Recipe: Fragrant-Spicy Pressed Tofu (香辣豆腐干)

Lao Gan Ma (老干妈 lao gan ma – say: “loll gun mah” – literally “old dry mother” but it means “old godmother”. Note that in Chinese terms, “old” is a respectful word and not an insult.) is a brand of chili oil sauces from Guizhou, China. The sauce began in 1996, and is now one of the most popular condiments in China and even famous among Chinese food lovers overseas. So how did it all begin?

In 1989, an illiterate woman named Tao Huabi (陶华碧 tao hua bi – say: “tall hwah bee”) opened an eatery where she sold noodles flavored with her chili oil sauces. They became so popular that she started selling the sauces too. In 1996, she closed down the eatery and started a sauce factory with 40 employees. Now, there are thousands of employees and over 1.3 million containers are produced daily and shipped to over 30 countries. She is still the owner of the company, which now many millions of dollars every year.

Lao Gan Ma brand sells many kinds of sauces. The original one is the one containing fermented black soybeans in chili oil labeled 风味豆豉 (feng wei dou chi) in Chinese. It is also the most popular of her sauces. The sauce contains fermented black soybeans, chili flakes, many spices and seasonings, all in a spicy red oil. There is so much flavor in this sauce!

This recipe is a very delicious stir-fry flavored with the sauce. The recipe is also vegetarian! Five-spice pressed tofu (五香豆腐干 wu xiang dou fu gan – “woo syahng doh foo gun” with “oo” as in “cool”, literally “five fragrant bean curd dry”) can be found in the refrigerated section of a Chinese grocery store, next to other tofu products, wheat gluten products, and other vegetarian products. This product is made from firm tofu, pressed until all the holes of water are gone, then simmered in a 5-spice soy sauce mixture to create a brown colored compact block of tofu. 5-spice pressed tofu is not only very delicious but also very high in protein! I hope you can find it! If you need any help, feel free to comment below.

Adapted from Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop! This book is wonderful and contains amazing delicious recipes for authentic southern Chinese home cooking. I strongly recommend it if you are interested in this kind of food. I also strongly recommend her other 2 cookbooks!

BEWARE!!! THIS DISH CAN BE EXTREMELY EXTREMELY SPICY!!! I cooked this for my mom, who thought it was not spicy at all. Meanwhile, I thought it was the almost the most spicy dish I ever ate, but also one of the most delicious, so I kept eating anyways XD. To decrease spiciness, I made the dried chilies optional and you can change the amount of Lao Gan Ma you put to your own taste :).

6 oz five-spice pressed tofu, cut into julienne strips
1/4 onion, cut into julienne strips
1/2 bell pepper, cut into julienne strips
1 stalk celery, cut into julienne strips
2 green onions, cut into 2-inch lengths. Separate white and green parts.
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
some ginger, cut into very thin strips (same amount as garlic)
5-10 dried chilies, cut in half and as many seeds as possible removed (optional) (using 5 is already making the dish EXTREMELY SPICY. using 10… -shudders-)
1/2 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns (When you bite into one, you will taste the unique “ma” flavor of Sichuan peppercorns! You can also use 1/4 tsp ground roasted Sichuan peppercorns instead, but add it at the end with the sesame oil. This will make the “ma” flavor throughout the whole dish, but not as strong as the sensation of biting into a peppercorn.)
1 tbsp oil (Chinese people use more, but Lao Gan Ma is already oily. You can increase the oil if you use less Lao Gan Ma, but it isn’t too necessary.)
1-3 tbsp Lao Gan Ma black bean chili oil sauce (1 tbsp for pleasant spiciness, 3 tbsp for very strong spiciness. Combine this with the dried chilies, and you get volcano hot spiciness!)
1/4 to 1/2 tsp white sugar
a little soy sauce to taste (Depending on how much Lao Gan Ma you used, because Lao Gan Ma already contains salt. If you used 3 tbsp, you may not need to add any.)
ground white pepper or black pepper to taste
1 tsp sesame oil

