Mapo tofu is a spicy comfort food that combines stir-fried tofu and ground beef with ginger and garlic in a Sichuan pepper sauce. A classic that defies description. Just gotta taste it.
If you’ve never made mapo tofu before, this recipe is the ideal excuse to make use of all those Asian ingredients in your pantry. As author Fuchsia Dunlop explains, the spicy tofu and ground beef stir-fry bears a strong Sichuan influence and “epitomizes the spicy generosity of the folk cooking of the region.” We’ll raise our chopsticks to that.–Angie Zoobkoff
- 16 ounces firm or extra-firm tofu cut into 3/4-inch (18-mm) dice
- Sea salt
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 5 tablespoons store-bought or homemade chili oil
- 4 ounces ground beef (85%) pork, or a mixture
- 2 1/2 tablespoons Sichuan chile bean paste
- 1 tablespoon fermented black beans
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
- 3/4 cup store bought or homemade beef broth or water
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1 tablespoon potato starch mixed with 2 1/2 tablespoons cold water
- 1/4 teaspoon ground roasted Sichuan pepper or more, to taste
- 2 stalks Chinese green garlic* (or substitute 2 scallions) cut into 3/4-inch (18-mm) lengths (optional)
- Place the tofu in a bowl of lightly salted, very hot water and let it soak while you prepare the other ingredients.
- In a seasoned wok over high heat, warm the vegetable oil until the sides of the wok have begun to smoke. Add the beef and stir-fry until it’s fully cooked and fragrant, crumbling the clumps of meat with a spoon, 2 to 4 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the beef to a small bowl.
- Use a paper towel to carefully wipe out the wok and then return it to medium heat. Carefully pour in the chile oil and swirl it around. Add the chile bean paste and stir-fry until the oil is a rich red color and smells delicious, 1 1/2 to 3 minutes.
- Stir in the black beans and stir-fry for a few seconds more until you can smell them, too, and then do the same with the garlic and ginger. Take care not to overheat the aromatics—you want to end up with a thick, fragrant sauce, and the secret is to let them sizzle gently, allowing the oil to coax out their flavors rather than scorch them.
- Use the slotted spoon to remove the tofu from the hot water, shaking off any excess liquid, and gently place it in the wok. Sprinkle with the beef and then add the stock or water, white pepper, potato starch mixture, and ground Sichuan pepper. Gently nudge the tofu into the sauce using the back of your spoon so as to avoid breaking the tofu into smaller pieces.
- Bring to a boil and then simmer for a couple of minutes to let the tofu absorb the flavors of the seasonings.
- If using scallions (or Chinese green garlic), stir them in just before you remove from the heat. Serve right away.
*What You Need To Know About Chinese Green GarlicIf you don’t feel like making it to your local Chinatown, instead of the Chinese green garlic you can use scallions or even the green shoots that have emerged from those forgotten garlic bulbs on your counter.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
Delicious! I whipped this mapo tofu up on a weeknight in no time. My husband and I loved it.
I admit, I had a really hard time finding the Sichuan chile bean paste and fermented black beans. I went to an Asian grocery store and the best I could do was gochujang chile paste and black bean garlic sauce, so this is what I used. NO REGRETS! It was really tasty!
I used homemade chili oil plus 2 dried chilis. When I make it again, I will add some vegetables (like green beans, bok choy, or eggplant) to create a complete meal. Next time, I’ll increase the amount of ground beef to 1 pound. And I would personally increase the scallions to 4 or 6 next time.
I couldn’t find Sichuan chili paste. The closest I could get was gochujang and it was delish!
I will be making this dish again and again! Mapo tofu is one of my favorite Sichuan dishes and I order it every time I see it on the menu, but was a little reticent to try making it at home. If you’ve ever wanted to try but hesitated, you can rest assured you can make a wonderful version at home. If you’ve never tried Sichuan dishes, or experienced tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorns, they are a wonderful surprise.
This recipe is wonderfully flavorful and complex, and you can easily control the spice level, although one of the great things about Sichuan peppercorns is that the numbing sensation tamps down the effect of the chilis a bit, allowing you to experience the flavor of them. I used the full 1 teaspoon of peppercorns but think it could have used a bit more, perhaps 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons. The next time I make it I will try using ground pork instead of beef (or a bit of both maybe).
I’m very lucky to have many Asian and Chinese markets close by, so I was able to get all of the ingredients locally. I used firm tofu and the texture was just lovely and it kept its shape even after being stirred around. The tofu softened a bit and absorbed the delicious sauce. I served it with rice and Chinese long beans for a perfect meal. This is truly comfort food and perfect for a chilly day!
The cooking is quite easy once you have all of the ingredients on hand and prepped—and you should prep everything ahead for this one, as it moves along quickly once you get started.
This mapo tofu was pretty quick to put together and had a good kick to it by combining the broad bean paste (doubanjiang) and Sichuan pepper.
Extra firm tofu worked well for me because this way the tofu didn’t break up with stirring. I ordered the broad bean paste online, but feel sure I could have found it around town in one of the local Asian grocery stores. I already had the fermented black beans from a local store. After I added the potato starch and water, the sauce thickened very quickly. I used 2 scallions and store-bought chile oil.
I served it with white rice. Loved the consistency of the sauce—it clung to the rice well. It’s slightly on the salty side, and I would love for it to be more multidimensional in flavor, like some of the best ones I have ordered at restaurants. I’m not sure what additional ingredients would be needed to accomplish this though.
Originally published May 17, 2020