Friday, June 4, 2010

How to Make Tofu

I like to make things from scratch.  Jam, krupuk, sambal, and tempe are some of the things I have attempted.  It's not so much that I think everything homemade is better than what you can buy in the store; I don't.  It's also not because I am worried about artificial flavors, preservatives,  or other chemical additives.  If one thing doesn't kill you, something else will, so I don't worry excessively about what I consume.  I make things from scratch because I like the challenge, and the learning process.  After I have successfully made something that I had hitherto only bought in a store, I have a much greater appreciation for it.  I think the process teaches me to be more discerning in appreciating what are the subtle differences between a good product and a great one.

Making tofu is simple, but complicated, time consuming, but quick.  It requires several different pots, a blender, several pieces of good quality cheesecloth, a form for pressing the tofu, and several spoons.  It requires hours of inactive time, but only minutes of active involvement.  The final product is tofu that is as good or better than the best you can find in any market, but it is still, in the end, only tofu. While I'll  continue to make it on an irregular basis, I won't stop buying tofu from my local tofu shop.

Having enjoyed their book on tempeh, I bought Shurtleff and Aoyagi's The Book of Tofu.  As with their book on tempeh, this book gives a thorough accounting of the subject, from its history, to its nutritional value, descriptions of its production, variations, and recipes.  Being the cheap-ass that I am, I bought the mass market paperback instead of the larger, Ten Speed Press version.  If you really like tofu, and think you might want to try your hand at making your own, I'd recommend getting the larger version.  It's twenty bucks more, but is probably worth it.

Soak. Blend. Cook. Strain. Coagulate.  Form. That's all there is to it.  The instructions in the book are much more thorough,  perhaps a little too much so.  The first time through, I found myself going back to the text again and again to make sure I was following the steps correctly.  I appreciate thorough instructions, but I don't really need to be told that I can clean the blender while the soy milk is simmering.

Here are the steps for making tofu (Chinese style), adapted from Shurtleff and Aoyagi. A printable version is available here.

1. Soak. Soak 275 grams of soy beans (preferably organic) for 10 to 12 hours.

2. Blend.  Bring at least 6 cups of water to a boil in one pot, and 7 1/2 cups of water to a boil in another, larger pot. Drain the soaked soy beans.  Add about half the beans to a blender.  Pour in one cup of boiling water and one cup of tap water.  Puree on high for 3 to 5 minutes until you have a very smooth puree.  Stir this puree into the larger pot, turning the heat off under the pot and covering.  Add the remaining beans to the blender and two cups of boiling water from the smaller pot. Blend as before and add this to the previous batch of puree. Rinse out any dregs from the blender with 1/4 cup of boiling water and add to the puree.

3. Strain. Stir the puree briefly, then strain the puree through a fine cheesecloth-lined colander (or use a jelly strainer bag, as I do) into a large empty pot. Twist and press the bag tightly to squeeze all the soy milk you can out of it.  Pour three cups of boiling water from the small pot over the skins in the cheesecloth or jelly bag and squeeze out every drop of liquid that you can. Pour the collected soy milk back into the larger pot that you used previously.

4.  Cook.  Turn the heat up to high and bring the puree to a boil, stirring occasionally.  When the puree begins to boil, reduce to medium and simmer for 7 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat.

5. Coagulate. While the puree is cooking, dissolve 2 teaspoons coarse nigiri (available online or at health food stores) in 1 cup of water.  Using a wooden spoon or spatula,  stir the cooked soy milk 5 or 6 times, stirring in 1/3 cup of the nigiri solution. Stop stirring and wait for mixture to stop moving.  Sprinkle an additional 1/3 cup of the nigiri solution over the surface of the soymilk, then cover the pot and wait for about 3 minutes. Next, add remaining solution, stirring it into the top layer of soy milk.  Cover and wait another three minutes or so before stirring for 30 seconds until all the milk curdles.

6. Form.  Move the pot near the sink.  Place the tofu form into the sink and line with cheesecloth, allowing plenty of overlap on all sides.  Gently ladle the curds into the form. When all of the curds have been added, encase in overlapping cheesecloth, and place lid on the form.  Put a heavy weight on the lid, approximately 5 pounds, and wait 30 minutes.  Taa daa--you have a block of tofu weighing around 20 ounces. 

This is the firmer, Chinese style of tofu.  The book also gives instructions on making several other styles of tofu, including silken.  In addition to instructions on how to make tofu, it also includes numerous recipes for tofu and its byproducts.


  1. this is wonderful! used to help my mom make tofu this way!

  2. Hong/Kim,
    Lucky you! This would be a good recipe to have kids help out on. I'd imagine they would enjoy ladling the curds into the cheesecloth lined form.


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