Morgan has been on a mapo tofu kick since he went to Mission Chinese when he was in San Francisco. Even before he got back from that trip, the Lucky Peach newsletter landed in his inbox, including the mapo tofu recipe from Mission Chinese!
The very tasty recipe is here:
After sourcing all the ingredients (except the beef fat), Morgan invited me over to prepare it. We made it using a technique best described as “pair cooking”, a reference to “pair programming”. In pair programming, often one person is at the keyboard doing all of the typing, and the second person formulates and talks over ideas with the person typing.
In pair cooking, one person is doing all the prep and the other person is reading ahead in the recipe, and formulating what things need to get prepped and making sure the person who is actively cooking has enough information to keep working efficiently. This approach evolved when we were cooking the mapo tofu because there a ton of ingredients, with a bunch of them added all at the same time, and the cooking part goes very quickly, so you need to have all the ingredients ready in advance.
What became obvious to Morgan and I while we cooked was that the recipe for the Mission Chinese mapo tofu was poorly structured. Many ingredients are added at once, in a few stages. We decided to rearrange the recipe into bowls of mise-en-place (ingredients prepared ahead of time).
Behold! Mission Chinese mapo tofu, the easy way!
Prepping the mise-en-place: 30 minutes
Bowl #1 – AKA the sauces
- 1T garlic-black bean sauce – we used Lee Kum Kee Black Bean Garlic Sauce
- 2 T doubanjiang – we used Lee Kum Kee Chili Bean Sauce
- 1 T soybean oil
- 1 t fish sauce
- 1 t coarsely ground Sichuan pepper
- 10 dried Tianjin chilies, fried in slick of soy oil until darkened, cooled, then mashed with a mortar and pestle
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
Bowl #2 – AKA the chicken stock and wine
- 1/4 C chicken stock
- 2 T dry white wine
Bowl #4 – AKA the tofu
- 1 lb fresh firm tofu, cut into 1″ cubes, blanched
Blanching the tofu:
The Morgan way: Put the cubed tofu into a medium sized bowl. Boil water, and pour it the tofu to cover. After 10 minutes or so, strain.
The Lucky Peach way: Put a large pot of water on to boil and salt it well. Blanch the tofu cubes for 4-5 minutes, just to warm them through and firm them up a bit. Drain and set aside.
Bowl #5 – AKA the sugar and soy sauce
- 2 T demerara sugar
- 1 T soy sauce
Bowl #6 – AKA the cornstarch slurry
- 3 T cornstarch
- 3 T water
Whisk together into a slurry.
Bowl #7 – AKA the garnish
- 2 T chopped Chinese chives, for garnish
- 2 T chopped scallion greens, for garnish
(Or just lots of scallions)
Bowl #3 – AKA the pork and chilies (Best to prepare this bowl last)
- 2 T chopped fresh Thai chilies
- 1/2 t fish sauce
- Cooked ground pork, with its juices
- Sautéed mushrooms (optional) – we used beech mushrooms
Cooking the ground pork:
- 2 oz beef fat, preferably from an aged steak, diced (about 1/4 C) OR substitute another solid fat, such as coconut oil
- 1/2 lb cooked ground pork (optionally seasoned with 1 t mushroom powder)
- dry wine, for deglazing
1. Heat a wide saucepan over medium heat, and add the diced beef fat. Let the fat melt, making sure the beefy bits don’t burn, about 3 or 4 minutes.
2. Turn the heat up to high. Season the ground pork with mushroom powder, if using. Press the pork into the pan; you’re trying to create a crust (fond) on the bottom. After 4 or 5 minutes, once the meat is a light blond, break up the pork and continue to cook until fully cooked but still juicy. Put in the bowl and set aside.
3. Turn the heat down to medium. Add a big slash of wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up all the brown bits. Dump the liquid into the bowl with the pork.
Sautéing the mushrooms:
If you are adding sautéed mushrooms, do that after finishing the pork, then add to the bowl with the pork.
- 1/4C + 2 T chili oil
Instructions, assuming all the above are all prepped
Preparing: Under 10 minutes
1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the chili oil (Bowl #8) over medium heat in the same pan as you cooked the pork. Add the sauces (Bowl #1), Cook for 3–5 minutes, adding the chicken stock and wine (Bowl #2) in splashes to deglaze the pan as needed.
2. Add the pork and chilies (Bowl #3) to the pan. Turn up the heat to high. Add the tofu (Bowl #4) to the pan and gently fold it into the mixture, trying to keep the cubes as intact as possible. Once the mixture is bubbling, turn the heat down to a simmer and add the sugar and soy sauce (Bowl #5). Taste it; you want the sugar to balance out the heat and savoriness. Add more sugar if needed.
3. While the mixture is still bubbling, and the cornstarch slurry (Bowl #6) to the pan and stir to combine. Take off the heat, and add the remaining chili oil (Bowl #8).
4. Garnish with Chinese chives and scallion greens (Bowl #7). Serve with rice.