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The Mysterious Block That Is Nigari Tofu

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

When it comes down to making tofu, one of the things that you need to keep in mind is the tofu coagulant which is something that I will cover at a later stage. For now, let’s take a look at this food which has been the source of many a debate since its inception.

Bring tofu to the table over dinner time, and the conversations that will come about will revolve around it. Some people will willingly prepare to take part in the meal, even rubbing their hands together in delight. Others will be hesitant and will sit as if they are ready to take off at any moment. Some will eye the food, unsure of what to do next.

And who can blame them? Nigari tofu is quite the odd meal; at least that is what my six-year-old says every time I make it.

There is a cause for this division when it comes to eating tofu. It has a crumbly appearance that sometimes appears slimy and jiggly. One glance at it may have you reaching for the menu as you wonder what you can eat in its stead. And this would not be unusual, especially for someone who has not had this food in the past.

Imagine seeing a white block bobbing up and down in a liquid and hearing that you will have that for dinner. You wonder if it is pickled only to realize that it is not. Thoughts come to you as you try to figure out what is in front of you and why you have to eat it.

To some people, tofu is a scientific experiment. To me, it is a delicacy, and today I will let you in on what nigari tofu entails and why it has fast become a go-to meal in my home. And it’s not all about the nigari health benefits, although I have to admit that they have played a part in its popularity.

What is Nigari?

Nigari is a food coagulant that people use in making tofu. It results in a bitter tasting block which appeals to many a palate.

What is nigari tofu?

Making this meal is quite simple, and all you need is three ingredients. That’s right! With only three components in tow, you are well underway to creating the beauty that is tofu.

You will need soybeans, water, and a coagulant.

For the last ingredient, you have two options from which you can choose. There is nigari, also known as magnesium chloride, and there is gypsum, which also goes by the name calcium sulfate. Seeing the ingredients that you will use as coagulants, it is not a surprise therefore that many people think of tofu as a science experiment.

You start by mixing the soybeans and the water to create soymilk. Soymilk forms the basis for making tofu the same way that milk is an essential factor in the making of cheese. The coagulant then comes into the picture, and you add it to the soymilk to create curds and whey.

At this point, I am sure that you can see that there are many similarities between making tofu and cheese. Owing to this, some people think of tofu as a plant-based cheese, and those looking for dairy alternatives can easily eat this.

As long as you follow the directions to the letter, you should end up with tofu that is entirely delicious. The kind of food that will have you coming back for second servings! However, if you make any mistakes in the preparation, you will end up with a flavorless block that will have you wondering why you even attempted to take the first bite. Most people who do not like tofu have not been lucky to eat well-prepared nigari tofu, hence their distaste for the food.

How can you make good tofu?

Making tofu can be successful, or it can go wrong, and it all depends on how you do it. I have become quite an expert myself, and I love going on and on about how the slightest mistake results in an unappealing block that tastes just as bad.

How do I know all this?

Well, the experience stems from my many mistakes in the past, so you know you are getting information from someone who was once where you are. And the truth behind making tofu is that it all comes down to following the instructions.

As I stated earlier, you will only need three main ingredients in the process, so you are sure to save some money owing to this. As for the dishes and tools that you will need, they are many. You can get some extra ones just in case you find that you need more than stated in the recipe.

Also, you will need to be alert. It sounds funny to have alertness indicated as part of the requirements, but the truth is that this process heavily relies on timing. I am not talking about spending hours in the kitchen as this is not the case.

You can finish the preparation in under an hour if all things remain constant. I am talking about how one split second could easily affect the results of this process. Relax though, it is not all that serious, but do not forget to pay attention to the preparation steps.

Remember when I said that this recipe is only possible owing to my many failings in the past? Well, it turns out that they were a good thing as they have enabled me to come up with some variations. For one, I learned that as long as everything remained constant, the one ingredient that ultimately determined the taste of the tofu was the coagulant.

You have many options, and your choice will depend on what you would like in the end. Nigari, which happens to be my favorite, is one of the most common options. It results in a bitter taste that adds some flavor to the magnesium chloride tofu.

Many people like its slight bitterness but if you are not in the mood for this, you could always opt to use gypsum. It has a less bitter taste, but the appearance of the tofu will be the same. The benefit of using the latter option is that you get to eat lots of calcium in the process and that’s a good thing.

