June 21, 2012

I Learn How to Make Tofu and Yuba

Narita sensei lifting a sheet of yuba.

I have never had a burning desire to make my own tofu before, but a tutorial with Mitsuhiro Narita, a professor at the Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka, and chef at David Bouley's Tribeca kaiseki restaurant Brushstroke, actually has me contemplating it.

The event, held earlier this week, was the second-to-last Japanese cooking class in a series at the Bouley Test Kitchen just down the street from Brushstroke and Bouley.  The cheerful title of the class was "Egg, Tofu, Yuba and Some More!"

There was a lot more, but the tofu and yuba making was a highlight. Maybe you won't think it's worth the bother, but here's how you do it: Wash and soak soy beans overnight in water in a 1:1 ratio. The larger the beans the better, and if you can get some from Hokkaido you've really got it made. They are the best, according to Narita sensei.

The next day, you turn the whole thing into a paste in a food processor or blender, doing this in batches if necessary. Key warning: Don't taste this paste! Apparently very bad things will happen to your stomach if you do.

Next, put 6 cups of water in a large pot (or if you are changing amounts, 3:1 ratio of water to soybean paste). Bring the water to a boil, or really the first suggestion of a boil, then add the paste and mix it over high heat. There will be a lot of foam or awa, which you will have to keep skimming off. Also make sure you scrape the bottom of the pot as you mix. As soon as the soybean paste water mixture comes to a boil, turn the heat down low and cook for 7 minutes while continuing to skim foam off the top.

Turn the mixture into a cheesecloth lined sieve and squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible.Return the strained liquid to the pot. At this point you can make yuba, the delicious skin of the tofu, by pouring a small amount of the soy milk in a flat pan and heating it at 80 degrees celsius (170 degrees fahrenheit) until a top layer starts to form, just like the skin on heated milk. Lift the layer off with a chopstick and you've got yuba! Narita sensei made a delicious dish of battered, fried soft shell crab with yuba-ankake sauce, the latter made with dashi, mirin, light soy sauce and kudzu powder to thicken it.

Tempura soft-shell crabs with yuba-ankake sauce.

(The soybean mash that's leftover, okara, can be fried up with vegetables and simmered with dashi and mirin for a delicious side dish.)

Gomoku (five-color) okara on the left
 with dashi-maki tamago rolled omelette.

To make tofu, you'll need, nigari, a natural coagulant derived from sea water that consists mostly of magnesium chloride, available in Japanese food markets. For 2 cups of soy beans, use 4 tablespoons, stirred in while the liquid is kept at a steady temperature of 70 celsius (158 degrees fahrenheit.). It works like magic. As soon as you stir in the nigari, the tofu begins to thicken, at which point you turn it out into a strainer lined with cheesecloth and gently squeeze out the excess liquid. The taste is very fresh and unadulterated.

Since there are no preservatives at all in this tofu, it only lasts about a day. To best appreciate your fresh tofu's pure flavors, serve it with a little grated fresh ginger, some chopped scallions, and a little soy sauce.

Not many Japanese people make their own tofu, Narita sensei told us, but recently a machine has come on the market in Japan that makes the process super-easy, with temperature controlled settings similar to a rice cooker. Perhaps this will be the next fad, just like yogurt makers in the '70s, and the current cocktail and paleta-making fads. How about tofu cocktails and yuba pops?



  1. Hokkaido soybeans ... who knew? :-)

    - Terril

    1. Yes, and since Sandy is in Hokkaido, now, I've requested a package of soy beans from there!