Friday, July 17, 2009

July 9, 2009: Mapo tofu: ingredient update

Since making our first Mapo Tofu last week, a couple of knowledgeable and helpful readers have helped us on our way to finding the right ingredients to perfect our dish. Michael has hunted a few of them down in a bid to make the best darn Mapo Tofu this blog has ever seen.

It turns out the Lee Kum Kee brand of Chili Bean Sauce (Toban Djan) can play the role of fermented broad beans. Its first four ingredients are salted chili peppers, water, fermented soy bean paste and fermented broad bean paste. It should be easily found in most Asian grocers and it provides some of the heat that I wussed out on the first time around!

This isn't necessarily the ideal way to add fermented broad beans though. In an email to us, eatnik explained that fermented soy beans are a cheap substitute for their broader counterpart. She went on to advise:

"The English name should be 'fermented broad bean sauce in chilli oil' although apparently, according to below at least, they also use the term horsebeans ... It also goes by the names dou ban jian, toban djan, toban jhan, chilli bean sauce and chillie bean paste."

Next up: black beans. We initially used a black bean sauce, which is more water and sugar than actual back beans at all. Will tipped us off that their Cantonese name is Dao Si and linked to the Chinese characters for further reference. Eatnik said, "Black fermented beans can be bought either wet (ie pickled) or dry (just salted). The wet ones come in a jar/vac pack and are shit (although will do in an emergency)."

More than a week since his first Mapo Tofu hit, Michael considered this an emergency and bought the vac pack. The dry ones come in a cardboard tube (the yellow container pictured on the Douchi wikipedia page) and they sound like they're worth chasing down. Eatnik promises the dry beans "are the most awesome ingredient and taste kinda like funky vegemite, which is lucky cause they look remarkably like large rodent shit." Yep, we've already been getting that vibe from the wet ones!

Finally, there's the Szechuan peppercorns. Like us, Eatnik first bought some musty old ones from an Asian grocer. Then she had an epiphany: "I went to HuTong and tried their offal slices with sichuan peppercorns, and a mouthful of popping, zingy, lemongrassy numb spots told me that I should try elsewhere for my supply." While I'd rather bypass the offal, this lively spice was something we had to try! Though they're not quite up to her first mind- and mouth-blowing experience at HuTong, Eatnik recommended Peter Watson's Szechwan Peppercorns for a milder hit. Michael dropped by his Fitzroy store, got a small taste of that mouth-numbing goodness, and left with a 20g tin for many tofu nights to come.

Our second Mapo Tofu was certainly different to, but as least as good as, our first try. We're looking forward to refining our skills and ingredients further.

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