Mapo Doufu - why dont the Chinese cultivate Olives ?


They do but not as we know them. There is a Chinese Autumn olive, a bush with red berry fruits which can be used for jam and also Ga-na which look like Picholine olives. It may be that the Olive tree, which takes relatively long to grow and fruit, doesnt suit nomadic trading peoples who tend to use animal rather than vegetable fat (and olive oil isn't suited to high temperaure wok cooking). Incidentally they dont much cultivate Olives in India either, my Sikh neighbour insists the reason is that they have alternatives in mustard oil and lots of ghee because they dont generally eat beef. I've tried introducing olives into asian cuisine with mixed results; its possible to turn Caponata into brinjal masala by adding a lot of curry paste, coriander and stir-frying and a few olives can be sneaked into MaPo Doufu, more as a seasoning than an ingredient. Also known as Pockmarked Mother Chen's beancurd (the poor lady in the legend had smallpox scars all over her face), this dish ignited my imagination and filled my fridge with Pauls Bean Curd. Tofu has been categorised as one for the so called 'sandal-wearing quiche-munchers'; I love quiches, most recently Rachel Khoo's Lorraine, and wear sandals [well Crocs] whenever possible.

Having seen one of the worlds most annoying 'celebrity' chefs, Bobby Chinn (an evil avatar of Ken Hom?) make MaPo Doufu I had few attempts and loved it. Fuchsia Dunlop is more palatable and her version is simple and de-lish, as are the shredded potatoes a variation of which Jay Rayner mentioned in his review of BBQ chinese restaurant. Truly this was gastronomic heaven then hell; “really dirty” scalp-sweaty fries preceded by hand pulled noodles in a star anise broth (I unashamedly followed his menu recommendations). Gok Wan, apart from parading his family Jamie-style across the lens, really can cook and makes MaPo Doufu in an omelette which I haven't managed to roll up yet but eat regularly.


My own go-to (as the americans say) tofu recipe is Pancetta wrapped with Broccoli. Its quick, reasonably healthy, can feed the kids, uses up all the stupid exotic condiments I collect AND satisfies my escalating mouth surfing chilli addiction; will I end up carrying a bag of chilli flakes around like “chewin' tobaccy” and then grinding it up as snuff ? or sucking Chipotles like Fishermans Friends?. The recipe is one of very few which feels like my own creation (cue maniacal Dr Evil 'Mu-ha-ha' laughter repeat to fade), albeit with “body parts” borrowed from my cookbook recipe graveyard.

As usual serves 4; 2 kids and then add chilli oomph and feed the 2 adults.
100g sliced pancetta or streaky, make sure its wet-tissue thin
200g Tofu cut into Rubiks Cubes, the individual cubes pulled out when frustration won
2 Garlic cloves smashed and chopped.
1 thumb of ginger grated (along with requisite microplane grated thumb).
1 small bunch of spring onions cut across into “horses ears” (nice one Fuchsia).
2 medium heads of Broccoli bonsai-ed into squash ball sized flowers, tough stalks roughly peeled and sliced into memory-stick batons.
Big splash Shianking or Rice Vinegar, or Balsamic
Big splash Mirin or Shaoxing [its getting more expensive and its not very useful], or Sherry [more useful].
Big splash Soy or Fish Sauce, or Nuoc Man if you are showing off
Sesame seeds if you remember or toasted Seame Oil if its not gone rancid in the cupboard or chopped peanuts or don't bother.
Adults only – 1-2 tablespoons of Chilli bean sauce or a heavy shower of chilli flakes

Wrap Tofu completely in pancetta (as you would chewing gum in tissue when there's no bin around) and brown on all sides, take your time. Add the broccoli, give it a few minutes to soak up some porky fat and then throw in as much garlic and ginger as kids will take before shrieking “its too spicy”. Add half the spring onions and give it some Ainsley harriot i.e. saute and toss with a silly face as its more fun. ‘Henry Cooper’ ("splash it on all ovah") the vinegar-wine-soy combo, a little water, lid on until the Broccoli is tender [5 mins ?]. Balance the sour-sweet-salty, top with seeds, nuts or oil and coriander if you want. Plate up half for the kids which you stick in the freezer to cool down so they don't pull 'monkey bathtime' faces when they try it. Add Chilli Bean sauce or Chilli flakes to the pan and toss it through on the heat. Top with Spring onions. Dig In. Also good with sliced mushrooms added and hard fried before Broccoli which can incidentally be substituted with any of the Choi family or green beans or peas or whatever's in the fridge (that's the fun of cooking). 

We shared a bottle of Marco Porelli Roero Arneis which surprisingly stood up rather well.

I'm going back to basics and leafing through my original copy of Ken Homs Chinese Cookery to see what he does with Tofu. Good old ken, what a happy chappy.

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Mediterranean, Recipes, Lifestyle, Wine