Karen Martini's ma po tofu with chicken and wood ear fungus

Serve this spicy Sichuan stir-fry with steamed greens and rice.
Serve this spicy Sichuan stir-fry with steamed greens and rice. Photo: William Meppem

This is real comfort food for me, a meal I genuinely crave. You could use pork mince, which is more common, but chicken works well, too. I just love the squeaky texture of wood ear fungus but, if you can't find it, shiitake mushrooms will do the trick. Seeking out doubanjiang is a must; it's the key to making this dish really sing and isn't hard to find inside a decent Asian grocer. It's made from fermented soybeans, broad beans and chilli, and is a staple of Sichuan cuisine.


500g silken tofu, drained and cut into 2cm dice

80ml grapeseed (or neutral) oil

5 garlic cloves, finely diced

10cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely julienned

250g chicken mince

150g fresh wood ear fungus (or shiitake), finely shredded

2½ tbsp doubanjiang

1 tbsp fermented black beans, finely chopped and soaked in hot water, covered, for 5 minutes, then drained 

5 spring onions, white and most of the green, finely sliced

3 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine

500ml chicken stock

3 tbsp light soy sauce

1½ tbsp Sichuan peppercorns, lightly toasted, seeds removed and husks ground

1½ tsp caster sugar

2 tbsp cornflour

80ml water

½ bunch coriander, leaves and fine stems picked chilli oil (optional)

rice and wilted greens, to serve


1. Add the tofu to a bowl of hot water, covered, to warm through.

2. Heat the oil in a wok over high heat for 4 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for about 20 seconds. As they start to colour, add the mince and fry, breaking into small pieces. Cook for about 5 minutes to brown, then add the fungus and stir through. Add the doubanjiang and black beans and stir-fry for 30 seconds, then add the onions and toss to coat. Pour in the rice wine and bring to a simmer, then add the stock, soy, pepper and sugar. Simmer for 3 minutes. Drain the water from the tofu and slide it into the sauce.

3. Combine the cornflour with the water and stir to dissolve. Pour into the wok and stir gently through the sauce. Simmer until it thickens (about 2 minutes).

4. Transfer to a serving dish, and top with coriander. Drizzle with the chilli oil, if using. Serve with rice and wilted greens.

Tip: You can elevate this dish further by finishing with Sichuan chilli oil or crispy chilli and garlic oil (also found in a good Asian grocer).