If you’ve read my Kalbi post, you’ll know I have trouble passing up short ribs when on sale, and so begins our story. When I passed the ribs in my local Lucky’s, I knew I was going to buy them, but wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them. Kalbi again? The old standard mirepoix and red wine braise? While both rank right up near the top of my “foods I could eat every damn day for the rest of my life” list, I’d been feeling like something spicy and greasy for a few days, and the Old Mandarin Islamic “Extremely Hot Pepper” dish did not satisfy me as it was inedibly hot (that said, the cumin lamb is amazing, but trust me, take a pass on the extremely hot pepper).
As I podered what I should make, Stephanie pointed out to me that the most recent issue of Bon Appetit actually included Danny Bowien’s Mapo Tofu recipe. While the recipe called for pork, it’s fairly common for Mapo to include beef as well, and with the cook time suggested, it seemed like short ribs would be a great fit.
A week passed. Then another. I was still eating mapo tofu. While the recipe says 8 – 10 servings, if you make it with 5 lbs of short ribs as I did, it’s going to last quite a while so I suggest freezing at least part of the recipe once complete. It’s pretty intense, and as I learned from experience, not something you really want to eat every day for dinner.
That said, a couple notes on the recipe. First off, if you’re using short ribs, don’t butterfly them. I did, mostly because I enjoy knife work, but in retrospect I think I should have left more fat on, and left them intact as the butterflied version was not as tender as I might have liked. Second, sichuan pepper oil is hard to find, and expensive (relatively), however it is far better than trying to make it at home. Many recipes recommend toasting sichuan peppercorns over low heat before cooling, grinding, and adding hot peanut or canola oil in a 1:4 peppercorn to oil ratio. Unfortunately I tried several times, but the results were nowhere near as potent as the store-bought stuff.
If you like the spicy, numbing musk of sichuan cuisine, give this recipe a shot. It’s flavors are certainly unique, though with 1/4 cup of arbol chiles and 3/4 cup thai chiles, as you might imagine, it’s not for the spice averse.
Mission Chinese Mapo Dofu with Short Ribs
1/4 cup dried Tianjin or Arbol Chiles
1Tbs black peppercorns
1 Tbs cumin seeds
1 Tbs Sichuan peppercorns
2 green cardamom pods
2 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
1/4 cinnamon stick
1Tbs kosher salt
1 Tbs sugar
Stir first 8 ingredients in a large dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant (about 4 – 5 minutes). Let cool and discard bay leaf. Finely grind remaining toasted spices in a spice mill. Stir in salt and sugar and reserve. (Can be done up to 1 month in advance)
2 Tbs plus 1/4 cup chili oil
1/2 cup tomato paste
1 qt low salt chicken broth
1 qt dry white wine
2/3 cup fish sauce
1/2 cup fermented black beans drained and rinsed
1/2 cup pepper oil*
Heat 2 Tbs chili oil in a dutch oven over medium high. Add tomato paste and continue to stir until mixture becomes brick red, about 5 – 6 minutes. Add broth and next 4 ingredients and continue to stir making sure to get all the fond. Stir in the ribs and chill over night.
*Pepper oil here is Sichuan pepper oil which can be made at home, but is far more difficult than internet tutorials would have you believe. Buy some of the real stuff if you can find it and you’ll realize just how numbing it should be. I tried several times with no success to create my own following various recipes which were typically 1Tbs sichuan pepper corns, roasted, ground, and simmered in peanut or canola oil.
4 – 5 lbs shortribs*
*The original recipe from Bon Appetit calls for 2 lbs boneless pork shoulder cut into 1″ cubes if you’d prefer to go down that rout
1/4 cup (packed) fresh cilantro leaves with tender stems plus more for garnish
3/4 cup red thai chilis (I was only able to get green and they worked just fine)
1/2 cup chopped garlic
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup grated peeled ginger (from 2 4″ x 1″ pieces)
1 8″ x 4″ piece of konbu
2 lb. soft (silken) tofu cut into 1″ cubes
Scallions sliced thinly on the diagonal
Add 1/4 cup cilantro and next 5 ingredients to food processor and finely chop. Add add chili mixture and spice blend to dutch oven with ribs. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to disolve. Add konbu, cover and reduce heat to medium-low and braise until ribs are tender. This will vary on how you chose to process the ribs. If you’ve butterflied as I did, it will be about an hour. If you leave them whole, give them 2.5 – 3.
Uncover pot and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced by half, about 1 hour longer. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold. Cover and keep chilled until ready to rewarm and eat. Can be done up to 2 days ahead.
Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Poach tofu for 3 – 5 minutes before removing to a paper towel lined plate. A spatula or slotted spoon works well here. Pat dry, slice into 1″ cubes if you like (I tend to go rustic and just throw the block in opting to break up with the side of a spoon) before adding to pot with rib mixture. Simmer for 10 minutes or until warm. Garnish with scallions, chopped cilantro, and chili oil (I found the chili oil to be completely unnecessary).