Tofu can be of firm, soft or silken tofu. Some firm tofu has an astringent taste, such as the ones from Korean stores in the Northeastern markets in the United States, while soft and silken tofu are easy to fall parts. Step 1 of boiling with salty water (for 400g tofu, use 1000g water with 20g salt) can reduce or remove the possible astringent taste, and make soft and silken tofu stronger. For tofu which has strong astringency, a small amount of Sichuan-style pickled mustard green (20g per 400g tofu) in salty water may effectively neutralize the astringency. If tofu is boiled too long, however, it will become spongy and loose its soft tenderness.
The firm tofu in Sichuan usually does not have the astringent taste (actually having a sweet note) and thus does not need to be prepared with Step 1. A similar one available in the Northeastern market is Chang Shing firm tofu shown below.
Ground beef should be stir-fried over medium heat slowly until its oil just comes out. It should not be overcooked though (The best is that the beef has about 15% water left).
Beef can be substituted with pork, but the mouthfeel is less flaky.
Pixian doubanjiang needs to be minced well. The reddish color of the final dish comes from both doubanjiang and chili pepper powder.
Chili pepper powder should not be too spicy to overwhelm main flavors. The Sichuan chili peppers or Sichuan chili powder is recommended. Korean chili powder is a substitute.
Yongchuan douchi, or Yongchuan fermented black beans is most popularly used to enhance the flavor in Sichuan.
If spiciness is not expected, Pixian doubanjiang should be replaced with a non-spicy doubanjiang ( see the general guide to doubanjiang to choose a right one) and chili pepper is omitted.
Step 5 of thickening is critical for soft and silken tofu to be attached with flavoring sauce because unlike firm tofu, soft and silken tofu have much less capacity of absorbing the braising sauce. Thickening is separated into multiple steps such that the water inside tofu has a chance to come out and gets dry during thickening.
Home cooks in Sichuan popularly use firm tofu instead of soft or silken tofu, and rarely take Step 1 and Step 5.
Like for Twice-cooked Pork, the green garlic is pretty important for its fresh garlic flavor and its lively green decoration. It can be replaced by leek, with a slightly different texture as shown below
If green garlic is substituted with green onion, the minced green onion should be added at the top of the bowl at the last
If green garlic is substituted with minced garlic cloves, the minced garlic is added at Step 3, stir-fried along with doubanjiang.
The book has won very high historical reputation in cooking communities of Sichuan. The Mapo Doufu chapter detailed the ingredients and step-by-step breakdown of the cooking process.
To know how Mapo tofu is made today by the original Chen Mapo Tofu restaurant in Chengdu, take a look at a CCTV video below: