It’s been a little time coming, but finally, tofu from scratch! I promise you, its silky texture and fresh taste are good enough to endure the effort. Yes, it’s quite a process, so settle in with a cup of tea, or just enjoy the photos and leave the hard work to me (and come to my tofu class!). Here we go…
Indispensable tofu-making equipment
- a blender or food processor (for blending the soy beans with water)
- 2 very large (at least 18L) non reactive pots, like stock pots or preserving kettles
- 2 sieves
- 2 woollen jelly bags (for pressing out soy milk) or unbleached cotton flour bags
- a tofu press (or use one of the sieves)
- cheesecloth or clean teatowel (for moulding the tofu)
- a very long heatproof spatula for stirring at various stages
Ingredients for making tofu from scratch
- 1kg (2lbs 3oz dry organic soy beans)
- approximately 6 tsp of Epsom salts (or other solidifier salts such as gypsum or nigari)
- 60 plus cups of filtered or tap water (if you can source that much filtered water easily, lucky you. Otherwise tap water will be okay but the flavour of the tofu may be affected). This doesn’t include the water you soak the soy beans in, which could also be filtered or tap water, depending on availability.
1. Soak the soy beans in lots of water in one of your large pots for at least 12 hours, changing the water every few hours or so, if you can.
2. Drain the beans and rinse them well in a fresh lot of water, then leave them to drain in a colander. If you can’t make tofu straight away, you can store the soy beans in a tightly sealed container or in plastic bags, in the fridge, for a day or so. If you do this, rinse them well, again, before continuing.
3. Get some paper and a pen to keep a tally of how much water you use from here on in.
4. Start blending the soy beans. I do this by placing 3 cups of beans in my food processor and adding 1 cup of water. This allows me to make a thick bean puree without any overflow. Once the beans are roughly pureed, I add 2 more cups of water and continue. You’ll have to trial and error how much water and beans you can get into your blender or food processor (generally, you can add more water to a blender without an overflow). The important thing to remember isn’t an exact ratio, but how many cups of beans you add, and how many cups of water. The amount of water you use won’t affect the end volume of tofu, and you will adjust the coagulant amount according to how much water you add. Remember to keep a tally.
5. Make sure to blend each batch of soy beans until it’s a thick white soup with a good head of froth. Pour each batch into the pot until you’ve blended all the beans. Place the pot on a low heat when you’ve added at least one batch of beans to it.
6. Rinse the blender or food processor out with a further cup of water or two and add this amount to the tally. Have a look at your bean to water amounts. You’ll probably have about 13 cups beans and about 14 cups of water. I want you to add enough water to the pot so that the amount of water is twice as much as the amount of beans (in this example case, that would mean another 12 cups of water). It’s not exactly a problem if you use less water than what’s suggested above, but you’ll just end up with a skin on your boiling soy milk (which has many delicious uses in Japanese cooking), and you risk burning the mixture to the base of the pot.
7. Turn up the heat on the pot to medium-high, half cover the pot with its lid, and bring to a rolling boil. Make sure you stir the mixture often, checking that there isn’t too much stick on the bottom, and keep an eye on the pot as much as you can- it will boil over in a split second, and has for me more times than I can remember! If your pot is very full, then it’s probably best if you skim off any froth from the top of the pot with a slotted spoon, as the froth contributes dramatically to the boil-over effect.
8. Lower the temperature so that the mixture stays on the boil but will be easier to manage (ie, you don’t have to constantly stir the pot to stop it catching on the base and burning), and let it simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. You must cook the soy beans for this long to break down the ‘trypsin inhibitor’ in the beans, which makes it difficult for people to digest soy bean protein.
9. Once the 20 minute simmer is complete, the slightly laborious process of draining the soy milk out of the soy beans, and pressing the remaining beans dry, begins. But before you proceed, run your spatula over the entire base of the pot and check if there’s been any sticking. If there has, do the following: take a towel or several tea towels and wet them thoroughly with cold water. Squeeze them out a little so they’re not dripping everywhere, and fold them into a square that will fit under the pot. Place the square either in your kitchen sink, or on a bench top- wherever you are planning to do the draining. Now place your very hot heavy pot on top of the square. This ensures that any stick on the bottom of the pot will lift off easily (I’m not sure why, but believe me, it works and makes pot cleaning almost pleasurable!)
10. Place a sieve over your other very large pot and carefully pour your soy bean mixture into it. Once the sieve is full of okara (the soy bean remains), tip them into one of your pressing sacks and place this sack in a bowl while you continue to drain the mixture with the now empty sieve. Continue this process- empty this full sieve into the pressing sack, draining the mixture, until your original pot is empty. Use a couple more cups of water to swish out the pot so that it’s completely clear of okara and add these to your water tally. If the bottom of the pot is scalded, scrub this clean as well. (You’re about to fill this pot with soy milk again.)
