu in, and simmer for another 6-8 minutes. The longer time of simmering helps the tofu to absorb the flavors.
8. During the process of simmering, mix 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 2.5 tablespoons of water in a small bowl to make water starch. Stir the water starch and then pour half of the mixture into the simmering pot. Back push and wait for around 30 seconds and then pour the other half. You can slightly taste the tofu and add a pinch of salt if not salty enough. Add cooked beef to create some crispy texture and then drizzle sesame oil. Mix well.
Transfer out when almost all the seasonings stick to tofu cubes. Sprinkle Szechuan peppercorn powder (to taste)and chopped garlic greens if using. The best way of serving mapo tofu is simply with steamed rice or noodles. The sauce is so good.
Mapo Tofu Recipe
- 450 g soft tofu ,I am using Szechuan tender lushui tofu
- 100 g minced meat-beef or pork
- ½ tbsp. sesame oil
- ½ tsp. salt
- 3 tbsp. cooking oil , divided
- 1.5 tbsp. Doubanjiang ,roughly chopped
- ½ tbsp. fermented black beans ,also known as dou-chi and fermented soya beans, roughly chopped
- 1 tbsp. pepper flakes or powder ,optional
- water or broth for braising ,I use 400ml this time
- 1 tbsp. light soy sauce
- 1 tsp. sugar ,optional for reducing the spiciness
- 2 scallion whites ,finely chopped
- 4 garlic greens or scallion greens ,finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves ,finely chopped
- 5 ginger slices ,finely minced (around 1 teaspoon)
- ½ tbsp. Sichuan pepper for making fresh ground powder
- 2 and ½ tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- steamed rice for serving
Marinate the beef or pork
- Add a small pinch of salt and ground pepper in minced beef or pork. Mix well and set aside.
Blanch tofu in water
- Cut tofu into square cubes (around 2cms). Bring a large amount of water to a boil and then add a pinch of salt. Slide the tofu in and cook for 1 minute. Move out and drain. This helps to remove the raw soy flavor form tofu.
Get the "mapo" flavor
- Get a wok and heat up around 2 tablespoons of oil, fry the minced meat until crispy. Transfer out and leave the oil in.
- Add another 1 tablespoon of vegetable cooking oil and fry doubanjiang for 1 minute over slow fire until the red turns red (bring us a lovely red color dish) and add fermented black beans, garlic, scallion white and ginger, cook for 30 seconds until aroma. Optionally mix pepper flakes in. Pepper flakes should be added at the end because it contains little water and can be burnt easily.
- Pour in water or stock. Add light soy sauce, sugar and half of the cooked beef (providing more flavors to the soup) after the broth boils and let it continue simmering for 2-3 minutes. Place the tofu in, simmer for another 6-8 minutes. The longer time of simmering helps the tofu to absorb the flavors.
Prepare the starch water and thicken the sauce
- During the process of simmering, mix 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 2.5 tablespoons of water in a small bowl to make water starch. Stir the water starch and then pour half of the mixture to the simmering pot. Back push and wait for around 30 seconds and then pour the other half. You can slightly taste the tofu and add pinch of salt if not salty enough. Add cooked beef to creates some crispy texture and then drizzle sesame oil. Mix well.
Add a numbing feeling and serve!
- Transfer out when almost all the seasonings stick to tofu cubes. Sprinkle Szechuan peppercorn powder (to taste)and chopped garlic greens if using.
- Serve immediately with steamed rice.
How to turn Mapo tofu into vegan
Vegan readers, skip the minced pork or beef. And another choice is to replace the meat with mushrooms either dried or fresh to enhance the flavor. Mapo tofu with mushrooms.
This was delicious! The black beans add an extra dimension.
I didn’t have a the doubanjiang so used the Korean gochugang which works just as well! I made this once with 400ml of stock but the second time made it with half and it was more flavourful and easier to reduce.
Thank you for this recipe!
Thank you for your feedback. Using gochujang is a lovely idea. Yes, I love the add-on flavor from the fermented black bean too.