The Nasty Bits: Mapo Liver


About a week ago, Kenji and Ed were eating at a Sichuan joint, which I wasn't even there for, but probably affected me ten times more than it did either of them. I scored all the leftovers.

When it comes to being thrifty, I take the "waste not want not" credo pretty seriously. The thought of all that perfectly good food not getting eaten just because Ed was watching his calories for his Serious Diet was not an option. So I lugged home their leftovers and basically lived off of them for the next week.

Chinese leftovers are a beautiful thing. Sure, the texture might suffer, but the taste, especially stir-fries and soups, often deepens in a pleasing way when sitting in the fridge.

There was a spicy red soup with Napa cabbage and beef that just needed some fresh noodles to make it a one-bowl meal. Another dish had several thick-cut slices of steamed beef, so tender even when reheated that I had it over rice and some stir-fried vegetables, and was very happy. But best of all, there was a big container of mapo tofu.

"Mapo tofu haunts me, taps into some crazy part of me"

Mapo tofu haunts me, taps into some crazy part of me that can't get enough of those chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns, and wants more and more oil to top off everything. My tongue burns from the chili oil, numbs from the titillating peppercorns, and still, I can taste the fattiness of the ground beef and the slightly fermented taste of the hot bean paste.

Mapo tofu is also one of my favorite ways to eat silken or soft tofu because it takes an aggressive team of flavors to underpin such a bland, custardy type of tofu.


What happens when I love a dish this much? I think to myself, how can I add offal, and thereby increase my enjoyment by twofold?

"What animal innard could pass for a cube of tofu in both taste and appearance? Liver, clearly."

In this case, I tapped into the Chinese part of me that appreciates trompe l'oeil. What animal innard could pass for a cube of tofu in both taste and appearance? Liver, clearly.

I took a slab of liver and cubed it to resemble tofu cubes. I seared the cubes in my wok until the surface was browned and slightly crisp but the interior was still rare. Given how much liver was in the mix, I omitted the ground meat. When the mapo tofu was almost finished simmering, I placed the cubes of browned liver back into the wok and let the fiery flavors of the sauce coat the offal.

The result was both pleasing to see and eat. The liver commingled so successfully with the tofu that it was hard to tell which was which. Since I barely cooked the liver on the first go, each cube, coated in chili oil and and an extra shot of Sichuan peppercorns, was so tender that it wasn't much harder to chew than the silken tofu. This is a keeper dish.