11. Take your second pressing sack, place it in a clean sieve, and place the sieve over your freshly cleaned pot. Now pour the soy milk back through the pressing cloth into this pot, to get rid of any left over fine okara. Now clean out your empty pot and measure in 10 cups of water. Add these to your tally.
12. Twist the tops of both pressing sacks closed and place them, twisted top upward, into the pot of water. With your hands, start massaging the soy milk out of them, being careful not to expose the potful of water to any of their internal contents (if you do, accidentally, empty some of the okara into the water, you’ll simply need to sieve the water again, no biggy). You’ll feel that areas of the sack are extremely hot. Keep going until you can’t handle the heat any longer. Squeeze the sacks out as much as you can handle, empty the water into the pot of soy milk and place the sacks back into the empty pot. Add another 10 cups of water to the sacks , add them to your tally, and massage the okara some more, searching for areas of the okara that are still extremely hot. (Believe me they’re there. Soy beans retain an immense amout of heat). Once you’ve massaged and squeezed the okara as much as you can, again, empty the water into the soy milk pot and return the sacks to the empty pot for one more rinse.
13. You should be at about 48 cups of water by now. Whatever your tally, you need to bring it up to 58 cups of water in total, so add that amount to the pot with the sacks in it for one final massage and squeeze. By now you should be able to squeeze the sacks with ease. Try to squeeze them both as much as you can, to get out every last bit of soy milk. Pour this into the full pot of soymilk, put a lid on the pot and put the pot onto the stove on a medium high flame. At this point, you can separate off some of the soy milk to use, as is, but be careful to minus this amount of liquid from your water tally.
14. You can store the okara in the fridge in a sealed container for up to a week, or freeze it, and use it in things like oat porridge, to boost its fibre content, or feed it to your pigs (or chickens, more likely)! There are other dishes to make with it, too, but I can’t recommend them as I haven’t tried them… yet.
15. Now for making the tofu. Take a medium sized bowl and add 2 cups of water to it. This now takes the total water amount up to 60 cups. If you’ve removed some soy milk from the pot for drinking, then you may have less. For every 30 cups of water, you need to dissolve 3 teaspoons of Epsom salts into that medium bowl (so for a full batch you’ll need 6 tsp dissolved). If you’ve taken out some soy milk, then you’ll need to adjust your Epsom salt amount down, proportionally. Stir to dissolve the salts and set aside.
16. Keep an eye on the soy milk, stirring it occasionally, because as soon as it comes to the boil it may make a run for the top of the pot again. When it does come to the boil (and make sure it truly boils as this is important for the curdling process), turn off the flame.
17. Add ¾ cup of dissolved solidifier salts to the soy milk and stir vigorously to distribute it throughout the soy milk. Stop the movement in the milk by back stirring for a while and when the milk is still, have a look to see if the curdling process is beginning. If it has, put a lid on the pot and leave it alone for 5 minutes. If it hasn’t started curdling, add another ¼ cup, stir it in, very gently this time, and cover the pot for 5 minutes.
18. After 5 minutes, have a look at the soymilk. If it has properly curdled, the whey will be a translucent yellow. If it’s cloudy, then add a little more solidifier- maybe another ¼ cup, stir it in very gently, and put the lid back on and let it sit for another 5 minutes. It doesn’t matter how often you need to do this as much as not adding too much solidifier, or too little. Too much and you will have a tough curd. Too little and you will lose a lot of curd to the whey.
19. Once you have a clear whey (you’ll see a cloud of milk curd hovering somewhere below the surface), put the lid on the pot and let it sit undisturbed for another 20 minutes.
20. After this wait, you’re ready to drain the curd. Moisten the muslin cloth with water and lay it over your sieve, and your sieve over a bowl to catch the whey. With a ladle, carefully scoop the clear whey up and drain it through the cloth, to catch any stray bits of curd. Drain off as much of the whey as you can, before starting on the curd. As you get to the curd, be very gently with it and carefully lay scoopfuls of it into the colander.
21. When the colander is full, weight a little longer for more of the whey to drain and then add some more curd. After doing this a few times, lay the cloth over the top of the curds and weigh the top down with a plate and a bowl full of water. Let the curds drip into the whey. When the curds finally stop dripping, you can carefully unmould the tofu.
22. If you’re using the tofu straight away, you can store it in a bowl or covered container in the fridge, or leave it to simmer in a lightly salted pot of simmering water (this removes any residual taste of the solidifier salts and keeps it warm for immediate use). If you’re planning on using it in more than a day’s time, store it in fresh water in a container in the fridge, changing the water every second day, for up to a week, to keep the tofu fresh. It will change taste and consistency over time.
23. You can use the whey as a base for stock, or as a replacement for water to boil pasta, cook rice, or again, feed it to your pigs! If you don’t have any pigs, it’s a nourishing treat for your pot plants or veggie garden.
If you’d like to see some dishes that this tofu would be fabulous in, have a look at this one. And there’s more coming, I promise!