Monday, July 23, 2012

Real Chinese Food: No Skill, Money, or Time Required

This is a short entry about how to make mapo tofu. For a long time I was intimidated about tackling this dish, due to bad information, but after a couple tries it is dead easy, and importantly wicked cheap. The current ground state in the US is people spending too much money for garbage food, because they don't feel they have the time or ability to make something that they'll want to eat. This is a delusion encouraged by the microwave oven and the foodie movement: assholes who get up their own butt about locally-sourced organic everything and slow-food and the like intimidate people from trying to cook for themselves, and the seductive magic (like most magic in this world, based on nuclear physics) of the microwave gives them an escape hatch. As will be shown, this is a corruptive delusion.

 The part about no skill and no time will come in the cooking instructions. The part about no money is not technically true, but it is close as you are likely to get for real food from scratch.

1 block soft tofu @ $3
1/2 1 bunch scallions @ $3 = $1.50

some garlic - 1/12 of 1 bulb @ $0.50 = $0.04
some rice - ~1/20 of 5lb bag @ $4 = $0.20
some oil - 1/200 of 1.75l bottle @ $2.50 = $0.01
4 tbsp soy sauce (~1/30 of .5l bottle @ $3 = $0.10
5 tbsp water @ $0.005/gallon = ~$0.00
1 tsp black bean sauce - 1/20 of small jar @ $3 = $0.15
3 tsp chili paste - 3/20 of small jar @ $3 = $0.45
good vegetable knife - 1/100 of $15 = $0.15
wok - 1/200 of $30 = $0.15
rice cooker - 1/100 of $40 = $0.40
cutting board - 1/75 of $12 = $0.16
bamboo rice paddle and stirrer - 1/100 of $10 = $0.10
whisk - 1/500 of $5 = $0.01
1 tsp flour - 1/300 of 5lb bag at $5 = $0.02

total specific recipe materials: $4.50
total prorated equipment cost: $1.93

Yes, it costs money to fit out a kitchen, but when you prorate that over the equipment's actual useful lifetime, you end up with something like this, which serves 1 1/2 people (double the rice for two people, or don't and have leftovers which you get another meal out of for the rice and 15 mins in the cooker/reheating the mapo tofu) for a total cost of less than seven bucks. You can't get ONE serving of mapo tofu for that from a restaurant, let alone with rice to give it some caloric content to go with the protein. This is how it goes.


 1. Ingredients assemble! This is the tofu and the stuff to make the sauce.

First off, start the rice in the rice cooker. In contrast to other recipes, you will absolutely be done cooking before the rice is finished.


 2. A look into the chili paste jar. Make sure the stuff you get is about this consistency.  Not the same as sriracha.


3. Live greens. Chop up three scallions/green onions and about this much garlic by volume. Plate this out, then cube your block of tofu.


 4. Plated and cubed.

 When your ingredients are cut, add 4 tbsp soy sauce, 5 tbsp water, then 3 tsp chili paste and 1 tsp black bean sauce to a bowl and mix it up. The chili paste and black bean sauce may require going to an Asian specialty market to get, but are worth the trip. Mix together thoroughly.


 5. Three and one, the magical formula.

 Get up heat in your wok, put some oil in the bottom, then stir-fry the vegetables. This should be wicked quick. Once the veggies are done, get them out of the wok and add the flour to your sauce bowl. Whisk thoroughly to get it mixed. Pour the sauce mix into the wok.


 6. The sauce sets up practically instantly.

 Almost immediately, the sauce will be thick enough that you can add the veggies, then moments later, the tofu. Stir occasionally so things don't burn to the bottom of the wok.



 Less than a minute later, you will probably need to take this off the heat to avoid burning the tofu onto the bottom of the wok. If you're only cooking for one, grab a container and scoop about half of the completed mapo tofu out, so you can stick it in the fridge for later. Either way, twiddle your thumbs and wait for the rice to be done so you can eat rather than just pick out random tofu chunks to snack on.


 8. Rice is done, time to eat!


It takes effort. You will have to clean up. But the fact remains that this is a protein-packed meal that dresses up about 1/3 of your daily calories with some classic spice, and remains much less loser and less processed-stuff intensive than the usual talentless-cooking-with-rice-cooker ouevre of "make rice, mix in nacho cheese" or "make rice, stir in barbecue sauce" -- and it's also home cooking that is done, start to finish, in less than 20 minutes.

This is a vegetarian recipe that can probably be fed to vegans if they're not going to be assholes about checking the ingredient list on your Chinese sauces. You can also add ground meat (marinate in a little soy sauce first, stir-fry between veggies and sauce) if you like and have the spare dough. The version I did originally had meat in it, but it's barely needed. The sauce is tasty enough as it is, and the tofu has enough protein content.

This recipe is also a good starting point for how to use tofu, i.e., as tofu rather than as pretend meat. Tofu is not meat, and if you try to make it like meat, it will be terrible. Guess how hippies introduced white America to tofu. Fucking hippies. The point of tofu is a cool, clean taste that allows it to carry the flavor of the sauce it's being cooked with. Get used to that, and you are way ahead of the game on the "more protein for less money" racket.


There is no metal content in this one, but the writeup of the Dark Passenger show should be out soon, pending some verifications...and then I need to get things out quick over the next week to avoid taking a backlog overseas.

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