I’ve mentioned a few times on the Twitter that I have been making tofu. I always think of tofu as one of the UK’s most loathed foods, so I was surprised to receive a number of interested responses. But of course, tofu has a cult following – it’s kind of like the Buckaroo Banzai of protein. And those who love it tend to really love it, especially people who have had it fresh. There is simply no comparison between just-set, warm, creamy tofu and the stuff you get in supermarkets, which looks and tastes like masking tape.
Making tofu is a rewarding project; it’s a fairly involved process and the clean-up is a pain, but it isn’t difficult, and the end result is well worth the effort. If you’re among the initiated few who love tofu – or, better yet, if you have always thought tofu was bland and pointless – give it a go. It’s lovely.
This recipe is for what’s called nadofu, an obscure type of tofu from rural Miyazaki prefecture that’s studded with vegetables. Just omit the veg if you want plain tofu.
You will need:
300g dried soy beans
3.5L plus 180mL water
90g fresh vegetables (I’ve used 60g purple sprouting broccoli and 30g carrots)
18g Epsom salts
a big-ass pot – should be at least 6L if you have it, but 4L will do; if you haven’t got a pot that big, you may want to scale down the recipe
a big-ass container
a colander, perforated tray, or tofu press
a flat plate, lid, or board that fits into your colander or tray
a slotted spoon (or another, smaller colander)
something big and heavy, like a brick or a jar of pickles
a knife and cutting board and stuff
1. Soak your beans with about 3 times their volume of water. They need at least 8 hours. I soak ’em overnight.
2. Puree the soaked beans with some of the water in your blender. You’ll have to do this in batches, and be mindful that the mixture will froth up. Get the mixture as smooth as possible – leave them blending for at least a minute. Add the puree along with any extra water to your pot. This is your soy milk. Theoretically you could skip this step entirely and just use store-bought stuff. Theoretically. I haven’t tried it. There tends to be loads of other ingredients in pre-packaged soy milk – sugars, salt, preservatives, cocaine, etc. – that may interfere with the coagulation and setting of your tofu. So I have no idea if it actually works.
3. Bring your soy milk to a very gentle simmer. You’ve heard the expression ‘a watched pot never boils,’ right? Well in this case, that’s a good thing. If your soy milk boils, it won’t affect the outcome of your tofu, but it almost definitely will boil over. If you’re a food science geek, you’ll already know that soy lecithin is an excellent foaming agent. So unless your pot is really, really big, don’t let the milk boil or you will have a lot of mopping up to do. Take it from me – I’ve made this mistake before.
4. Simmer your soy milk for about 20 minutes; this is to cook out the beans’ protein, and the aroma will go from a starchy, grassy, raw green bean-like smell to a delightful, sweet, cake-batter like smell.
5. While your milk is simmering, prepare your veg. The veg will cook in the soy milk all at the same time, so cut them into small pieces bearing in mind their respective cooking times – I do the carrots on a mandoline so they’re quite thin, and separate the broccoli florets from their stalks, which I then split down the middle and cut into small chunks. The veg should end up very tender but not soft.
6. Line your colander with muslin and perch it over a big container. Ladle or pour the soy milk into it. When the dripping slows, work it with a spatula. eventually you’ll end up with a fibrous pulp. Keep pressing down on this pulp to extract the milk, or, if it’s not too hot, bundle the muslin around it and squeeze it out like a sponge. The resulting dry matter is called okara, and it’s actually quite useful and crazy healthy, with tons of fiber and protein. The Wikipedia page on okara has several ideas on what to do with it, and it freezes well if you haven’t got an immediate use for it.
7. Pour the strained soy milk back into your pot and add the veg and the salt. Bring it back to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are just tender (bear in mind they will carry on cooking in the hot tofu until it cools).
8. Stir the Epsom salts into the 180mL water until it dissolves completely. Then add this solution to the soy milk and stir, and then let it sit for a good 5 minutes to let the proteins coagulate. By the way, if you have nigari – Japanese salts specifically blended for tofu making – use that, it will give your tofu a less granular, creamier texture. But I’ve never seen it in the UK, so Epsom salts will have to do.
9. Prepare your press: you can use a colander or a perforated tray, or better yet, a tofu press. It’s a pretty arcane piece of kit, but if you love tofu and plan to make a lot of it, it’s invaluable. I got mine on ebay for like £20. ANYWAY. Line your press/colander/tray with muslin and perch it over another container to catch the whey as it drips out.
10. Scoop out the coagulated soy milk and veg with a slotted spoon or a small colander. Tilt and gently shake the spoon to drain off excess liquid, then place the curds into your press. Carry on doing this until you’ve separated all the curds. At some point you’ll want to switch to a sieve for this job, as the globules get smaller and smaller.
At this point, you could just gently drain the curds, dish them out, and enjoy them with a splash of soy sauce or tsuyu and some sesame seeds – this is one of my absolute favorite ways to have tofu. Still warm, loose, and creamy – it simply melts in your mouth. Like a delightfully delicate cheesy custard, but far lighter and cleaner. Yum!
But if you want firmer tofu, or you’re saving it for later…
11. Weigh down the curds with a plate or lid or board or whatever so that all the extra moisture is pressed out. Today I used a container of sauerkraut, which was in turn being weighed down by a bottle of water. It was a mighty tower of liquid extraction. In the past I have also used a bottle of premium domestic vodka (pictured). Average, imported vodka will NOT DO.
12. Wait for an hour or so. At this point, your tofu should be just firm enough to remove from the press and slice. If you want it even firmer, just leave it in the press for another hour.
And that’s it! The tofu will keep in the fridge for a few days, or you can pack it in brine and let it ferment, in which case it can last many months.
With the nadofu I serve a simple sumiso sauce: white miso, rice vinegar, a little sesame oil, and mirin, blended to taste. It should be a thick but pourable consistency. Chilled down this also makes an exquisite hiya-yakko, or you can fry it up for the classic agedashi tofu.