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The Home Chef: Mott 32’s Lobster Ma Po Tofu by Chef Lee Man Sing

‘The Home Chef’ is a series that uncovers closely guarded recipes of the city’s most notable chefs, so that you, amateur home-cook, can, too, recreate restaurant-grade meals in the comforts of your own kitchen. Makeshift tea-towel aprons at the ready. A dear friend (or furry pup!) as the designated taste-tester. Served with a sweet chef’s kiss, naturally. Bon appétit!

There are many markers of authentic Chinese cuisine; the recipes, the preparation methods, the choice of ingredients. The expert customisation of spices and condiments and how it slots a dish into any of the five key indicators of Chinese food: salty, spicy, sour, sweet and bitter. And, most importantly, the very elusive wok-flavour smokiness, which you’ll often hear be referred to as ‘wok-hay‘; one that emerges only with the perfect strike of balance between fresh ingredients and high-heat temperature. Each region is partial to well-practiced ways of their own; each a different interpretation of the dish in their choice. Anything else that tips beyond, drops into the bracket of Contemporary Chinese — the twist on heritage; riff on traditional favourites.

It’s one thing that Mott 32 — the sleek, elegant eatery named after the first Chinese convenience store in New York opened on 32 Mott Street and tucked within Central’s finance corners — has mastered. Led by Chinese Executive Group Chef Lee Man Sing, previously of notable establishments including Mandarin Oriental, The Hong Kong Jockey Club and Harbour Grand Kowloon, he signs his expertise especially in Western-inspired Chinese plates and exquisite plating — two things which he points out are the anchoring ends of contemporary Chinese cuisine. These are the very exact dishes that Mott 32 is often fully booked out for — familiar flavours recharged in new, never-done-before ways.

Beside some enduring longtime favourites — sweet and sticky Barbecue Pluma Ibérico Pork with Yellow Mountain Honey and of course, the great and the amazing Roasted Peking Duck, prepared in both Cantonese and Beijing traditions through meticulous air-drying and roasted in a custom duck oven — Mott 32 consistently rolls out with seasonal specials, including a current Yunnan Wild Mushroom Feast (available until 18 September) which stars a rare variety of mushrooms foraged from China’s Yunnan province. Looking beyond, Chef Lee is currently in preparation of specific seasonal menus, particularly a Mid-Autumn set and, at the current turn of the season, a dedicated menu for Hairy Crab Season.


Mott 32’s Lobster Ma Po Tofu

Ardent devotees to Chinese cuisine will undoubtedly be familiar with this Sichuan staple: perfectly uniformed cubes of silken tofu slathered in the distinct danger-red ‘Ma Po’ sauce. ‘Ma’ (麻) and ‘Po’ (婆) joining together to define an endearing comfort: ‘pock-marked grandma’s tofu’. It’s a kind of dinner table classic that can only be replicated by grandma, made with years of ‘know-how’ practice and a time-honoured recipe known only by memory.

What gives the ma po tofu its well-loved status is the fragrant, mouth-numbing flavours that are especially delicious with a steaming bowl of jasmine rice and, for whatever reason, draws you back for more of the fiery heat. In this particular take, the minced pork, traditionally laced throughout the dish, is replaced by lobster for a decadent Mott 32 twist. It’s not mindless a move, thrown in for the sake of an ingredient that’s deemed more valuable, but rather the switch-a-roo of mince for lobster is a careful, considered choice. The freshness and natural sweetness of the lobster swings in perfect tandem to the numbing spiciness of the ‘ma po’ sauce, while the bite-sized chunks plays contrast to the velvet-soft tofu. As Chef Lee puts it, “Our version is something special.”

On paper, this may seem like an intimidating make, after all it is an integral part of core Chinese cuisine. Unexpectedly, it’s a rather quick 20-minute dish that’s easy to whip up — if you’ve got all the ingredients in check. The secret of success to the dish: picking a lobster that’s 600g on the dot. Anything over, Chef Lee shares, will be too tough in texture.


Ingredients for Lobster Ma Po Tofu (Serves 4)

600gWhole Lobster
1 packPak Fook hard beancurd
1 teaspoonChopped garlic
1 teaspoonChopped red chilli
1 teaspoonChopped pickled vegetables
1 teaspoonChilli bean sauce
1 teaspoonHot & Spicy sauce
½ teaspoonPepper oil
1 teaspoonFried sesame
1 tablespoonChopped spring onion
½ teaspoonPepper powder
1 teaspoonOyster sauce
½ teaspoonSugar
1 teaspoonPotato starch
½Egg

Preparation

  1. To make the lobster
    1. Soak the lobster in ice water for 10 minutes so it can be de-shelled easily. Cut the lobster meat into small pieces.
    2. Mix the cut lobster pieces with potato starch and egg white. 
    3. Use heated oil (but not boiling) to flash fry the lobster pieces to medium rare and set aside. 
  2. To make tofu
    1. Cut the tofu into small pieces and set aside.
    2. Sautée chopped garlic, chopped pickled vegetables, chopped red chilli, chilli bean sauce and hot & spicy sauce in a wok or pan.
    3. Mix a dash of potato starch with water for a thicker paste to add into the sauce.
  3. Transfer the tofu and sauce to a bowl.
  4. Lightly wok-fry the lobster pieces and layer carefully over tofu. 
  5. Mix in pepper oil and pepper powder.
  6. Garnish with fried sesame, chopped spring onion. 

Chef Lee’s Signature Lobster Ma Po Tofu is available on Mott 32’s à la carte menu for HK$650.

Mott 32
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U/G, Standard Chartered Bank Building, 4-4A Des Voeux Road, Central, Hong Kong
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Lorria Sahmet
Editor
After two years of covering luxury retail, Lorria is thrilled to be writing in fashion, food and lifestyle here at Lifestyle Asia. When not roaming around garden centres hauling back new plants for her indoor jungle, find her hunting down the best fries in the city. She's happiest by the ocean with a fishbowl glass of ice-cold Aperol spritz.