This fiery Sichuan classic is named for the pockmarked (po) wife (ma) who supposedly invented it at her husband’s restaurant. I’ve found a pretty intriguing version of it. In a great culinary schools in Chengdu recently, their technique of poaching the tofu, prior to stir-frying, to freshen and tenderize it was new to me, as was the wonderful effect of a lavish sprinkling of Sichuan-peppercorn powder.

YIELD Makes 3 or 4 main course servings

INGREDIENTS

  • For sauce

1/4 cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons hot bean paste

2 tablespoons soy sauce

Additive-free kosher salt to taste

    • 1 lb regular or soft (not silken) tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
    • 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons corn, peanut, or canola oil
    • 1/2 lb ground pork shoulder (preferably 75% lean)
    • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
    • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon finely minced peeled fresh ginger
    • 1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons Japanese sesame oil
    • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon toasted Sichuan-peppercorn powder
    • 3 tablespoons thinly sliced scallion
    • Accompaniment: steamed rice

PREPARATION

Make sauce:

Stir together broth, bean paste, soy sauce, and kosher salt. Set aside.

Poach tofu:

Slide tofu into a saucepan of simmering water and keep at a bare simmer while stir-frying rest of dish.

Stir-fry pork:

Heat a wok or large heavy skillet over high heat until hot and add 1 1/2 tablespoons corn oil, swirling to coat. Add pork and stir-fry, breaking up lumps and adding remaining 1/2 tablespoon corn oil if meat sticks, until no longer pink. Add garlic and ginger and stir-fry over moderate heat until very fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Finish stir-fry:

Stir reserved sauce, then add to pork and bring to a simmer. Drain tofu in a large sieve and slide into sauce, stirring gently.

Stir cornstarch mixture and add to stir-fry. Bring to a boil, stirring gently, and cook until thickened and glossy, about 15 seconds.

Turn off heat and sprinkle with sesame oil, Sichuan-peppercorn powder to taste, and 2 tablespoons scallion. Stir once or twice, then serve sprinkled with remaining tablespoon scallion.

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