Saturday, May 14, 2011

Pock Marked Old Lady Beancurd (Ma Po Dou Fu)

Pock Marked Old Lady Beancurd (Ma Po Dou Fu)

The genesis of Ma Po Dou fu (Pock-marked Old Lady Bean Curd) is well established, if not true: the story goes that the dish was invented by the wife of master chef living in the Qing dynasty—Chen Shen Fu—whose face was scarred by smallpox. True or not, it is one of the famous Sichuan dishes--even Cantonese restaurants list it in their menus.

Hua Jiao (lit: flower pepper), perhaps the most interesting ingredient used in Chinese cuisine, is an essential ingredient in this dish; known in English as Sichuan Peppercorn, and by it’s nickname “tongue numbing spice," hua jiao is not spicy hot like western black pepper, but rather aromatic, slightly astringent, and does indeed temporarily numb the tongue—it’s an acquired taste for many neophytes. In Sichuan, the seasoning is heaped upon Ma po dou fu and certain firey soups, in addition to being used as a dry rub and ingredient in dipping salt. Once one gets used to hua jiao, it is impossible to imagine the dish without it.

3 oz pork or beef minced and marinated in soy, wine, sugar and cornstarch
14 oz firm bean curd (dou fu), rinsed, drained and cut into 1/2” cubes
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1” x 2” pc fresh ginger, minced
3-4 green onions, minced
2 tsp Chili paste mixed with 2 tsp sugar
6 fluid oz of chicken stock
3-4 Tab soy sauce
1 Tab dark soy
1 tsp Chingkiang vinegar
1 Tab Shao Xing wine
Cornstarch slurry  (See "Thickening Sauces" on Technique Page)
Chopped cilantro with stems, or slivered green onion tops.
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns, dry-roasted lightly to freshen, and ground
1 Tab sesame oil
Heat wok to medium high; add 3 – 4 Tab peanut oil, coat pan, then toss in the garlic, ginger and minced onion and stir-fry for 20 seconds; add minced pork or beef and stir-fry until slightly browned. Add chili bean paste/sugar mixture and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add sauce ingredients, and when it boils, add dou fu cubes. Return to a boil, simmer for one minute. Add cornstarch or potato starch slurry and gently fold over the wok contents until sauce thickens—Note: the moisture in the dou fu will thin the sauce as the dish cools, so make sauce somewhat more viscous than usual.
Served the Ma Po Dou Fu in a shallow bowl or plate with sides to prevent spilling. Garnish with ground hua jiao, sesame oil, and cilantro or onion.

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