Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mabo Dofu (PTC - DS)

This particular recipe allowed me to discover something: Mabo Dofu (Szechuan-style spicy meat with tofu) is one of those recipes where a screw-up in preparation doesn't matter; it all still tastes good.

Tofu has a better reputation, today, than twenty years ago when we in the West knew it as a health-food substitute for meat. The explosion of Asian cuisine, particularly Szechuan, has given it a boost in popularity.

However, that one trait of Personal Trainer: Cooking -- the tendency towards uniformity in describing ingredients -- can work against you when it comes to tofu preparation. But I'll discuss that in the ingredients section.

Ingredients: There's a slight difference between Japanese tofu and Chinese tofu, with the extra-firm version of the former being more delicate and refined than the same version of the latter. Thus the latter is more suitable for the stir-fry technique (and thus, this recipe) than the former. And if you live near an Asian foods market, fresher tofu is especially good to get.

Thing was, I was shopping at a store that didn't have fresh tofu, but the Japanese stuff that's available in tetra-pack form. I used two of these for this recipe, which is less than what was called for (by weight) but not by volume.

The thing that might throw people about this recipe is the use of chicken stock. It does serve a purpose, of course, in that it dilutes and blunts the spiciness of the jarred chili sauces you will use for this recipe. Perfectly suited for Japanese palates, but the next time I follow this one, I'd cut the amount of stock called for in half.

Techniques: Here, I admit, is where I screwed up. Big time.

There's a step in PT:C where you're supposed to stir in chili sauce along with the pork when you stir-fry the latter. But this occurs in the middle of the step-describing process; the previous bit was talking about building up a thin gravy-type sauce, which is meant to be added after the beef has been stir-fried. And I didn't see that until it was too late.

Short version: I dumped the gravy-type sauce in with the ground pork, instead of the small amount of chili sauce. As a result, the pork was boiled, rather than stir-fried.

Now I could blame the instructions for not being clear enough about this, but it turns out there's a small photograph of the chili sauce being added to the beef. So the instructions were clear; this just happened to be my particular screw-up.

Results: Still edible. Pretty good, in fact. But that's not to say it's still a screw-up: imagine how much more flavorful ground pork would have been if it had been browned (by the stir-fry) rather than boiled.

For a while I was debating whether or not I should write this recipe up. PTC doesn't particularly care, of course: there's no real feedback mechanism on what to do about a screw-up, after all, there's just a checkmark that you've cooked the recipe, and that may result in something else being unlocked in the program. It's a game function, after all.

In the end, I've decided to do the write-up, including my own error. Fact of the matter is, if you're someone just learning to cook -- which is whom PTC is directed at, after all -- you're going to screw up somewhere along the line. And it won't be the type that you'd predict; even something as mundane as a brain-fart -- which, apparently, is what happened to me -- could result in something either disastrous or different than what was intended. Just be aware of the possibility, that's all I'm saying.

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