J. Kenji López-Alt has a cookbook with handy tips, fascinating asides and some 200 dishes all related to the wok.
One recipe in “The Wok” is for a version of mapo tofu that is similar to what he ate growing up, though instead of plain ground beef his mom would use the dish as an opportunity to use up leftover dumpling filling.
Unlike the numbing-hot Sichuan version, this one is savory and sweet, with the classic Japanese flavors of soy, sake and mirin, and comes together even faster, if you can believe it.
It’s one of López-Alt’s go-to meals for the family when you’re not in the mood for spicy foods and are craving saucy soft tofu.
My mom’s Japanese-style mapo tofu
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon old water
2 tablespoons peanut, rice bran, or other neutral oil
4 ounces ground beef
2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 medium cloves)
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger (about ½-inch segment)
2 scallions, chopped into ¼-inch pieces, dark greens reserved for garnish
2 tablespoons sake
2 tablespoons mirin
1 tablespoon shoyu or light soy sauce
¼ cup low-sodium chicken stock, dashi, or water
1½ pounds medium to firm silken tofu, cut into ½-inch cubes
Steamed rice and chili oil, for serving
Combine the cornstarch and cold water in a small bowl and mix with a fork until homogenous. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a wok over high heat until smoking.
Add the beef and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute.
Add the garlic, ginger, and scallion whites and pale greens and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 15 seconds.
Add the sake, mirin, soy sauce, and chicken stock and bring to a boil.
Pour in the cornstarch mixture and cook for 30 seconds, until thickened.
Add the tofu and carefully fold it in, being careful not to break it up too much.
Transfer immediately to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the scallion greens.
Serve immediately with rice and chili oil.
Excerpted from “The Wok: Recipes and Techniques” (copyright) 2022 by J. Kenji López-Alt. Reproduced by permission of W.W. Norton. All rights reserved.
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