Thursday, October 31, 2013

Recreating Perfection: Homemade Egg Tofu (自製蛋豆腐)

Whenever I have ordered a homemade tofu at a restaurant, be it at Bunga Raya, Homeworld, Grand Park or Bei Jing Restaurant, I have never been disappointed. Deep-fried to perfection, with a hot, smooth, and custardy centre, this comforting food brings joy to young and old alike. With only two main ingredients—soy milk and egg (even though the menus often don't mention the egg, opting for a more mysterious-sounding "chef's special tofu"), and an additional bit of seasoning—it turns out this dish is not even that hard to make.

Egg Tofu at Homeworld BBQ Restaurant.
There are a variety of recipes out there. For 500mL fresh soy milk, I have seen recipes using up to 7 eggs (I am not counting Elsie's recipe using 12, as she is really making savoury steamed egg custard rather than egg tofu), as well as some with as little as 2. Some add chicken stock powder, many add cornstarch, and you can make the tofu paler in colour by using more egg whites too (I was very impressed by how tender and smooth this tofu looked, and it seems to have steamed evenly all the way through, even though it is quite thick!)

While most recipes call for 6 eggs to 500mL soy milk, I decided to try out Amy Beh's recipe on, which only uses 5 eggs. The simple instructions looked like this:
500ml fresh unsweetened soya bean milk
5 eggs
3/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp cornflour

Line a 20cm square tray with cellophane paper or cling wrap.

Beat eggs lightly and add soya bean milk, salt and cornflour. Mix well with a fork and strain the mixture into the prepared tray.

Cover the tray with cling wrap and steam over low heat for 20 minutes or until cooked. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Naturally, I ignored the part about using cling film (eww, I don't want molten plastic on my food, thanks!) and just steamed the mixture in a little pot instead. At this point, I understood the mistakes I made. By not putting some sort of covering over the top (I would pick baking paper next time), I let a "skin" form on the surface.

Yellow film formed on top after steaming.
And by using a small steamer dish rather than the 20cm square tray specified, I ended up trying to cook a very tall piece of tofu. While the centre was perfect, the top was still runny, and the bottom had that honeycomb texture you see in overcooked egg. It was probably not helped by the fact that our gas stovetop doesn't really do low heat. Next time, I would also try steaming in a wok rather a Western-style steamer, so that the condensation on the lid does not drip onto the tofu.

Silky smooth after I poured away the liquid upper half.
Honeycomb texture on the bottom (now flipped to the top for viewing).
After cutting the refrigerated egg tofu into squares, I fried it in a wok, trying to simulate a deep-fryer effect by constantly spooning hot oil over the top. It didn't cook evenly, with the softer side puffing out more than the dryer side, but I didn't care about looks. Although I couldn't quite achieve a crispy outer shell, the centre of my egg tofu squares was everything I had wished for, soft and silky and delicious.

Homemade egg tofu, cut into squares and fried.

Impressively soft and silky centre.

Yes, there was an element of fail in my experiment. But nothing could keep me from the feeling of triumph that came with eating my fried egg tofu.

[Added 9 May 2015: I agree with a fellow blogger's recommendation to use less salt (thanks, Audrey!). Also, I found it heaps easier to make this using a square disposable cake pan, not only because I could cut it open without disturbing the tofu, but also because all my metal steaming dishes were round, which isn't so useful when you want to make squares!]

A Note on Soy Milk

You can make your own soy milk by soaking, blending, draining and boiling the beans. However, if you want to go for the easy option, purchase a bottle of unsweetened soy milk from your nearest Asian grocer. The ingredients listed should only be soy beans and water. Do not try to use the Western-style soy milk that has been processed to taste more palatable to those used to cow's milk. For instance, Vitasoy's "original" soy milk has been flavoured with barley, sugar, salt, oil and kelp, in addition to an unspecified natural flavouring. The So Good "regular" soy milk contains only 3.5% soy protein, and again has added sugar, oil, various minerals and vitamins, and flavouring.

The brand of soy milk I chose had this label. It came in a plastic milk bottle with a blue top, in the refrigerated section of the supermarket.

Chinese soy milk good for making egg tofu, amongst other things.

This post is part of Our Growing Edge, a monthly blogging event aimed at inspiring us to try new things. This month it is hosted by Alice from Nom Nom Cat.
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