Andrea forced herself to relax by brute force—which failed miserably. “Other than each of my flight tests, it’s the first time I’ve had an FAA official aboard.”
“Ooo! Am I scary? I always wanted to be scary, but my kids say that I’m a complete failure in that department.”
“Yes!” Andrea blurted it out. “Well, scarier than Mister Corporate Executive Number Eighty-four who is convinced of his own self worth beyond all—” She clamped her mouth shut. Another Hell-Air policy was to never trash talk any client, ever. That was not one of Mother’s policies. Raking clients’ reputations over a dish of spicy Ma Po Tofu or Dan Dan Pork Noodles at the dinner table was a favorite family pastime.
“Excellent. Will it ruin it for you if I tell you that I’m a curriculum writer for the FAA? I design and write the coursework for inspectors and air traffic controllers.”
Andrea managed to unearth a small laugh.
NOTE: Traditionally this dish has no veggies (except one lone scallion). Keep the veggies light, or they’ll bury the flavor, but I do add in some.
Total time: 10-15 minutes (start rice or rice noodles early)
- 16 oz. firm bean curd (some prefer soft, but it turns to mush too easily for me), cut into generous 1/2” cubes
Sauce (all mixed together and set aside)
- 1 c. chicken broth or bouillon
- 3 Tbsp. soy sauce (we use low-sodium, easier to control flavor)
- 1 Tbsp. dry sherry
- 2 tsp. sugar
- 1/2 tsp. salt (just a pinch if using full-power soy sauce)
For the Sauté
- Optional veggies (1-2 c. total): 1/2 sm. red onion sliced thin, chopped cabbage, sm. broccoli florets, etc.
- 2 oz. ground pork (Yes, it really is needed. Ground beef works as well. Can substitute Shitake mushrooms for veggie option [presoak and sauté with veggies].)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2 tsp. chili paste (I especially like Black Bean Garlic Paste here.)
- 1-1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch in small bowl
- 1 – 2 scallion, chopped
- 1/2 tsp. sesame oil
- 1 tsp. hot chili oil (Sriracha works here if you have nothing else.)
- 1/2 – 3/4 tsp. ground Szechuan brown pepper (Surprisingly crucial. In a pinch, substitute 1/2 tsp. black pepper with 1/8 tsp. white pepper.)
Warning: Like most Chinese cooking, the effort is in the prep. The cooking goes very fast.
- Heat pan (wok) on medium high with a good drizzle of vegetable oil (not olive oil).
- Sauté veggies 2-3 minutes until edges soften.
- Scrape to one side, add meat. Work with spoon or spatula to cook into crumbles.
- As soon as the meat is mostly cooked, scrape a hole and toss in the garlic and chili paste. Keep mixing quickly for 30 seconds until aromatic. (don’t overcook)
- Pour in sauce. Mix well. Add bean curd.
- Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a fast simmer for 5 minutes.
- Scoop several tablespoons hot cooking liquid into small bowl with cornstarch. Work until smooth. Add back into the pot. Mix well.
- Toss in scallion.
- It will thicken quickly (1-2 minutes). Stir constantly.
- Once it makes a nice thick sauce, remove from heat, stir in sesame oil and hot chili oil. Sprinkle with brown pepper. One last stir to mix.
- Serve over rice or rice noodles. Keep the hot chili oil on the table for those with 3-star and hotter taste buds.
It’s not very colorful but…Oh, so good!Recipe (printable PDF)