I’ve been served some pretty horrendous mapo tofu in my time. Usually I’m all for food fusion and recipe bastardization, but for me there are a few hard and fast rules for this dish: the tofu must not be fried beforehand; the tofu should not be wrecked and broken up; there has to be a layer of red oil in the top when it’s done; and there has to be an element of 麻 (ma) or numbness from the Sichuan peppercorns.
Mapo tofu is great with semi-firm tofu, but if you are not so confident, you can start with firm tofu; it is really just a texture thing and does not affect the taste significantly. This dish again embodies the Sichuan principles of salty, sour, sweet, spicy, fragrant, combined with the trinity of ginger, garlic and spring onion. It is a brilliant accompaniment to steamed rice and is surprisingly quick to make.
This recipe does not use soy sauce for flavouring as the fermented bean pastes are usually salty enough, but if you like to be heavy on the flavour you can add 1-2 tbsp of soy sauce.