600–700 g (2 packs) firm or extra firm silken tofu
Big pinch of salt
2 Tbs Sichuan pepper
4 dried red Chinese chillies
4 Tbs vegetable oil
2 anchovy fillets (optional)
1 bird's eye chilli (or more, to taste), finely sliced
4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
15 g piece of ginger root, peeled and finely shredded
300 g minced (ground) pork
1 Tbs preserved black beans
80 g doubanjiang
1 1/2 Tbs caster (superfine) sugar
500 mL chicken stock
1 Tbs sesame oil
1 1/2 Tbs cornflour (cornstarch), mixed to a paste with a little water
Worcestershire sauce and/or soy sauce, to taste
4 portions thick ramen noodles
Small handful of coriander (cilantro), roughly torn
Sesame seeds, toasted until deep golden brown
Plenty of sansho pepper
Cut the tofu into 2.5-cm cubes and bring the water to a low simmer along with the salt. Carefully add the tofu to the salted water and poach for 10 minutes. Remove gently with a slotted spoon.
Toast the Sichuan pepper and dried chillies in a dry frying pan (skillet) until aromatic and beginning to colour, then leave to cool and grind to a coarse powder. Add the oil to the pan and place over a high heat, then add the anchovies, if using, and the bird’s eye chilli. Fry for a minute or two, then add the garlic, ginger and pork and fry until the pork is browned. Add the black beans, doubanjiang, sugar and the ground Sichuan pepper and chillies.
Cook for a few minutes, stirring often, so the flavours meld. Add the chicken stock and sesame oil and bring to the boil, then stir in some (not all) of the cornflour-water mixture. Let the sauce boil for a few minutes to thicken, stirring continuously; add more cornflour slurry if you want it thicker (it should be quite thick so it clings well to the noodles). Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning with Worcestershire and/or soy sauces. Gently stir in the tofu, using a pushing motion with the back of your spatula and shaking the pan to coat the tofu without breaking it up.
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and cook the noodles until al dente. Drain well, then transfer to 4 bowls. Top with the hot tofu mixture and garnish with the coriander, sesame seeds and sansho.
Credits: This is an edited extract from Tokyo Stories by Tim Anderson published by Hardie Grant Books $39.99 and is available in stores nationally.
Photo Credits: © Nassima Rothacker.