Tofu In Asian Cookery

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What Is Tofu?

Tofu is made from soybean milk; not from fuzzy green edamame pods but from mature, white soybeans. They are boiled, curdled, and pressed in a similar fashion to dairy cheese. The soybeans are soaked and ground with warm water and strained to become soy milk. This milk is combined with a coagulant (traditionally nigari) and simmered until curds and whey form. The curds are then placed into cloth-lined moulds and pressed until the whey drains out. The longer it's pressed, the more whey is released and the firmer the finished product will become.

Tofu In Asian Cookery

Preparing Your Tofu

Because tofu has a high water content, it's wise to remove excess liquid to avoid diluting flavours or causing explosive frying incidents.

For Eating Raw

Soft and silken tofu is ready to eat right out of the packet (though, technically, any tofu can be eaten raw). Drain off the excess water and you’re good to go!

Draining/Blotting

For block tofu, open the package and drain out the packing water. Generally speaking, all tofus (except the silkens) should be drained by placing them on an absorbent surface, such as layered paper towels or a dishtowel. 10 minutes is ample draining time.

Pressing

This is a common prep step in most tofu recipes. A block of medium to extra-firm tofu is sandwiched between dish towels or paper towels. Place a flat surface on top, such as a dish or baking sheet, and weigh it down with a heavy item.

Freezing

You can freeze a whole block of tofu, but it's convenient to cut it into the sizes you want beforehand. Almost all the moisture will be pulled out, compacting the curds and extracting the whey, leaving behind a spongy product that greedily absorbs sauces. We find it's best to drain and/or press the tofu first, or else you'll end up with a huge icy block.

Marinating

One of the biggest myths about tofu is that it soaks up the ingredients around it. This is only true with hyper-porous frozen tofu. This myth was publicly busted in Deborah Madison's book, ‘This can’t be Tofu!’

Nutritional Benefits

Often known as bean curd, tofu can be a super tasty plant-based source of protein. When you choose the right type of tofu and cook it to perfection, it can transform a simple home-cooked meal into something exceptional. Nowadays, more and more vegetarians and vegans use tofu as a meat replacement. Tofu has a similar amount of protein as many meat products and is higher in healthy, unsaturated fat.

On its own, tofu has the reputation of being bland (especially if it’s not handmade). However, tofu is supposed to be combined with seasonings, sauces and a variety of textures to really carry the flavour.

Varieties

Tofu comes in two main types: silken and regular. Each of these comes in varying levels of firmness. Depending on whether it is soft, firm, extra firm, silken or regular, tofu can be put to a myriad of different uses.

Silken Tofu has a very smooth, creamy texture. It tastes delicious both raw and cooked. Many cold dishes and stews use silken tofu for the texture. It’s also popular in planted-based desserts, smoothies, or as a replacement for cream, yoghurt and soft cheese.

Regular (Block) Tofu has a slightly chewy, grainier texture and retains its shape while cooking. It is perfect for stir-fries, stews, soups and fried dishes. The softer varieties have higher water content and are likely to crumble easily when cooked.

Buy

These days, tofu can be found pretty much anywhere from your local supermarket shelves to huge Asian grocers or Chinatown. Found in the refrigerator section, most Asian supermarkets sell silken and block tofu in plastic tubs with water and covered in plastic film. In the same section, you can also find ready-made deep-fried tofu, tofu puffs and an array of other soybean products. Generally speaking, you will get a larger range and more bang for your buck at an Asian grocer vs. a regular supermarket.

Store

The shelf life of tofu of course depends on how you bought it. Fresh tofu needs to be eaten as soon as possible, while tofu bought in the normal plastic packs can be put in airtight containers with fresh water and stored in the fridge for a couple of days. If you leave it any longer than that, it will begin fermenting! If in doubt, go by the packaging dates and storage life. Anything in a vacuum seal will obviously keep longer prior to opening. Once cooked as part of a dish, tofu can be stored in an airtight container safely in the fridge for a 2-3 days or frozen for months.

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