As always, with the new year comes new year resolutions. Knowing that the vast majority of resolutions are cast aside by February, I decided to set a realistic goal: bring my own lunch to work. Why not? Bringing your own lunch is cheaper, often times healthier, and this gives me a chance to cook more often.
I decided to find a dish that would take advantage of all the wonderful Chinese groceries my Uncle had brought from Houston. After browsing the Asian forums of egullet, I found the perfect recipe, ma po tofu.
Ma po tofu is a dish from the schezuan province of China, and features some of the region’s specialties like the prodigious use of chili peppers and Schezuan peppercorns.
First things first, I had to get the ground pork marinating. The pork marinade calls for the following:
1. 1/2 -3/4 lb of pork. I had a 1lb package, and for the sake of convenience, used it all
2. 1 teaspoon of ground white pepper. I didn’t have any white pepper, so I just used fresh ground black pepper
3. 1 tsp sesame oil
4. 1 tsp corn starch
5. 1 teaspoon soy sauce
6. 1 teaspoon of cooking wine.
Like always, I pretty much eyeballed everything. In the end, you get a lovely bowl of pork that looks like this.
Now that the pork is marinating for 20-30 minutes, I got cracking on the rest of the ingredients.
1. 2 stalks of green onions
2. 4-5 cloves of garlic
3. 5-6 chilies
4. about an inch of microplaned ginger
5. 2 tsps of schezuan peppercorns
6. two packages of tofu
As much as I love the recipes from egullet, they don’t list all the ingredients up front. I’ve found that out the hard way. So if you read through the entire recipe you’ll find that it also calls for:
2 tsp of chili bean sauce
4-5 tsp of hoisin sauce
2 more tsps of chinese cooking wine
1 tsp of white vinegar
1/2 cup of chicken broth
2 tsp of sugar
a small amount (1/8 cup) of corn starch slurry
You quickly find out that this quick little recipe requires quite a bit of preparation, mostly getting everything together.
Here’s everything all ready for cooking. I know it seems a bit pedantic to have everything lined up in separate bowls, but when you’re cooking on high heat with a wok, you have to be quick. If you try to find everything once you’ve started, you’ll just end up burning it all.
The key to success
A huge wok with loads of heat. Also, you need ample time for that wok to heat up.
While you’re waiting for that wok to heat up, you can take the time to get your schezuan peppercorns ready. You have to roast them for 4-5 minutes until they just start to turn brown. Then its time for your handy grinder, or in my case, mortar & pestle.
Yes it’s a little bit of work, but it’s all worth it in the end.
Now the cooking can really begin.
Once you’re ready, you have to velvet the pork. What velvet means is that you cook it halfway, just enough so it doesn’t look raw anymore. After you’ve reached that stage, you take the pork out and start with the rest.
Unfortunately this is such a fast process that I couldn’t get any good pictures. So I’ll leave you to the recipe from egullet and fast forward to the addition of the tofu.
In the space of about two minutes, I’ve cooked the chilis for 30 seconds before they burned, added the garlic and ginger, added the chili bean sauce, hoisin sauce, cooking wine and vinegar, cooked that for 10-15 seconds, and then added the chicken broth with sugar. Then as a last step before the tofu, I added the corn starch slurry to thicken the mixture. It’s fast paced, furious, and loads of fun.
With the tofu in, it was time to introduce the pork and the green onions.
I let it cook for about 20 seconds and then turned it off. Bam, lunch in under 5 minutes, minus the prep time.
The next day I was the envy of the office, all thanks to a little preparation and guidance from the good people at egullet.
Bonus! The recipe in its entirety.