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Adventures in Tofu Part Two: Making Your Own Tofu

After resounding success making your own soy milk I know you’ll want to crack right on and get to making your own tofu.
Tofu is made of just three ingredients – soy beans, water, and a coagulating agent (more on that below).
It’s way easier than you imagine so let’s get started!
Equipment
  1. Tofu mould – you’ll need a square or rectangular tofu mould, or you can use a strainer, sieve or basket to set your tofu in. See Resources section below for more details.
  2. Muslin or cheesecloth approximately 40cm square, to line your tofu mould
  3. Cloth bag to strain your soy milk
  4. 8 litre stock pot
  5. Coagulating agent of your choice
Coagulating Agents
Tofu is simply curdled soy milk, with watery whey separated from the solid curds, and the curds compressed into blocks. Conventionally, an acid is used to transform the milk into curds and whey.
Although any acid can be used – even acetic acid (vinegar), citric acid (lemon or lime juice), or epsom salts – tofu makers commonly use one of three coagulants:
1. Gypsum – calcium sulphate – a fine white powder with a chalky taste. When used to make tofu it provides an important source of dietary calcium. Most commonly used in China.
2. Nigari – magnesium chloride – a crystalline substance also known as bittern or yánlu 盐卤 – incredibly bitter, it is commonly used by Japanese tofu makers. Available as crystals or as a concentrated liquid.
3. Glucono delta lactone – a very fine white crystalline substance with a slightly sweet taste, derived from fermentation of corn sugar. When added to water it forms gluconic acid. It is used to make silken tofu and tofu pudding.
Which of these coagulating agents you use will probably largely depend on what you can easily buy. Gypsum and nigari make a very similar tofu with no discernible taste attributable to the agent itself. All three agents are inexpensive to buy.
Ingredients
Makes 1000g medium firm tofu
  • 4 litres soy milk, as per this recipe
  • 3 metric teaspoons of gypsum or nigari coagulant, dissolved in one cup (250ml) of water
Method
Allow one hour from start to finish
1. Strain 4 litres of soy milk through a cloth bag (or strainer lined with a cloth) into an 8 litre pot. Squeeze the bag to release all the soy milk.
2. Heat the soy milk on a medium heat until simmering. Continue to simmer for five minutes, stirring to prevent a skin forming.
3. Turn off the heat and wait a couple of minutes for the soy milk to cool slightly
4. Give the soy milk a vigorous stir and immediately add 1/3 cup of the dissolved coagulant. Stop stirring and sprinkle 1/3 cup of the dissolved coagulant onto the surface of the soy milk.
5. Place the lid on the pot and wait for three minutes.
6. Remove the lid and add the final 1/3 cup of the coagulant, sprinkling it across the surface of the soy milk.
7. Replace the lid and wait another five minutes.
8. Remove the lid and you should see that the milk has now separated into curds and whey, with clear liquid around the edges of the pot. If this liquid is still milky you can try one of two things – gently reheat the pot for one to two minutes without stirring, or add another 1 teaspoon of coagulant dissolved in 1/4 cup of water. Often the problem is that the soy milk was not quite hot enough to begin with for the coagulation reaction to occur, so heating a little does the trick.

9. Place the tofu mould in a large baking dish or the sink and line the mould with cheesecloth

10. Spoon the curds gently into the mould using a large spoon. I’m thrilled to finally have a regular use for my antique Christofle ladle bought in a Paris antique market about a hundred years ago.

11. Fold the cheesecloth gently over the top of the curds.

12. Place the lid on the mould and add a weight – I use a ceramic pickle jar weighing 900g. The size of the weight will determine how quickly the curds are compressed. If using two smaller moulds use a 400g tin on each as a weight. This takes approximately ten minutes in my house and with my mould. You’ll need to watch it to learn how quickly it happens with your mould (some recipes say up to 30 minutes).
13. Once the tofu has become compressed to about half its original height, remove the weight and the lid and carefully unwrap the cheesecloth. The surface should look like cream cheese and resist your finger slightly. If the cloth sticks to the curds then a little more compression is needed – wrap it back up, put the lid back on and re-weight. For a denser, firmer tofu you can continue compressing the curds until they are one third of the original height.
14. Once the tofu is compressed, remove the weight. Fill your kitchen sink with cold water and lower the entire mould gently into it. Remove the lid. Remove the sides gently and carefully and allow the tofu to sit, cooling in the water but still in its cloth and sitting on the base of the mould, for about fifteen minutes.
15. Remove the block of tofu from the water, still on its base, and invert it gently onto the lid (the same size as the base) or a wooden board.
16. A word of warning – my first ever tofu turned out almost perfectly, like the one on the left. I jumped around the kitchen with joy and dragged the children in to witness the domestic miracle that had just taken place. So for my second batch, I cut fast and loose with the instructions, and talked on the phone while adding the coagulant. The results, top right, speak for themselves – a fragile tofu filled with holes, with lumpy curds and a very inconsistent texture. Tofu is a tough mistress, but pay attention and treat her right, and she’ll turn out perfectly every time.

17. So there you have it: home made tofu, made by you! It is utterly satisfying to make it yourself and very simple. Keep it one block or cut it into smaller pieces and store in clean fresh water in a sealed container in the refrigerator. Change the water daily if not using it immediately. It lasts for about five days but tastes the best when freshly made.

18. I enjoy it best cool, dressed with soy sauce, sesame oil, and scallions. So delicious. So soft.

Let me know how your tofu adventures turn out!

Resources

Tofu Moulds
Wooden tofu mould 49rmb ($US8) plus postage on Taobao – comes with its own cloth bag and cheesecloth square
Plastic tofu mould $US9.95 plus postage on Amazon

Tofu Coagulating Agents
Gypsum
NigariNigari from UK
Glucono delta lactone

Books

Asian Tofu by Andrea Nguyen – my tofu bible, with recipes and detailed directions