Then there is Epsom salt. I used this sometime in the past, but I have to say that I did not like the results much. I love my tofu firm, and this coagulant resulted in grainy tofu. The taste was not all that different though, and the great thing about this option is that you can easily find Epsom salt. For those days, when you can’t find nigari or gypsum, this proves to be a good alternative.

That said, we can now get down to the cooking. You will need lots of space when making this tofu and the more of the same that you have, the better for you. Prepare to make some mistakes and also be ready for the mess that comes with this process.

I advise that you have all the ingredients and utensils that you need before you move on to the first step. It is quite easy to panic when a step calls for something within seconds, and you can’t remember where you last kept it. Also, know that you will set aside at least fifteen minutes to stand over a pot as you add the coagulant.

With all these requirements, it is quite easy to forget that you should have fun while making this dish. And do not forget to tag your creativity along as you are in for a good time.

A Tofu Recipe you should consider trying

The first step involves making soymilk, and for you to do so, you need to soak the beans in water. I prefer using non-GMO seeds for this and given the many health stores popping up at every corner, finding some should not prove hard. About three cups of the same will do. If you plan on making more than one block of tofu, then you can get more cups. This recipe is for one block, and you should feel free to alter it to meet your requirements.

Take the dried beans and place them in a mixing bowl before covering them with water. Two inches of water is enough to cover them, and you can let them sit there overnight. When morning comes, drain the beans and prepare to make the milk.

For this next step, you will require:

  • Two measuring cups (dry, liquid)
  • A blender
  • A fine strainer
  • A large pot
  • Cheesecloth
  • A wooden spoon
  • A mixing bowl

I told you that you would need plenty of tools, didn’t I?

Next, take the drained beans and place them in a blender before adding eight cups of water. Proceed to blend the beans until they turn frothy and creamy.

Take this blended mixture and transfer it to the large cooking pot. Turn the heat on medium and let the mixture cook. As it cooks, be on standby to stir ever so often as you get rid of any foam that forms as it heats. Let the mixture keep heating until you notice that there is steam coming from the surface. Ensure that you do not let it come to a boil.

As you watch over the mix cooking, keep scraping the bottom to keep the milk from burning. Trust me; if it burns, you are better off starting from scratch as the tofu will be disgusting. A wooden spoon should help you get in there and keep it from sticking and burning.

At some point, the milk will get very foamy, much like beer, and it will begin to rise. Turn off the heat and remove it from the stove to ensure that it does not boil over. Set the strainer over the mixing bowl while ensuring that it does not touch the bottom. Line it with cheesecloth and let much of the cloth hang out at the edges to ensure that it does not slip.

Proceed to pour the soymilk into the bowl through the strainer and leave the milk to cool for at least two hours. Once the soymilk is cold to the touch, press the cheesecloth to get the remaining milk such that your soymilk amounts to about eight cups.

Cook the milk over medium heat and keep stirring so that it does not burn. Once steam forms on the surface, lower the heat and let the soymilk simmer for five minutes. You can now make tofu, and all you need are the following materials:

  • One tablespoon of coagulant
  • Half a cup of water
  • A wooden spoon
  • A well-fitting lid
  • Tofu mold
  • A mixing bowl
  • Cheesecloth
  • 2 ½ pounds of weights

Stir the milk as you remove any skin on it before turning off the heat. Mix the magnesium nigari with the water and add a quarter of it to the soymilk. Stir it continuously before adding another quarter of the coagulant mix and covering the pot for three minutes. Stir the surface of the milk before adding the third quarter and covering the pot for five minutes. This time, stir the soymilk gently and add the last quarter before covering the pot again for three minutes.

Start separating the whey from the curds until you can no longer scoop out more whey. Transfer the curds to the mold and cover them with the cheesecloth before placing weights on top to press the curds down. In twenty-five minutes, the tofu should be firm.

You can now store the tofu in the fridge where you can later cut it and use it in cooking. You can also place it in cold water if you intend to consume it within three days.

Whether you use nigari salt or gypsum to prepare tofu, you are sure to get delicious results if you follow these directions. I hope you enjoyed my nigari tofu recipe. Thank you!

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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