Archive for April, 2011

The great tofu-making adventure

Tofu, tofu, what joy you bring me.

As I mentioned before, the closest replica to Japanese silken tofu that we’ve been able to find in Canada is no longer carried at our local grocery store. And the overall selection chez nous is just pathetically lacking.

For newer readers, I wrote about tofu in general in a previous post (amongst many others on this blog). One of the most memorable experiences of my life has been eating a tofu feast at Junsei in Kyoto. A few sample pictures appear here.

When I bought a nifty new blender for my birthday (thanks, Mom and Dad!), Yusuke, also an aficionado, got inspired to make tofu at home. And it was an adventure. With much labour and mess.

We learned that it is very important to have the right equipment, and that our pans and bowls are too small.

Here are the general steps followed:

  1. Buy random soy beans from the grocery store (dried)
  2. Soak overnight. 2 cups of beans in 6 cups of water
  3. Drain the beans and purée in the blender. [Note: this is where the mess commences.]
  4. Boil the purée in 5 or so cups of water. Cook until there is no more “green”/raw smell, about 10 minutes
  5. Pour the purée through cheesecloth into a bowl in order to the separate the “extra” material [more about this later] [The mess expands here]
  6. Wait until the liquid (now soy milk) is 70 degrees C, then put it in containers
  7. Add nigari* and mix quickly
  8. Wait until the tofu sets
  9. Eat! [and clean up]

*Nigari is the key to tofu-making. To borrow the current wikipedia explanation, it’s a “white powder produced from seawater after the sodium chloride has been removed, and the water evaporated.” It’s more commonly sold in liquid form, though, for use as the coagulant in tofu. Yusuke looked up the chemical compound and figured that he could make his own nigari with sea salt, but it didn’t set.

The main mess consisted of soaked, sloppy cheesecloth and spillage/splatter on the floor, counters, and Yusuke’s own self (literally head to toe). A vast quantity of dishes and utensils were also involved. We collaborated on clean-up.

Yusuke tried a few different variations (since we ended up with so much liquid). One batch was rather loose, so Yusuke tried to use cheesecloth to squeeze out water, but this didn’t quite work. He also found that it was important to get the right balance of nigari, or else the tofu was too bitter. The amount of water determines the richness; more water makes gentler tofu. He also had one attempt that came out rather grainy in which he had removed the water right away. The texture was weird, but it still tasted good to me.

One of Yusuke’s comments was that is a fun experience to scoop the tofu. It had even greater depth of taste the next day. It was much richer than our usual stuff, and very filling indeed. We ate it with a bit of ginger, green onions, and a tiny bit of soy sauce. Anything more would ruin it.

As mentioned, the yield was rather more than expected. We ended up with two pans of tofu, one big bowl of okara, and 1.5 litres of thick soy milk.

The soy milk was incredibly tasty in my usual fruit/veggie smoothies. It was sad to go back to my regular stock, although I think I’ll start adding a pinch of sea salt to enhance the taste.

Side note: homemade soy milk has a rather spectacular chemical metamorphosis when it spoils. Unfortunately, I experienced this via my taste buds. The thickness in the cup was also quite incredible, as what had been a liquid was suddenly a thick pudding. Revolting.

Okara or “soy pulp” is often referred to as a tofu by-product. But the description is misleading. It’s the fluffy soy beans stuff that is separated from the soy milk (which actually becomes the tofu). Japanese tofu shops often give it away by the bag or sell it for the equivalent of a few cents. It can be used in a variety of dishes, eaten on its own or used to add texture to other foods. I will write more in another post!

Two of the blogs that I read have discussed tofu-making as well. Hiroyuki has a soy milk maker and several posts that document the tofu-making process. Makiko of Just Hungry and Just Bento has a series of posts on making soy milk, tofu, and okara. Finally, the splendiferous Junsei restaurant has a neat video about tofu-making:

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