Recipes / Szechuan Mushroom Ragu

Szechuan Mushroom Ragu

By Mark Bittman

Published March 19, 2020

In this take on the Szechuan classic, Ma Po Tofu, fresh chiles and fermented black beans deliver tons of flavor. If you’re leery of tofu, the freezing method here eliminates all the common textural complaints and turns it into an entirely different food. However, if you don’t have time — or you forget — to freeze the tofu, it’s better to use 1 pound firm silken tofu (usually 1 1 ⁄ 2 packages) instead of unfrozen firm blocks. Break it

Szechuan Mushroom Ragu - The Bittman Project
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Make The Recipe!

Szechuan Mushroom Ragu

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Makes 4 Servings 1x

Time 30 Minutes (plus 24 hours for the tofu)

Units Scale


  • 1 block firm tofu (about 14 ounces)
  • 1 / 2 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 1 / 2 cups boiling water
  • 8 ounces sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms, rinsed, dried, and trimmed
  • 8 ounces button or cremini mushrooms, rinsed, dried, and trimmed
  • 4 tablespoons good-quality vegetable oil, or more as needed
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 or 2 small hot fresh red chiles (like Thai or Fresno), minced
  • 2 tablespoons fermented black beans
  • 1 teaspoon ground Szechuan peppercorns, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • Soy sauce


  1. At least 1 night (and up to 2 weeks) before you plan on serving, drain the tofu, put it in a plastic bag, and press out the air; put in the freezer for at least 8 hours, until frozen solid. The morning you plan to make the dish, remove the tofu from the bag, put it on a plate, and let it thaw in the refrigerator.
  2. Put the dried mushrooms in a small bowl with the boiling water and soak until pliable, up to 20 minutes. Lift them from the water, careful to leave any sediment behind; reserve the liquid. Slice the fresh and rehydrated mushrooms.
  3. Put 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over high heat. When it’s hot, add the mushrooms and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms release their liquid and the pan becomes dry, 5 to 10 minutes. Lower the heat so they sizzle without burning and cook, stirring once in a while until the mushrooms are browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
  4. Put the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in the pan on high heat. When it’s hot, add the garlic, ginger, and chiles and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the fermented black beans and ground Szechuan peppercorns and five-spice powder, and cook, stirring and mashing them constantly, until a dark, rough paste forms, about 1 minute. Taste; the paste should be sharp and relatively salty; adjust the seasonings accordingly.
  5. Return all the mushrooms and any accumulated juices to the pan, plus 1 cup of the mushroom soaking liquid. Cook, stirring often, until the sauce thickens, 5 to 10 minutes. Squeeze as much water out of the thawed tofu as you can manage; it’s fine if it breaks up a bit. Crumble the tofu into the pan, and cook until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Taste, and adjust the seasoning, garnish with the scallions, and serve right away, passing the soy sauce at the table.


Recipe from Dinner for Everyone