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The first time I ever had this dish was in Japan. At the time I had no idea it was more of a Chinese dish. When I came back to San Francisco I started to try as many versions as I could find. I loved all I tried, but I felt like it was not quite like the version I had in Japan. Therefore, I set out to make my own version using Yamatsu Tsujita’s Sansho powder rather than Sichuan pepper. Both are members of the prickly ash family.
Another key component to this dish is the doubanjiang or tobanjiang (spicy bean paste). I personally love Fly By Jing's 3 Year Aged Doubanjiang.
Note: Blanching tofu in boiling water for 1 minute with a little salt helps keep the tofu firm.
1 tablespoon Wadaman Organic White Sesame Oil
1 lb ground pork
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon ginger, chopped fine
4 ounces yellow onion, diced small
4 ounces carrots, peeled and diced small
¼ cup sake
1 tablespoon fermented black beans, chopped
1 tablespoon Suehiro Usukuchi Soy Sauce
1 tablespoon Horikawa Nomura Awase Miso
1 tablespoon Doubanjiang or Tobajiang
2 ½ cups Dashi
1 teaspoon Yamatsu Tsujita Sansho Powder
½ teaspoon Yamatsu Tsujita Ichimi Togarashi
1 lb Tofu, cut into 1inch by 1inch cubes and blanched (see note)
1 tablespoon Morino Yoshino Kuzu Starch
1 ½ tablespoons water
¼ cup finely sliced scallions
Heat a thick-bottomed pan over medium high heat, add the sesame oil and bring just until the smoking point. Add the pork and salt, using a wooden spoon break the pork up into smaller chunks. Cook until the pork releases all its juices, starts to fry in its own fat and begins to brown. Once about one third of the pork has browned, turn down heat to medium and add the garlic and ginger, cook for about one minute until it is very fragrant, then add the onion and carrot and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes until they are starting to get soft. In the meantime, with a whisk in a small bowl, mix the sake, black beans, soy sauce, miso and doubanjiang together to make a smooth sauce. Once the onions and carrot start to get soft, stir in the sauce mixture. Let come to a full boil then add the dashi and reduce by half (about 15-20 minutes). Once reduced by half add the sansho and ichimi togarashi and continue to reduce a little more. Ideally, you are looking to have enough liquid so it saucy, but not soupy, which is about two thirds reduced from the start.
Mix the kudzu starch with the water in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry. When the liquid in the pan is at a boil, slowly add the kudzu slurry in a thin stream while whisking constantly. Return to a boil to enable the starch to thicken.
Add the tofu to the sauce and stir gently. Keep on the heat to allow the tofu to warm through.
Garnish with scallions and serve with rice.