There is a bewildering variety of fresh tofu sold in America, made even more complex by the assortment of English names given to the product by various manufacturers. In general, the term given it is tofu (pronounced doe-foo in Chinese and toe-foo in Japanese), with the typical English names being bean curd, soybean curd, or bean cake.
The Japanese variety of tofu is extremely soft and silken and does not absorb other flavors readily. It is pleasant in soup, but it will fall apart in stir-frying, and I do not use it for Chinese cooking. If all that is available to you is this very soft variety, then you must weight it or drain it of excess water in order to make it appropriately firm. The method is very simple: First, cut the tofu carefully into cakes no more than 2 inches thick, if it was purchased in one large block. Fold a clean, dry, lint-free kitchen towel in half lengthwise, put the tofu in the center of one half of the towel, then bring the other half over the tofu so that it is sandwiched in between. Put a 2-pound weight on top of the towel, centered over the tofu (I use a small cutting board), then let the tofu drain until it has the firmness of a curd of cottage cheese, changing the towel for a dry one if necessary. The pressing time will vary anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, depending upon the softness of the tofu when you began. To hurry the process, cut the tofu carefully into smaller rectangular slices a scant inch thick if the recipe permits it, then wrap and weight it as above.
Far easier, if you have the choice, is to begin with Chinese-style tofu, which is generally firmer and more meaty in texture than the Japanese variety, in addition to being 25–35 percent richer in protein. The Chinese types range fully from a semiliquid curd called “tofu brains” in Chinese, to a quite firm, pillow-shape sort called “old tofu” (lao-doe-foo), in reference to the comparatively long pressing. What is called for in the following recipes are the firmer among the Chinese types.
Do not be confused when shopping for fresh tofu by the ¼–½ inch-thick slabs of brown pressed tofu (called doe-foo-gone), which may be sold nearby. This is fresh tofu that has been pressed to the consistency of a solid Swiss cheese, then seasoned with a soy-based mixture that gives it its color. Pressed tofu is delicious shredded in stir-frys like Spicy Buddha’s Feast. It is not a substitute for fresh tofu.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.