Well, my husband and I have just returned from a week at the beach (where internet access was next to nonexistent) and I’m feeling rejuvenated enough to finally get around to writing up that tofu tutorial I promised yonks ago. OK, really I made a tofu dish for dinner tonight that I’d like to write up and figured I’d better tell you how to make tofu before I tell you how to use it. Not that you can’t use store-bought tofu for my recipe, which I suspect 99% of the world will do, but if you are enterprising enough to make your own tofu via my method, your reward will be tofu firm enough to stir-fry! Regular tofu, even extra-firm, often falls apart in the wok, and one of the great things about making your own is you can out-firm the so-called extra-firm. (I’ll stop abusing hyphens now.)
You’ll need two special items before making tofu: a coagulant and a tofu press. Making tofu is apparently similar to making cheese: basically you curdle soy milk, then press the curds to remove the extra liquid. Easy-to-obtain coagulants include epsom salts and lemon juice. I’m not sure of the amounts off-hand because I’ve never tried either, but I can look it up for anyone who is interested because I have a book on making tofu. (I can’t look it up right now because I am settled in a very comfortable chair, with a glass of wine and a cat.) Traditionally, either nigari (sea water minerals) or gypsum (calcium sulfate) is used. Nigari and gypsum can be ordered from several online sources, including soy milk maker manufacturers. I order mine from GEM Cultures. You have to go through the archaic process of printing an order form, writing a check (or sending a money order), and mailing both in to them (although they plan to set up online ordering and Paypal acceptance at some point), however, I have always received my orders within a week and I definitely recommend them.
I have used both nigari and calcium sulfate, and although the latter has the benefit of adding nutritional calcium to the tofu, I prefer nigari, which seems to make a firmer tofu. I will therefore give instructions for using nigari in this tutorial, however, if you have any questions about other coagulants, ask away.
As for the tofu press, they are somewhat frustratingly difficult to find in the U.S., but you have options. When I first starting make tofu, I took two identical loaf pans and drilled holes in the bottom of one of them. I then nested the other into the holey one and placed the weights into it. This was actually a nice sturdy press, but I was unhappy that I was unable to drill drainage holes into the sides, and it makes about two pounds of tofu, which is more than I really need most weeks. Most soy milk maker manufacturers sell plastic tofu presses and kits like this one. These are cheap and easy to find, but I refused to go that route both because I dislike plastic and because I use such heavy weights I was afraid a plastic press would break. I doubt any plastic press is a quality product, but you may decide to go that route. I have drooled over the beautiful stainless steel press in Maki’s tofu tutorial (required reading, by the way) but until I make it to Japan, it’s out of my reach. After hours of fruitless internet searching, I ended up buying what was probably the last wooden tofu press they will ever sell at Soko Hardware in San Francisco’s Japantown when I was last out there: the owner, who had carried it back from Japan in her personal luggage, told me it’s simply not cost-efficient to stock them because there’s no demand. I paid an outrageous price for that reason. Months later, though, I came across this wooden press, which looks really nice, although it’s probably about the size of my loaf pans and may make more tofu than I personally need at a time…unless I make a rather flat block. If there is any interest, I can devote a later post to tofu presses, because I am very interested in them, but in the interest of moving this post along, let me conclude by saying if you can’t find a press and don’t want to make one, you can use a colander or strainer if you don’t mind oddly-shaped tofu. Basically you need any contraption from which liquid can drain.
As I mentioned in my post on making soy milk, the first step in making tofu is to make soy milk. You can use commercial soy milk to make tofu, although I find the idea strange. If you decide to go the commercial route, buy unsweetened soy milk and warm it up to about 170 degrees Fahrenheit before adding the coagulant. If you make the soy milk yourself, the temperature should be just about perfect after straining. The recipe I provided for 2 quarts of soy milk makes about 12-16 ounces of tofu. For this amount, dissolve three teaspoons of nigari into two cups of lukewarm water, then pour this mixture into the soy milk. I pour it in a spiral motion from a measuring cup into the large bowl or pot that contains the soy milk, then stir once, slowly, with a wooden spoon. You don’t want to disturb the soy milk much after adding the coagulant, so I try to evenly disperse it as I pour it, instead of doing a lot of stirring. Cover the bowl or pot and let it sit for about 20 minutes. It should end up looking like this, large curds amongst a yellowish liquid, or whey:
While the soy milk is coagulating, prepare your press. I set mine in the sink so the liquid can drain that way, although since the whey has other uses, most instructions I’ve seen have recommended you set it in some sort of pan that will allow you to collect the whey. Line the press with a piece of clean fabric – I use muslin, just as I used for my okara bag in the soy milk post – that is large enough to fold over the top of the press. I find it easiest to wet the fabric before lining the press with it. When the soy milk is fully coagulated, ladle it into the lined press:
As you can see in this picture, I use a wok skimmer to do the ladling:
Here is the press with all of the curds in it:
Wrap the fabric up around the curds:
Put the lid on the press, or if you are using two loaf pans, place the non-holey one on top of the curds:
Add weights to the top (or in the second loaf pan):
Atop the can, I usually place a cast iron skillet and then my molcajete, both of which weigh a ton, although here I’ve just used a heavy iron pot (into which I stuffed a tea towel to prevent the can from scratching the surface of my good pot). For a firm tofu, just load it up with as much weight as you can.
Allow the tofu to sit under the weights for half an hour or longer, the remove the weights. You should have reduced the volume of the tofu by about half:
Unmold the tofu. Here is my press with the outer sides removed:
And here it is completely unmolded:
Then I trim the edges up:
It’s usually a little lopsided because I didn’t evenly distribute the weights, but I don’t get too worked up about that.
To store, immerse in water inside an aptly-sized container and keep in the refrigerator for up to a week, changing the water daily.
Honestly, I rarely remember to change the water every day and it’s fine. You’ll know if it’s spoiled if it smells off, but I generally make it on Saturday or Sunday and use it sometime before Friday. If I haven’t used it by then, I stick it in the freezer. Freezing it changes the texture (it becomes chewier), but this is actually called for in some recipes. It’s particularly lovely served the same day, however.
I realize the tofu-making process isn’t for everyone, and that the length of this post makes it seem like a very involved process, but it actually takes little longer than an hour to make tofu from start to finish (if you have soaked the soy beans) and once you’ve done it once or twice, it doesn’t seem nearly as intensive. I do suspect, however, that I have bored most of you with this post. I seem to have bored Brachtune: