I've always been a fan of tofu. It's such a great food, healthy and very versatile. When I was in cooking school I saw a video of it being made and was intrigued. Then I took a class for professional chefs in which tofu was made and we were then presented with various dishes using tofu. I finally decided to experiment with it.
My cooking at Oceana is generally very natural. I don't practice much of what is sometimes called "molecular gastronomy" (the chefs who practice this seem to dislike this term but I'm not yet sure how to otherwise describe it.) I am glad there are a few masters of this style to give us another point of reference.
Given this, and a discussion I was having in the tofu class with Wylie Dufresne, the Chef of WD-50 who cooks in this style, gave me another perspective and I then declared that tofu could have been the "original molecular gastronomy". It's all a matter of perspective and certainly food for thought. Pun intended.
The basic process is to soak soybeans overnight in water, to drain them then grind them into a puree with fresh water. You then boil the mixture and strain it. The liquid is soy milk, the solids okara, which are also used in Japanese cuisine. From here the process is similar to cheesemaking. The soy milk is brought to 75 degrees Celsius and coagulated with nigari, which is a magnesium chloride solution derived from sea water. It is then drained into cheesecloth. You can then leave it drain as it is or press it to achieve varying levels of firmness.
I left it to drain unpressed. It was quite good, but had a slightly grainy texture. I was happy with the first try. Chris, my Executive Sous Chef, tried searing it on the plancha, which was tasty. I deep-fried some and tossed it a hot sauce-butter mixture to make "buffalo tofu". Fun. I then stored it in a mild salt water solution like you often see in the store. It tasted a little better after picking up some salt. I then drained some and pureed it smooth, it had a ricotta-like texture and a hummus-like flavor. I'm going to think of something to do with this for the menu.
The best thing to come of this project was the conversation and sharing of ideas among my kitchen team. Two of my cooks are Filipino and frying the tofu reminded them of a dish they have back at home. One of my Sous Chefs is from Japan and has been a wealth of ideas in this process, (and invaluable in reading the directions on the pouch of nigari!). Everyone had some thoughts and ideas.
Above, the soaked soyebans draining.
Above, the puree coming up to simmer.
Above, my fancy thermocouple letting me know the soy milk is at 75 degrees Celsius. Everyone should have one of these at home.
Above, the Nigari.
Above, the soy milk curdling.
Above, the finished tofu.