There were some burnt fingers and a bit of frustration at Andrea Nguyen’s failure-assumptive instructions, but our first tofu-making project was an unqualified success. Not only did we enjoy some delicate, delicious fresh tofu skin, but also discovered that leftover lees make some lovely Asian croquettes.
We began thinking about making our own tofu years ago after Steve reviewed a local restaurant for Louisville Magazine (on the magazine’s website, for some reason, Steve now seems to be known as “Lou”), enjoying both their house-made product and a view of how simple making tofu seemed to be. This eventually led to the purchase of Andrea Nguyen’s Asian Tofu, and after a bit of searching, some organic dried soybeans from a local grocery. (We became quite fond of Ms. Nguyen after she led us into the wonderful world of home-made dim sum.) The lack of a tofu mold did not deter Steve, who after looking through the cookbook decided tofu skin would be a good start, since it basically (and pretty much literally) boiled down to scalding soy milk, the precursor to any sort of set tofu.
Soy milk-making seemed to be the kind of thing Steve likes—a simple matter of soaking, blending and cooking. However, unlike the instructions we enjoyed in her dim sum book, Nguyen’s approach to tofu seemed overly concerned with things going wrong, to the point where Steve became frustrated trying to figure out what water went where when, and why he should do a “second pressing” of the lees. After some calming words from Michelle (“Quit whining” and “For god’s sake, it’s only one cup of beans” were some of them), Steve settled down and started cooking some soy milk. He filtered the result through a cloth-lined strainer, then pressed the milk through a tea towel until nothing was left but the dregs. Nguyen’s advice to regard these lees as “a valuable food source” triggered Steve’s nose-to-tail tendencies, which is why Michelle ended up making deep-fried treats to go along with the skin.
Steve took charge of skin-making, which involved little more than standing at the stove watching the top of a pan of soy milk slowly solidify, then gingerly grabbing the hot skin with his fingertips and trying to stretch the drippy, hot and delicate piece out on parchment paper to dry. His technique may not have been that pretty, but we ended up with several tofu skins, which (along with the fritters and some rice and bok choy) made a lovely lunch when topped with a bit of soy, some chopped scallions and tiny slivers of the pickled baby ginger we made a month or so ago.
We’re now scouting for a suitable press, as we have many more dried beans and a serious interest in seeing if we can make tofu with a texture that will cook to a wrinkly finish for Fuchsia Dunlop’s Bear Paw Tofu. And even if it’s not quite right, we’ll definitely still have those lees.
(adapted from Andrea Nguyen’s Asian Tofu)
- 1 c. dried soybeans
- 4 c. water (plus more for soaking)
Rinse the beans, then put in a bowl and cover with 2 to 3 inches of pure water (filtered or spring) and let soak at room temperature until the beans easily break apart into two flat (not concave) halves, which may take anywhere between 8 and 24 hours. Drain the beans and discard the soaking liquid.
Bring one cup of water to a simmer in a pot. Using a blender at the highest setting, grind the beans with 2 cups of water until they form a thick, smooth purée. Add the purée to the heated water, then use another half cup or so of water to rinse the blender, adding this rinse to the pot as well.
Cook the bean mixture for 3 to 6 minutes over medium to medium-high heat, frequently stirring the bottom of the pot to avoid scorching. Once a thick layer of foam resembling soft egg whites forms and rises like a beer head, turn off the heat and remove pot from burner, allowing the foam to deflate somewhat.
Strain the milk by pouring the hot soy mixture into a cloth-lined strainer. After most of the milk has drained, gather the lees in a clean (non-terry) tea towel and exert pressure to extract more milk. Reserve the lees for another use.
Fill a pot with water up to about 1 inch from the rim. Select a skillet that will fit over the pot, and wait for the water to boil. Pour the strained soy milk into the skillet and put in on top of the boiling pot. As the soy milk heats, a skin will form on the surface. This may take up to 10 minutes for the first skin, with other skins forming in less time (7 minutes or so) as the milk becomes warmer.
When a tan-colored skin has stretched across the surface of the pan, use a spatula to detach the skin from the sides of the pan. Imagining the skin as a clock face, place fingertips at the 2 and 10 hour positions and gently lift the skin from the pan. Place dry side of skin on parchment paper. Repeat until you can see the bottom of the pan.