Sunday, December 12, 2010

January 30, 2010 – Tofu Making

January 30, 2010 – Tofu Making
This is the second time I make tofu at home. I have had the book* for a few years, but the process seemed so complicated that I didn’t try it sooner.
One reason that I had not made tofu before had to do with an unknown ingredient to me. A coagulant that had to come from the sea (bittern) or some chemical powder. One day, my cousin told me that nigari is actually bitter salt, easily purchased at a local pharmacy. It was then just a jump to my new culinary adventure, powered by a feeling of offense I had after paying R$6,00 a pound for bland tasting soy cheese. The price is higher than a pound of good beef. This way, I took the challenge to make homemade tofu.
I had a loose piece of cellophane paper with a tofu recipe in Portuguese with the Tao symbol on the bottom. I read it through, and this one was complicated. It had lots pot x, pot y, pot z. What is that? Too many options to study. Then, I tried the book. It was equally difficult to understand. Until I got to a conclusion that the recipe on the paper was a rough translation of the book. With that settled, I opted for the original version and put myself to work.
The recipe called for several size pots, cloths, and strainer. But as ingredients, only a cup and a half of soybeans, 2 tsp. of some coagulant, and lots of water. Basically, all I needed to do was to puree soaked beans and put it to boiling water. Strain through a cloth sack to extract the milk and then simmer it for a few minutes. Add coagulant in three steps, working very gently. Take out the whey and put tofu in a perforated form, just like would with milk cheese. Drain for 15 minutes, steep in cold water, and the tofu is ready. Easy and simple. But the recipe dictated so many details that I had to keep reading back and forth not to get confused. I even studied the night before, drawing all the pots with the water content. Next day, I was not able to follow my notes, and went back to the book. Between one and another step, there are a few minutes of rest. “Put lid on for 3 minutes”. The most interesting thing was the recommendation that came for those brief minutes of waiting. It would say, “Wash the pots with cold water”. I washed them as if obeying some mysterious demand that if not followed it would ruin the tofu.
Exhausted, but with all my pots clean, I finally got a tiny piece of tofu, probably about ½ lb. I thought perhaps I put too heavy weight on top to help draining. My father and I drinking the milk before adding coagulant may not have helped the yield. The tofu turned out good, with fresh flavor, nothing bitter or sour. I didn’t need any special gadget. For a suggested wooden forming container built with cherry, cedar, maple, Douglas fir, Philippine mahogany, only pine is the one that I may find in my town with some luck. Almost discouraged by the complicated utensil that needed to be made to order for a skilled carpenter, I read on the internet about using any container with holes on it. So I bought a square plastic container and poked hot wire through. It worked perfectly. This is the only utensil I bought for I thought that the dimensions look nice.
I spent whole afternoon thinking about the intricate instruction given by the book. At night, I concluded that tofu making is simple, easy, but a Zen like experience. It is moving back and forth soy, then puree, then milk, then curds, then tofu. All the movements had to be gentle and somewhat quick. The cooking time and the coagulation process are very short; nonetheless, the movements were constant and calm, with a rhythm. The focus on the process is intense. It seemed like it took several days. Any other culinary activity takes longer, such as bread making or cake baking, but it allows some leisure periods. But tofu making is part cooking and part meditation. Better, all cooking and all meditation. I guess the Tao symbol on the bottom of the page was indicating relationship with Tai Chi Chuan. Making tofu is practicing Tai Chi Chuan with sparkling clean pots (x, y, and z).

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