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Pock-marked Mother Chen's beancurd


Serves 2-3 as a main course with one vegetable dish and rice, 4 with other dishes

1 block of beancurd (about 500g)
4 baby leeks or spring onions
100ml groundnut oil
150g minced beef
2 ½ tablespoons Sichuanese chilli bean paste
1 tablespoon black fermented beans
2 teaspoons ground Sichuanese chillies (only for chilli fiends)
250ml everyday stock
1 teaspoon white sugar
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
salt to taste
3 tablespoons potato flour mixed with
4 tablespoons cold water
½ teaspoon ground roasted Sichuan pepper


Cut the beancurd into 2cm cubes and leave to steep in very hot or gently simmering water which you have lightly salted. Slice the leeks or spring onions at a steep angle into thin 'horse-ear' slices.

Season the wok, then add the groundnut oil and heat over a high flame until smoking. Add the minced beef and stir-fry until it is crispy and a little brown, but not yet dry.

Turn the heat down to medium, add the chilli bean paste and stir-fry for about 30 seconds, until the oil is a rich red colour. Add the black fermented beans and ground chillies and stir-fry for another 20-30 seconds until they are both fragrant and the chillies have added their colour to the oil.

Pour in the stock, stir well and add the drained beancurd. Mix it in gently by pushing the back of your ladle or wok scoop gently from the edges to the centre of the wok - do not stir or the beancurd may break up. Season with the sugar, a couple of teaspoons of soy sauce and salt to taste. Simmer for about 5 minutes, until the beancurd has absorbed the flavours of the sauce.

Add the leeks or spring onions and gently stir in. When they are just cooked, add the potato flour mixture in two or three stages, mixing well, until the sauce has thickened enough to cling glossily to the meat and beancurd. Don't add more than you need. Finally, pour everything into a deep bowl, scatter with the ground Sichuan pepper and serve.

This recipe can be found in Sichuan Cookery by Fuchsia Dunlop (Michael Joseph, ISBN: 0-718-14404-X, 20.00).
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