You don’t know how much I wanted to title this “Pock Marked Old Woman with a Drunken Sailor.” I could have got a whole new readership on that one title alone. Possibly not a readership whose comments I could publish. More the readership that clicks on ‘certain’ ads, for ‘certain’ products, shall we say.
So I resisted. The reason it was tempting was because, if you remember from awhile back, when I posted Cauliflower and Almond Pizza with Fresh Sauce and Greens, I mentioned this very translation. I did a whole post on odd-to-Western-ears translations, but Ma Po Tofu was my favourite, mainly because it is also my favourite Chinese dish. Although disputed here in this very odd tale, the classic Sichuan recipe roughly translates as ‘pock marked old woman.’ So, joining in the spirit of poetic namings, I thought that the dry sherry and salmon could be the drunken sailor. But then you probably wouldn’t want to try what to me is the best Chinese dish ever. And trust me, you want to try it.
Other than being quite high in salt, my version of the popular Sichuan province dish is absolutely perfect: Omega-3 laden salmon, phytochemical hottie aubergine, phytoestrogen numero uno tofu (this is a very good article). And that’s before I even mention that it tastes like the God of umami is playing handball on your tongue. It is so delicious that whenever I buy aubergines (we always have tofu hanging around) Miss R asks, “Is that for Ma Po Tofu?” I’ve got her well-trained, non?
The complex and mouth-pleasing taste comes from the spicy, salty, tingly, sour and sweet meld of all that I love in Chinese cookery: ginger, garlic, fermented (salted) bean paste, Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry), chilli bean paste and spring onions. And of course, how could I forget, Sichuan peppers. In my last post I did threaten you with another Sichuan pepper recipe (I think I am onto four recipes now), but I have saved the best for last. Although this is not completely authentic I do hope it gets the thumbs up from any experts out there. If you are an expert, let me know what you think of my interpretation. I can take it. For those of you unfamiliar with a proper Ma Po Tofu, this one looks as authentic as I can find.
If you aren’t that keen on spicy flavours do please try it anyway, but without the chilli bean paste and only a pinch of the pepper. The Sichuan pepper is not hot as such, certainly not like Mexican types of peppers, but it does have a pronounced citrussy tang along with the characteristic tongue-tingling ‘buzz.’ Add in more dark brown sugar too, if you like. This recipe, along with the original, is highly adaptable so feel free to play around with the ingredients. The main thing is to have a balance of the salty, spicy, sour and sweet. And, although it can’t really be called Ma Po Tofu, you can leave out the tofu entirely and use more aubergine, some shiitake mushrooms and the salmon.
Hand on heart this is the food to glow family’s favourite comfort food dish. Soft in the mouth and bursting with heady flavours it is perfect, regardless of whether or not you need solace from your food. It is one of the few dishes that we eat in near silence, with only the sound of our spoons scraping the bowl for one last morsel of umami.
Before I get onto the recipe, a hen update. We are proud to welcome Penny and Houdini McQueenie (Houdi for short) to our garden.
They are beautiful plumpcious girls that we got from Phantassie Farm in East Linton. Although not rescue hens as such, they had come to the end of their commercial usefulness and were ripe for picking by us. Miss Amber has asserted herself as the Head Girl, with a minimum of pecking and chasing, and all is well. We even had eggs after their first night in their new home. Incidentally, Houdini McQueenie was originally going to be called Bernie but after a couple of near escapes she is now Houdi. ‘Bird with the Clipped Wings’ is our Chinese translation.