Tofu is a staple of East Asian cuisine, but it’s also become synonymous with meat-free cooking in Europe and North America. In the West it has its detractors, due largely to its overuse as a bland meat substitute, but tofu done right is a delicious ingredient in its own right.
So how do you do it right? Well a good way to start is to make it fresh yourself. Here we’ll show you how to make tofu at home.
What is tofu and what is it made of?
Tofu is made out of soybeans. It is made by forming the curds that result from coagulating soy milk into solid blocks.
Tofu has been enjoyed in China for more than 2,000 years and has long been a popular component of cuisines across East Asia, where it’s seen as much more than a meat substitute. In fact, it’s often served with meat to provide a complementary texture.
Tofu is low in calories and high in protein and iron, which helps explain its popularity among those on meat-free diets. Certain types of tofu are also high in calcium or magnesium.
Different types of tofu
Tofu is categorised by texture and consistency, usually determined by its water content. A high water content leads to silkier tofu, whereas a low water content makes it firmer. Using the drier, firmer stuff is how to make crispy tofu, but it’s less good at absorbing flavours from marinades and sauces. The trick is to strike the right balance for the needs of your dish.
The types of tofu and their common uses are as follows:
Silken tofu has the highest water content. It’s silky, creamy, and looks a bit like mozzarella cheese. It’s very common in Japanese cuisine, but is also suited as an alternative for cream cheese or ricotta. Try it for vegan cheesecakes or ravioli fillings.
Regular tofu is the type you might expect when ordering in an Asian restaurant. It’s soft and absorbs flavours from sauces and soups well. A lot of home chefs make the mistake of trying to fry this tofu and ending up with a crumbly mess. Use it for scrambled tofu instead (a vegan alternative to scrambled eggs) and save the frying for firmer varieties.
Firm tofu is the other most widely available type. It’s quite compact and generally comes packed in liquid. It’s suitable for everything from soups to stir-frying to deep-frying, so if you only have one type of tofu at home, make it this one. It’s also quite common to find it smoked or seasoned.
Extra-firm tofu has less water than the usual varieties. It doesn’t absorb marinades or sauces so well, but it’s otherwise great for frying.
Super-firm tofu is the most dense and the most suited to use as a meat substitute. Like extra-firm tofu, it’s great for frying as there is little to no water to spatter in the hot oil. It isn’t widely available in supermarkets but it is easy to make.
How to make tofu: ingredients
To make tofu you will need:
Suitable coagulants for tofu include gypsum (natural calcium sulphate), nigari (a seawater extract), and lemon juice. In this recipe we will be using lemon juice as it’s the most readily available for most home chefs. It will also give your tofu a little extra flavour.
You will also need:
cheesecloth, muslin cloth, or nut milk bag
a mould (tofu moulds are available but a small square tray or container is fine)
a tray for collecting liquid
a skimmer spoon
How to make tofu: steps
Soak your soybeans for at least 6 hours (or overnight). They will double to two or three times the size, so make sure there is enough room in your pan or bowl.
Break the soaked soybeans down in a blender. Do this in stages while adding small amounts of filtered water to keep the mixture creamy, however, it does not need to be smooth.
Sieve the mixture into a large pan and slowly bring to a boil over a medium heat. Stir occasionally and remove the foam that forms with your skimmer spoon. (This “tofu skin” can also be saved and used for some recipes.)
In the meantime, juice your lemons. Add the juice as soon as the milk starts boiling and remove the pan from the heat.
Stir slightly to ensure the lemon juice is mixed in and set aside. Curdles should start to form after a few minutes. If not, return to the heat, add a little more lemon juice, and repeat this step.
Once your soy milk is full of curdles (this can take some time), transfer them to your cheesecloth, muslin or nut milk bag with the skimmer spoon. Wrap the cloth tightly around the curdles and put it in a tray.
Place a heavy object on top to apply pressure and slowly squeeze out all the liquid. The tofu should be firm after about 20 minutes. Adjust the drainage time accordingly for firmer or silkier tofu.
Your tofu is best stored in filtered water in an airtight container and should keep in the fridge for three to four days.
How to cook tofu: best recipes
OK, so now you’ve made fresh tofu at home, what are you going to do with it? Well, first of all, The Kitchn has a useful guide to cooking all the tofu classics. There you’ll find quick and easy methods for how to make crispy tofu and how to make tofu scramble.