1. Cut everything! Make sure everything is ready!
2. Heat a wok. (You can also use a saute pan, skillet, etc.) Add oil and Sichuan peppercorns. Stir a few seconds (about 5 seconds).
3. Add chilies and Lao Gan Ma sauce. Stir until the chilies have lightly browned patches, but be careful not to burn! This should take under 5 seconds in a hot wok.
4. Add garlic and ginger, and stir 5 more seconds.
5. Add onion, bell pepper, celery, and white part of green onion. Stir-fry a minute.
6. Add sugar, soy sauce, and white or black pepper. Stir-fry a few seconds.
7. Add five-spice pressed tofu. Stir-fry a minute.
8. Add green part of green onion. Stir-fry 30 seconds or so.
9. Turn off the heat and add sesame oil. Stir to combine well, then transfer to a plate.
10. Serve this dish with cooked rice. Enjoy!

To make a Chinese meal, this dish can be served with a simple green vegetable dish like stir-fried baby bok choy or stir-fried lettuce. You can also pair it with both a vegetable and a meat dish. This kind of food is the most common in Chinese households. It is super delicious, filling, fast and easy to make.

If you are new to Chinese cooking, the steps to make a basic Chinese meal are:
1. Wash rice and start cooking.
2. Cut meat and marinade if using.
3. Then cut vegetables.
4. Mix sauces if necessary.
5. Get soy sauce, sugar, pepper, etc. near the wok before cooking.
6. Heat the wok and cook the first-stir-fry.
7. Rinse the wok if necessary and cook the second.
8. Cook more stir-fries if using.
9. The rice should be done cooking now or prior. When done, mix up with a rice paddle and cover to keep warm. Serve in bowls or plates.
10. Eat!

These steps can later be gone over in more detail, but this is the basics. It can be more complicated if including a soup, steamed dish, or other dish, depending on how long it takes to cook. Also, if you are a new cook, the rice may be done cooking a long time before you are done stir-frying. In this case, the warm function on the rice cooker is very helpful. Using a rice cooker is extremely recommended! You don’t have to watch the rice as it cooks or worry that it’ll overflow or burn. You can buy a good quality one at Costco for a very good price!

Enjoy your Chinese meal!



7 thoughts on “Recipe: Fragrant-Spicy Pressed Tofu (香辣豆腐干)

    1. It’s so yummy! 😀 Pressed tofu is one of my favorite foods. By the way, Lao Gan Ma sauce is a really tasty hot sauce, but it does have preservatives and flavor enhancers like msg. I would make it myself, but it’s pretty complicated (there’s a recipe someone made to replicate the sauce, you can Google search).

  1. It seems like Lao Gan Ma products is a highly favorite flavor among Chinese pantries. I do question its spicy level.
    I’m certainly not at your Moms level
    and perhaps your level has changed.
    Anyway you can describe its spiciness
    from the bottle?

    1. From the bottle, I could not eat it, LOL. My mom could though, although she can’t order the extra spicy sundubu jjigae (seafood and soft tofu soup) at some Korean restaurants, or the most authentic spicy Thai green curry. These spicy dishes are called “fire spicy” in Chinese while Lao Gan Ma is called “fragrant spicy”. My mom can handle “fragrant spicy” more than “fire spicy” because most Sichuanese spicy foods are “fragrant spicy”. Anyways, it is a very tasty sauce, but I can’t handle this dish with the original amount of Lao Gan Ma. If you cannot eat too much spicy food, I would recommend adding only 1 tbsp to this recipe and tasting the completed dish at the end. If it ends up not spicy enough, it still is tasty. So if you can handle a little spicy, I think 1 tbsp would be fine. If someone cannot handle any spicy at all, they should not make “fragrant spicy tofu” and instead try a non-spicy dish. I hope this is helpful 🙂

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