I came home on Sunday and inspected a couple of tubs of tofu that I‘d left sitting in the fridge while I was away on the Pacific Northwest tofu tour. One contained creamy salty tofu misozuke, an old school type of fermented tofu from Japan that I’d made about 6 weeks earlier. I smeared a piece on bread to taste. It had mellowed and matured nicely while I was traveling.
The other tub of tofu – a block of super-firm tofu, had slimy white and orange stuff on it. I threw it out as it had clearly gone bad. That’s the difference between tofu that’s been preserved and not. One you want to eat and the other you discard.
A while back, I posted a Q&A with Dang Vu, a Vietnamese-American who’d started making and selling tofu misozuke in the Bay Area. A couple of Twitter friends suggested that I make the stuff so I did. There’s a fermented tofu recipe in Asian Tofu (see page 41) so I wasn’t daunted. Note that some people call tofu misozuke "vegan cheese." To me, it's just an Asian type of fermented tofu.
If you’ve had Chinese fermented tofu (fu ru in Mandarin, chao in Vietnamese, tao hu yi in Thai), tofu misozuke is similar, though relatively obscure in Japan. Its use seems to be relatively limited to eating it as a nibble or spread. In Washoku, Elizabeth Andoh suggests it as a snack food with drink. Chinese fermented tofu, on the other hand, is used as a cooking seasoning for marinades, sauces, braises, stir-fries and roast meats.
What’s the low-down? In a nutshell, if you salt tofu and then let it sit around, it will break down into a creamy texture. Whereas Chinese fermented tofu sits in a salty and rice wine brine for months, Japanese tofu misozuke is coated with miso, sake and sugar. Without these elements, the tofu grows mold and turns slimy – just like regular cheese does.
The idea is this: Block tofu is basically a dairy product. It’s made from the curds that result from coagulating soy milk, like how cheese is prepared. Let the soy or animal milk curds go bad in a good way and you get something rather tasty.
To make tofu misozuke, I applied concepts that I learned from developing the Chinese white fermented tofu recipe in the book:
- Using firmer tofu makes prettier, sturdier chunks but they take longer to turn creamy because the curds are more compressed.
- Waiting is the hardest part. It takes 6 to 8 weeks for the stuff to mature.
- Taste on a weekly basis to monitor progress. The stuff was burpy to me at the front end.
- Ferment in the fridge for food safety’s sake.
- Tinker with the flavor. I made 2 trials and found that going a little saltier was better. Blend your favorite misos.
The trickiest thing about this recipe is wrapping up the tofu in cloth. The Japanese often marinate foods by wrapping it in cotton cloth and then slathering the marinade on the outside. I used a piece voile (a thin cotton fabric sold at fabric stores) so I could wash and reuse it. Muslin would be a little too thick so yes, you could use a double layer cheesecloth. You want just a thin layer of fabric between the tofu and the tofu mixture.
So I spread some miso marinade on the bottom of my container then lined it with the fabric. Then, I put the tofu in, cover it with fabric, then the miso.
This is a great recipe for people who like to do science experiments in the kitchen. Or, if you just want to do something cool with tofu. I suppose you could also gift this for the holidays if you get started soon.
Yield: about 10 ounces
- 10 to 12 ounces (280–336 g) medium-firm or firm tofu, organic or non-GMO preferred
- 2/3 cup (7 oz, 200 g) white miso
- 1 1/2 tablespoons (1 1/4 oz, 35 g) red miso
- 1/4 cup sake
- 3 to 4 tablespoons mirin
- Cut the tofu into two 1-inch-thick slabs. Place on a dry dishtowel or paper towels and set aside to drain for 15 minutes. Pat the tofu to remove excess moisture.
- In a bowl, combine both kinds of miso with the sake and mirin. Adjust the flavor for a salty, sweet finish.
- Select a container to snugly contain the tofu in one layer. Spread 1/3 of the miso mixture on the bottom. Arrange the voile (or cheesecloth) on top. Place the tofu on the fabric. Then fold the fabric over the tofu. Spread the remaining miso mixture over the fabric to cover the sides and top. If needed, fold any excess fabric over the miso mixture.
- Cover the container and refrigerate for 3 or 4 days. If water gathers in the container during this period, pour it off. Nick and taste the tofu after this first period and it will seem really salty. Unwrap the tofu and transfer it to another container lined with parchment, cover and refrigerate for 5 to 8 weeks. (Discard the miso mixture and recycle the voile or discard the cheesecloth.)
- You can eat the tofu after the first 3 or 4 days of marinating but it will mellow and transform as it sits longer. Put it in the back of the fridge and forget about it. You can cut off bits to monitor its progress. I found that at 6 weeks, mine was nice. I'm sure it'll be even better at 8 weeks. Enjoy as a cheese-like spread – on bread or a cracker.