Pockmarked Mother Chen’s Bean Curd
A Leading Sichuan Dish
“It’s rich and warming, a perfect winter dish.” — Fuchsia Dunlop
Ma Po Bean Curd 麻婆豆腐 or Pockmarked Mother Chen’s Bean Curd, has emerged as one of the most popular Sichuan dishes. There are so many recipes, and you can even get instant versions, including forms of the dish delivered in vacuum pack format.
Ma Po Bean Curd is named after a real person, the smallpox-scarred wife of a restaurant keeper in the Sichuan capital of Chengdu during the Qing Dynasty(1644-1911). She is said to have made this dish for porters who carried loads of cooking oil in the city’s markets.
This recipe is adapted from one given by Sichuan food expert Fuchsia Dunlop, who studied in Sichuan. This version, while spicy, is less numbingly so than some other versions commonly served in Sichuan restaurants.
The Sichuan Pepper, called Hua Jiao 花椒 (:”Flower Pepper”:) in Chinese, is the spice of the fruit of a thorny shrub which thrives in warm, mountainous conditions. It is very popular in Sichuan cooking.. The Latin name of the plant is Xanthoxylum simulans, and it is a relative of the that provides Japanese Pepper or Sansho
1 large cake fresh Bean Curd (about 1 pound or 450 – 500 grams)
4 Baby Leeks or Spring Onions
4 tablespoons Peanut Oil or other Vegetable Oil
4 – 6 ounces Ground Beef (about 150 grams)
2½ tablespoons Sichuan Chili and Broad Bean Paste (sold as “Toban Zhang”)
1 tablespoon Fermented Black Beans
1 cup Stock or Water (about 250 milliliters)
1 teaspoon white Sugar
½ teaspoon Salt, or to taste
2 teaspoons Soy Sauce
1 tablespoon Corn Starch or Potato Flour mixed with 4 tablespoons of cold Water
½ teaspoon ground roasted Sichuan Pepper
First, prepare the Sichuan Pepper by stirring it in a dry wok or frying pan over very gentle fire for three or four minutes, until it is brittle and fragrant. Be careful not to burn it, as this spice scorches easily and will then become bitter. Grind the roasted spice using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle until the particles are very fine.
Cut the Bean Curd into cubes about ¾ inch square and leave to steep in very hot or lightly simmering water which you have lightly salted. Slice the Leeks or Green Onions at a steep diagonal angle to make long oval slices.
In a wok, heat the Oil over a high flame until it is smoking. Add the Ground Beef and stir-fry until it is crispy and a little brown, but not yet dry.
Turn the heat down to medium, then add the Chili Bean Paste and stir-fry about 30 seconds, until the oill is ril the oil is a rich red color. Add the Black Fermented Beans and stir-fry for a little longer until they too are fragrant.
Pour in the Stock, stir well and add the drained Bean Curd. Mix it in gently by pushing gently with the back of your ladle or wok spatula from the edges of the center. Do not stir of the Bean Curd will break up. Season with the Sugar, a couple of teaspoons of Soy Sauce and Salt to taste. Simmer for about 5 minutes, until the Bean Curd has absorbed the flavors of the sauces.
Add the Leeks or Green Onions and gently stir in. When they are just cooked, add enough of the Corn Starch and Water mixture, in two or three stages, as needed to thicken the sauce so it clings to the Beef and Bean Curd. Finally, pour the dish into a deep bowl, scatter with the ground and toasted Sichuan Pepper and serve with steamed White Rice.