Both my kids are card-carrying members of the tofu lovers club. Me? Not so much. Being a fan of more robust flavours, tofu is something that’s never really floated my culinary boat. It’s always been one of those ingredients I’ve rated meh and one that I didn’t really think too much about, or of. Until Taiwan.
At first that was pretty much only because I couldn’t escape the stuff. The ubiquitous lumps of soy curd are an important part of every meal and it lurks about at breakfast, lunch and dinner. On occasion, the cheeky stuff even pops up at dessert! In Taiwan they eat it, they drink it, they practically bathe in it!
And that’s OK. When I travel, I eat local, I eat without fear and I eat with a spirit of gratitude, as do my kids, especially when we are hosted. On my recent gastronomical tour of Taiwan, I was offered many unusual dishes to taste. Given that I was not prepared to offend my hosts by rejecting their generosity, which almost always come from a place of pride and sincerity, I ate ‘em all! And in some cases that meant leaving my Western food prejudices and squeamishness at the door.
In fact, it was off to a running start in weird and wonderful with offerings of boiled pig’s intestines, fish collagen, random slimy sea mollusc and wild boar skin.
And let us not forget ye olde thousand year eggs.
This particular “delicacy” of preserved duck eggs was originally created by some dude who thought soaking his eggs in horse urine for a month was a great idea and some other dudes who thought that that sounded good enough to eat. And, thankfully, that some much smarter dude later decided should be instead brined in an ever-so-slightly less disgusting solution of salt, calcium hydroxide, and sodium carbonate to turn the egg white into the required gelatinous brown matter and the yolk a creamy green paste with a slight ammonia smell. As you do.
And then there was the tofu! So very, very much tofu!
But thank goodness I did jump in face first at each meal without really thinking about what was on my plate. Because not only did I find every dish palatable, and more often than not delicious, I discovered that tofu in the hands of the right cook is freakin’ awesome!
We dove into bowls of Ma Po Tofu (spicy bean curd with minced pork) for dinner, breakfasted on marinated bean curd jelly with chilli, blissed out on a lunch dish of soy bean curd hand rolls stuffed full of anonymous tasty delights, tossed back tofu chunks simply fried and stacked high with fresh ginger, inhaled an amazing hand made peanut tofu with corn juice, devoured an amazing silken almond tofu dessert and checked-out the popular market snack of stinky tofu (don’t even ask).
And that’s just the edited highlights. Suffice to say, as each meal passed, I learned to love the ‘fu.
So much so, that I also learned how to make it at a local factory in lovely Luodong, Yilan (an area also awash with hot spring hotels where the fish eat you – but that’s a whole other tale).
To my great surprise, making tofu is relatively simple At least when you already have the fresh soy milk needed to make it on hand. On returning home I discovered that the stuff we get at the supermarket is not suitable for tofu making as it is chock full of additives, and that I would need to acquire a large quantity of fresh soy milk for the project.
Not being one to give up when thrown a small culinary challenge like not actually having the main required ingredient, and in the spirit of bringing Taiwan home for my kids, Raffles and I spent our weekend milking soy beans (man, it’s hard to find their tiny little teats) ready to make our own fresh tasty warm tofu.
Let it be said that making soy milk with nothing but some soy beans, a pot and blender is doable. But taking the skins of literally hundreds of those tiny little buggers is a time consuming chore, and I suggest you find yourself a super keen five-year old to do the dirty work. Insert evil laugh here.
Then you simply blend to a slurry like porridge, boil with water on the stove top and strain. Et voila, you have soy milk!
To make to the tofu you’ll also need a tofu press as modeled by the lovely PJ clad Raffles below. You can use a colander if you don’t mind it having a less symmetrical shape).
The other must is nigari (food grade magnesium chloride). I bought nigari online from Chef’s Armory for under $10 but you can substitute Epson Salts, which will give a different but still delicious tasting end result.
300gm soy beans
9 grams of powdered nigari (or Epsom salts)
Method for soy milk:
- Soak soy beans in cold water overnight, longer in winter (up to 24 hours) until beans have doubled in size.
- Drain and remove skins by rolling beans gently between your hands.
- Place beans in a food processor or blender in batches with a little water until the beans are ground to a slurry like porridge.
- Boil 2 litres of water in a large pot.
- Pour bean mix into a large pot with 2 litres of hot water.
- Bring to boil then reduce heat and simmer in a good roll for around 15 minutes, stirring continuously to prevent any sticking.
- When the mixture starts to foam (and it will) just flick a little cold water over the top to reduce foam levels and lower heat a fraction.
- Strain the mixture into a bowl using a colander lined with fine cloth. Gather the sides of the cloth together and twist it tight (carefully as it will be hot) and use a spatula or potato masher to squeeze as much of the milk out as possible.
- Allow to cool and remove the skin that forms across the top before using for tofu.
Note: If you want to use the milk for drinking you can add a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of sugar at the end for added flavour but for tofu we’re leaving it unadulterated.
Method for tofu:
- Dissolve nigari flakes in 150mls of cold water.
- Heat soy milk slowly in a large pot and stir to avoid milk catching.
- Once the temperature of the milk reaches 65-70 degrees Celsius, remove from heat.
- Add half of the nigari liquid and stir gently with a skimming spoon.
- Allow the liquid to still before adding the remaining nigari liquid.
- Continue to stir until the soy milk begins to coagulate, then rest mixture for about five minutes.
- Line a wooden tofu press (or a colander) with a clean wet cotton cloth and set over a larger bowl.
- Use the skimmer to gently transfer the coagulated soy milk (curds) into the press.
- Fold the cloth over the top of curds and use the tofu press lid (or a smaller bowl if you are using a colander) to press the liquid out.
- Let stand for about 10 minutes with a weight on top (cans are just fine)
- Serve and eat still warm with a little hoisin or sweet soy sauce or use in your favourite tofu dish.
- Tasting Taiwan (boyeatsworld.com.au)
- Cracking up over Tea Eggs (boyeatsworld.com.au)
- Tripping the light fanplastic – Barbie Cafe, Taipei (boyeatsworld.com.au)