There’s something Japan’s favourite fermented foodstuffs have in common, and you may not have heard of it before.
Tofu is a delicious ingredient used in many Asian dishes. It is easily described as soy milk ‘cheese’ as it goes through similar processes. For tofu, soy milk is extracted from mature white soybeans that are boiled, curdled, and pressed, similar to dairy cheese. The soybeans are soaked and ground into slurry, which is warmed with water, then strained to become soy milk. Tofu is then made by curdling soy milk with a coagulant—gypsum is the most widely used, while in Japan, nigari is used.
Tofu has a neutral taste, so it gets its flavour from the sauces and other ingredients in the dishes it is cooked with.
Types of Tofu
There are many different kinds of tofu, but the basic ones are: soft, firm and extra firm.
Soft tofu is also known as ‘silken tofu’ because of its fine, smooth texture, which comes from it being made with rich, creamy soy milk. You’ll find it in the cold section of supermarkets in plastic tubs/wrapping bathed in water. It is ideal for salads, soups, pureed as an additive to dips, or deep fried.
Sometimes also called ‘cotton tofu’, it is found in the cold section of your supermarket and has the firmness of red meat, but bounces back when pressed firmly. It is great added to soups, stir fries and for grilling.
Extra Firm Tofu
Also known as ‘hard tofu’, it is found in vacuum packs in the cold section. It is the easiest to cook because it has the lowest amount of water content and it has a meaty texture. Like medium tofu, it can be used in stir fries, soups and for grilling.
Tofu can also be used dry (where all the water has been removed and deep-fried), in puff form (cubed and deep-fried) and tofu skins (the skins formed from boiling soy milk).
Sometimes, when you first open the packaging, the tofu feels a little slimy—this is totally fine. Just give the exterior a light rub with your hands and cover in clean water and leave it to sit for 5 minutes.
The most important part of using tofu is getting rid of the water content before cooking, as around 90% of tofu is water.
Depending on what you want to use the tofu for, you can get rid of a little or a lot of water. For salads and soups, just remove a little water. To remove a little water, pat tofu with paper towel, place on a tilted board and let drain for 10 minutes.
For stir-fries, grilling and deep frying, you should remove a moderate to high amount of water.
To remove a medium amount of water, wrap in paper towel and place on tilted board for 20 minutes. Then place in a large bowl, place a light weight on top and let stand for another 20 minutes.
To remove nearly all the water, place in boiling water for 5 minutes, then drain and place in a bowl with a moderate weight on top of tofu and stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Once opened, tofu can last for about a week if stored correctly. Place in small container, cover with water and firmly seal with a lid or plastic film. Rinse with water daily.