30 Aug 2021 | Hardie Grant Books
Josh Niland, James Beard Award-winning author of The Whole Fish Cookbook and latest cookbook Take One Fish, has long dazzled food lovers with his groundbreaking approaching to cooking fish.
But just how easy is it to take Josh’s recipes home to cook in your own kitchen?
To find out, our Head of Marketing, Shalini Kunahlan, dove into Josh’s world of delicious fish cookery with Take One Fish’s modified version of an all-time favourite, Mapo Tofu.
Read Shalini’s cooking journey below with tips that she picked up along the way, and don’t miss the recipe excerpt so you too can give it a try!
Working for a cook book publisher certainly has its privileges: Josh Niland’s hot new fish cookbook Take One Fish beckoned with spectacular delights, but it was his Tuna Mapo Tofu recipe that resonated with my Melbourne lockdown bubble. It was the perfect project cook recipe. A project cook, by our definition, had to have the right amount of difficulty; fun to construct and execute and will make you feel you’ve just jumped 10 levels on Gods. Yep, I’m 37.
Throughout the litany of Victorian lockdowns, I had joined the online streaming bandwagon with my music fanatic husband. We played records to a small bunch of friends which became an important creative activity that keep our happiness chemicals in check, the dopamine sort. But when lockdown #5 hit, the turn tables disappeared into the clutches of a repair shop, showing no signs of return. When I panic bought a pasta machine, I realised that cooking advanced recipes was going to be the thing that replaced playing records. This is why lockdown project cooking has been popularised worldwide. Instead of being on your third glass of wine by 6pm, you get to nourish your soul and mind.
Mapo Tofu is the iconic fiery dish from Sichuan province. Most Chinese restaurants feature it on their menu because it belongs on best comfort food listicles everywhere (there are great vegetarian versions with mushrooms). Try and prove this hyperbole wrong when creamy silken tofu pours down your throat and moreish chunks of pork mince tightly packed with flavour– salty, spicy and sour all at once–bite back at you. The soul of this dish is Doubanjiang – be sure to practice saying DBJ with the right Mandarin intonation. A powerful spicy, fermented broad bean paste not for the faint hearted. Alas, all this wonderful-ness, betrays the somewhat disparaging translation of Mapo Tofu: pock-marked grandmother tofu.
Josh Niland, being the king of fish cookery, substitutes the traditional pork in Mapo Tofu for yellow-fin tuna belly. A not-so-oft used part of the Tuna fish. As Josh points out, “From a culinary perspective, tuna holds a great deal of potential that goes well beyond the 50–77 per cent yield that tends to be realised”. Our Brunswick, Melbourne bubble had a great time making Josh’s iteration of Mapo Tofu. It was fun, challenging and we nailed his ethos of cooking extraordinary food by using all parts of the fish. Read on to find out how it turned out. Full recipe listed below requisite waffle.
1 tablespoon sichuan peppercorns
190 g (6½ oz) fresh ginger, peeled
190 g (6½ oz) garlic cloves, peeled
10 French shallots, peeled
375 g (13 oz) doubanjiang (fermented broad bean paste)
300 ml (10 fl oz) grapeseed oil
80 ml (2 ½ fl oz/1/3 cup) Shaoxing rice wine
50 g (13/4 oz) caster (superfine) sugar
125 ml (4 fl oz/ ½ cup) tamari
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1.8 kg (4 lb) minced (ground) yellowfin tuna
200 g (7 oz) silken tofu, cut into small cubes
1 bunch spring onions (scallions), finely sliced
40 g (1 ½ oz/ ¼ cup) toasted sesame seeds
1 dried red chilli, finely sliced (optional)
steamed short-grain rice, to serve
Toast the sichuan peppercorns in a dry frying pan until fragrant, then use a mortar and pestle to grind to a rough powder. Set aside.
Place the ginger, garlic, shallots, doubanjiang and 150 ml (5 fl oz) of the grapeseed oil in a food processor and blitz to a smooth paste.
Heat 100 ml (3 ½ fl oz) of the remaining grapeseed oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over a high heat. Add the paste and fry, stirring occasionally, for 8–10 minutes until dried and fragrant, then reduce the heat and simmer for a further 15 minutes, until the rawness from the vegetables has been completely cooked out. Stir in the shaoxing wine, sugar, tamari and one-third of the ground sichuan peppercorns, then spoon the mixture into a large bowl.
Wipe out the pan, add the sesame oil and remaining 2 ½ tablespoons of grapeseed oil and heat over a high heat. Working in two batches, add the tuna mince to the pan and fry for 2 minutes, or until the mince is coloured and has separated into individual strands, then stir through the fried paste mixture to combine.
To assemble the mapo tofu, return the tuna mixture to the saucepan and warm through over a low heat. Add the tofu, cover with a lid and heat for 3 minutes, then spoon into serving bowls. Top with the spring onion, sesame seeds, chilli, if using, and the remaining ground sichuan peppercorns. Serve with steamed rice, if you like.