A traditional Chinese side dish from Andrea Nguyen's Asian Tofu. "One of the popular tofu snacks in China is warm soft tofu topped with a variety of piquant toppings that range from mild green onion, soy sauce and sesame oil to intensely flavoured chili oil, pickled vegetables and stir-fried meat mixtures. Sometimes tofu pudding is served with noodles, but I prefer to let the custardy tofu take centre stage. At home, buy or simply prepare the tofu pudding and lay out a bunch of different toppings for your guests to choose among."
5 cups soy milk, at room temperature
2-1/2 tsp packed gypsum, or 1-1/2 tsp packed gypsum plus 1-1/2 tsp tapioca starch
1/4 cup water, filtered or spring preferred
2 tbsp regular (light) soy sauce
1-1/2 tbsp chili oil, with chili flakes
1-1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorn, toasted and ground
1-1/2 tbsp Chinkiang or balsamic vinegar, optional
1/2 cup chopped green onion, green part only
1/4 cup unsalted roasted soy beans (soy nuts) or peanuts
1/3 cup chopped preserved mustard tuber (zha cai), rinsed if overly salty, optional*
2 oz. wonton or pot sticker skins or fresh flat Chinese noodles or linguine pasta, optional
Canola oil for deep-frying, optional
4 cups Tofu Pudding (see above)
* For wonderful earthy depth, head to a Chinese markets for preserved mustard tuber (zha cai). It is sold in cans labeled "Sichuan preserved vegetable." Maling is a reliable brand.
Step 1: Put the soy milk in a medium saucepan (a lip makes pouring easier). Over medium-high heat, bring to a boil, stirring often with a wooden spoon to prevent scorching and keep a skin from forming.
Step 2: Meanwhile, choose a larger, tallish pot, such as a deep 4-quart pot, to hold the finished tofu. In the pot, whisk together the gypsum and water to create a milky liquid. Position the pot somewhere low enough so you can pour the soy milk into it from about 12" above — on a chair seat or opened oven door. If you like, put the pot on a baking sheet or dishtowel to minimize mess from any splashing. Keep the whisk nearby.
Step 3: When the soy milk reaches a rolling boil, turn the heat off. Whisk the coagulant because the solids tend to settle. Holding the saucepan about 12" above the pot, pour the hot soy milk into the coagulant; the gush of turbulence will mix the ingredients together. (You can start low and raise the saucepan higher as you pour.) Cover immediately with a lid and move the pot if necessary. Let the tofu sit, undisturbed, for 15 minutes.
Step 4: The tofu can be used once it has set. However, let it sit for another 30 minutes and the flavour will have developed further. If there are a lot of residual bubbles on the surface of the set tofu, use a spoon to gently remove them. Once you scoop the tofu, you break it up and it begins releasing whey. That is its nature. The longer it sits, the more it will drain, just like regular tofu. Use a slotted spoon to scoop if you want to leave some of the whey behind. To minimize the amount of whey that seeps out, scoop large pieces of the tofu and do it right before serving as savory or sweet tofu pudding.
Step 5: To store the tofu pudding for up to 3 days, replace the lid on the pot and refrigerate after the tofu has completely cooled. When reheating for warm tofu dishes, gently pour water into the pot around the tofu's edges (to avoid breaking it up) to cover by 1/4". Heat over medium-low heat until the tofu is warm to the touch. Avoid boiling because that may break up the tofu or make it unpleasantly firm. To keep the tofu warm, use the lowest heat.
Savoury Tofu Pudding
Step 1: To make the sauce, combine the soy sauce, chili oil and sesame oil. Add Sichuan peppercorn to taste. If you'd like a hot-and-sour finish, add the vinegar (or set it out and let your guests add it to their sauce themselves).
Step 2: Prepare the garnishes. Put the green onion, roasted soybeans and mustard tuber in separate small dishes. For extra crunch, deep-fry strips of wonton skin or short lengths of noodles. If using wonton or pot sticker skins, cut them into narrow strips, about 1/3" wide. With the noodles, cut them into 2"-3" lengths. Heat about 3/4" of oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat to about 350ºF on a deep-fry thermometer. If you don't have a deep-fry thermometer, stick a dry bamboo chopstick into the oil; if bubbles rise immediately to the surface, the oil is ready. Fry the noodles or wonton strips in batches for 1-2 minutes, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels, then transfer to a serving bowl. Set at the table with the garnishes and sauce.
Step 3: If your tofu pudding is cold, reheat it as directed in step 3 of the tofu pudding recipe above. Use a metal spoon to scoop up shards of the tofu into individual serving bowls. Expect liquid (whey) to accumulate in the bowls. While you can pour it off, it is nutritious and has a tangy flavour that commingles well with the garnishes. Invite guests to add garnishes and drizzle on the sauce themselves. Enjoy with spoons.
Step 4: If you want a spicy meat topping, heat 1-1/2 tsp of canola oil in a wok or skillet over medium heat. Add 4 oz. ground pork or chicken and cook, stirring and mashing the meat into small pieces, for about 1 minute, until it is just cooked through. Add 2 tbsp chili bean sauce and 2 minced garlic cloves. Keep stir-frying for another minute until the mixture is super fragrant. Stir in 1 chopped green onion (use the white and green parts) and remove from the heat. Transfer to a small bowl and offer it along with the other garnishes. Include the sauce too, if you like.
See more recipes from Andrea Nguyen.
Reprinted with permission from Andrea Nguyen's Asian Tofu (2012 Ten Speed Press).