Authentic Mapo Tofu Recipe [Gluten-Free]
This authentic mapo tofu recipe is savory, fragrant, spicy, and delightfully addictive. It’s also easy to make, taking only 30 minutes. Originating from the Sichuan Province in China, mapo tofu has a unique ingredient that isn’t found in your average tofu dish. It’s the signature spice used in Sichuan cooking: the Sichuan peppercorn.
Also known as the “numbing pepper,” the Sichuan peppercorn isn’t spicy at all. In fact, some describe it as having floral or citrus notes. But what’s most interesting about the Sichuan peppercorn isn’t the aroma it adds to dishes, but that you experience a tingly, numbing sensation when you eat it. This sensation is known as paresthesia.
If you’re no stranger to Sichuan cuisine, you know it’s heavy on spices and aromatics such as garlic, chilis, chili oil, and ginger. And when your tongue is numb, you can tolerate higher levels of heat. Perhaps this is why you find these peppercorns in so many authentic Sichuan dishes.
What Is Mapo Tofu?
Mapo tofu is cooked tofu that’s served in a thin, spicy, oily sauce. It’s usually cooked and served with ground pork or beef. However, mapo tofu has been recreated all over the globe, and you can find all kinds of variations. For example, there are vegetarian versions that use vegetables in place of meat. For this particular mapo tofu recipe, you can choose between ground pork or beef. We’ve also added Kettle & Fire Beef Bone Broth to the sauce, which adds the perfect extra hint of savory flavor.
How Mapo Tofu Got its Name
The name “mapo” tofu isn’t exactly glamorous. The story is that an elderly woman created this dish. Her name was Mrs. Chen, and she had a pock-marked face. In Chinese, “Ma” means pock and “Po” means elderly woman. And that’s how it came to be called mapo tofu.
Where to Find Sichuan Peppercorns
You can find the Sichuan peppercorn at Asian markets and specialty spice stores. (Sometimes it’s spelled Szechuan peppercorn.) If you can’t find Sichuan peppercorns, you can use ground black pepper, but we highly recommend using the Sichuan version to get the authentic taste and experience of this recipe.
Authentic Mapo Tofu
Thirty minutes from start to finish, this authentic Sichuan mapo tofu recipe is fragrant, spicy, delicious, and easy to make. It’s also gluten-free.
- 1 16-ounce) block soft tofu
- 4 ounces ground beef or ground pork
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil divided
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1 1/2 cups Kettle & Fire Beef Bone Broth
- 1 1/2 tablespoons hot chili oil with pepper solids
- 1/2 teaspoon finely ground Sichuan pepper (aka numbing pepper)
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water
- 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
- Salt and pepper to taste (preferably finely ground Sichuan numbing pepper)
- Chopped green onion for garnish
Cut tofu into half-inch cubes.
In a medium saucepan, bring a large amount of salted water to a boil and gently place the tofu into the boiling water. Let it cook for 2 minutes. Drain.
Combine ground beef or pork, sesame oil, wine, 1 teaspoon cornstarch (dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water), and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Mix well.
In a large wok or sauté pan, heat up 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat for about 1 minute. Brown the seasoned meat in oil, breaking it into small pieces with your spatula, about 4-5 minutes. Transfer the meat to the same bowl that you use to season the meat and set aside.
Add another 2 tablespoons oil in the same wok. Keep the medium heat. Add ginger and garlic, cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Pour broth into the wok. Turn the heat up to high and bring the broth to a boil.
Add tofu cubes, beef, hot chili oil with pepper solids, and Sichuan pepper into the broth. Shake the wok to distribute the sauce, using a wood spatula to back push the tofu gently. Turn down the heat to simmer for 6-8 minutes.
In the meantime, dissolve 1 tablespoon cornstarch in 2 tablespoons cold water.
Drizzle the cornstarch mixture into the tofu mixture. Back push it slowly, add brown sugar and continue simmering the tofu in the sauce until it’s thickened, about 2 minutes. Taste and add more salt if desired.
Dish, sprinkle with finely ground Sichuan numbing pepper or ground black pepper, garnish with chopped green onion and serve over rice.
1) Boiling tofu in salted water will make the tofu strong and less likely to break.
2) Browning meat over medium heat allows the meat to be broken into smaller pieces, which is preferred in this dish. If you use high heat, meat will easily turn into bigger chunks.
3) If you don’t have Sichuan numbing pepper, you can still make this recipe with ground black pepper (but the result is going to be less than ideal).
4) For finely ground Sichuan numbing pepper, toast the peppercorns over medium heat until fragrant, then process them in a food processor.
About the Author
Sharon Chen is the founder and creator behind StreetSmart Kitchen, a recipe website that helps busy professionals to prepare healthy meals in less time they ever thought possible. Download her Top 18 One-Dish Meals Cookbook for free here: http://bit.ly/SSK-Free-Cookbook