Pock-Marked Mother Chen’s Beancurd

Ma po dou fu

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Serves

    2–3

    as a main course with rice and a vegetable dish

Appears in

This recipe is from Fuchsia Dunlop, consultant to London’s Sichuan restaurant Bar Shu and author of the award-winning Sichuan Cookery. Spicy, aromatic and oily, this is one of the most famous Sichuan dishes and epitomizes Sichuan’s culinary culture.

The dish is named after the smallpox-scarred wife of a Qing Dynasty restaurateur who is said to have prepared it for the labourers passing her restaurant. As Fuchsia says ‘The Sichuan pepper will make your lips tingle pleasantly, and the tender beancurd will slip down your throat. It’s rich and warming, a perfect winter dish’.

Ingredients

  • beancurd (tofu) 1 block weighing about 500 g/1 lb 2 oz
  • salt to taste
  • baby leeks or large spring onions 4
  • groundnut oil 100 ml/ fl oz
  • minced beef (preferably organic) 150 g/ oz
  • Sichuan chilli bean paste tbsp
  • black fermented beans 1 tbsp
  • Sichuan chillies ground to make 2 tsp
  • stock preferably Sichuan (see cook’s) 250 ml/9 fl oz
  • sugar 1 tsp
  • light soy sauce 2 tsp
  • potato flour 3 tbsp, mixed with 4 tbsp water
  • Sichuan pepper ½ tsp, dry-fried until fragrant then ground

Method

Cut the beancurd into 2cm/¾in cubes and leave to steep in very hot or gently simmering water which you have lightly salted.

Slice the leeks at a steep angle into thin ‘horse-ear’ slices. Place a wok over a high flame, then add the oil and heat until smoking. Add the minced beef and stir-fry until it is crispy and a little brown, but not yet dry.

Turn the heat down to medium, add the chilli bean paste and stir-fry for about 30 seconds until the oil is a rich red colour. Add the black fermented beans and ground chillies, if using, and stir-fry for another 20–30 seconds until they are both fragrant and the chillies have added their colour to the oil.

Pour in the stock, stir well, and add the drained beancurd. Mix it in gently by pushing the back of your ladle, or wok scoop, gently from the edges to the centre of the wok. Do not stir or the beancurd may break up. Season with the sugar, soy sauce and salt to taste. Simmer for about 5 minutes until the beancurd has absorbed the flavours of the sauce.

Add the leeks and gently stir in. When they are just cooked, add the potato flour mixture in two or three stages, mixing well, until the sauce has thickened enough to cling glossily to the meat and beancurd. Don’t add more than you need.

Finally, pour everything into a deep bowl, scatter with the ground Sichuan pepper and serve.

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