Making Your Own Tofu Is So Simple, We Can't Believe We've Never Tried Before
Traditionally making Korean tofu was a laborious process involving the use of millstones to grind soybeans to extract the soy "milk." Then the soy milk was steamed with a natural coagulant and pressed to achieve the desired texture. These days, you can buy unadulterated soy milk in Asian supermarkets, which means making your own tofu is much easier than you might think. Homemade tofu has a wonderful fresh flavor and soft texture that you don't get with tofu that has been sealed in a package for weeks, so I highly recommend that you try this recipe. All you need is soy milk and nigari (and a digital scale—it's difficult to measure the small amount of nigari called for any other way).
The better the soy milk, the better the tofu. I use Banrai soy milk, which is specifically intended for tofu-making. Generally, any nigari you find in a Japanese supermarket will work; you can also order it online from Amazon and other sources. You only need a small bottle (1 ounce) for this recipe. You can adjust the amount of nigari up or down, depending on how firm you like your tofu. I wouldn't use less than 18 grams (0.6 ounce) of nigari, or the tofu will take much longer to set or not set at all.
Because tofu has such a mild flavor, I like to accentuate it with a strong sauce. The one I usually make includes perilla leaves, one of my favorite herbs. Perilla is a summer crop, so the leaves are at their most flavorful during the warmer months. If you can't find perilla, you can substitute a generous amount of thinly sliced scallions that have been rinsed in cold water and thoroughly dried.
The sauce is salty from the soy sauce but not overpoweringly so because there is an equal amount of sake that gives it some sweetness and bright acidity, all elevated by the pungent, earthy aroma of the perilla.
The recipe below produces a silky, creamy tofu that is completely different from packaged silken tofu, no matter the brand. We're talking soft, smooth, and so fluffy and light that it just slips down your throat, with the fresh, vivid sweetness that comes from good soy milk.
Note that this tofu will stay pillowy and soft only for the first day it is made. As you keep it in the fridge, the tofu "sets" and becomes denser. It is perfectly good to eat for up to three days after it's made, but make sure it is in a tightly sealed container because tofu will pick up other aromas very easily.
Homemade Tofu With Perilla Soy Sauce
For the tofu
- 4 cups unadulterated soy milk
- 24 to 32 grams liquid nigari
For the perilla soy sauce
- ½ cup sake
- ½ cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- ½ teaspoon minced garlic
- 4 perilla leaves, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
- Scallions, thinly sliced, rinsed, and dried as directed on page 45, for garnish (optional)
- To make the tofu: Put the soymilk in a nonreactive 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Add 24 grams of nigari for a softer texture, or up to 32 grams of nigari for a firmer texture, and mix gently with a spoon to blend.
- Cover the loaf pan with plastic wrap. Place a small rack in the bottom of a stockpot or other pot large enough to hold the loaf pan so the pan will not touch the bottom of the pot. Put the loaf pan on the rack and add enough water to the pot to come up to the level of the soy milk, then remove the loaf pan from the pot.
- Cover the pot with a lid or aluminum foil, and set it over medium heat. Bring the water to a very gentle boil. Place the loaf pan with the soy milk on the rack and re-cover the pot.
- Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle boil and boil for 10 minutes. You can check by looking out for a light but steady stream of steam escaping from the pot. Turn off the heat and let the tofu rest for 15 minutes. It will be slightly jiggly but set, resembling soft gelatin.
- Refrigerate the tofu until chilled. (It will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days, but it is best served the day it's made.)
- To make the perilla soy sauce, put the sake in a medium saucepan set over high heat and bring to a boil. Carefully light the sake with a lighter or a long match, then let the flames die out, 1 to 2 minutes. (If you would rather not light the sake, let it boil for 3 minutes to burn off the alcohol.) It is important to remove the alcohol from the sake, or the flavor will be very different. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
- Transfer the sake to a medium bowl and add the soy sauce and vinegar. Whisk to blend. Use a spoon to stir in the garlic and perilla leaves.
- To serve, scoop the tofu into four individual bowls, dividing it evenly. Sprinkle a pinch of the toasted sesame seeds on top of each serving. Scatter some scallions over the top if you like. Pour the sauce over the tofu, or serve it on the side in individual dipping bowls and let your guests use spoons to dip the tofu into the sauce.
Hooni Kim is the chef and owner of two New York City restaurants, Danji and Hanjan and was the first chef to earn a Michelin-star in Korean cuisine. In addition to his work as a professional chef, he started a Yori Chunsa in 2016, a non-profit that provides culinary training and support to orphans in Korea. His cookbook, My Korea, was named one of the new cookbooks to buy by The New York Times, Eater, and Epicurious.
Photo by Kristin Teig