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On tofu skin
Tofu skin is a fascinating thing. It started off as a by-product of soymilk making, but has become so beloved that it is now intentionally manufactured in Asia. To make it, you need nothing more than soybeans and water.
The dried beans are soaked overnight, ground with water, and strained to remove the pulp. As soy is indigestible when raw, the bean milk has to be cooked thoroughly. As the milk heats, a thin film forms on the surface.
When skimmed from the milk and hung to dry in the sun, the tofu skin turn into translucent golden sheets (dou fu pi or tau kee). It appears in Singaporean cuisine in so many forms, most commonly as a dumpling wrapper for meat or seafood mixtures in beancurd rolls, ngoh hiang, and yong tau foo.
It can also be stacked and moulded to imitate meat or crispy poultry skin. An example is mock duck (zai er), made by layering soybean skin, saturated with sweet soy, and deep-frying until crispy - it is my absolute favourite thing to eat in vegetarian beehoon! You can see me making it here:
There is also another variation of tofu skin that is fairly uncommon, particularly overseas - sweet tofu skin (tim jok or tiam tau kee). It is sold as thick brown strips with a slightly sweet and smoky flavour. They can be added to stews like chap chye, or sliced thinly and deep-fried as garnish in fried beehoon.
The tofu skin can also be bunched up and dried over a pole to form beancurd sticks, known in Mandarin as ‘tofu bamboo’ (fu zhu). This is a good addition for both stews and dessert soups. Recently, I found a whole box of tofu sticks languishing in my pantry and I was thinking of new ways to incorporate it into my meals. I was cooking some brussels sprouts for lunch and thought that some puffed tofu skin would be a really delicious textural contrast, almost like a vegetarian/ vegan chicharron.
First, you steam the tofu sticks to soften them up a little. This will take only 5-10 minutes on high heat. You can touch them to check - they should feel bendy rather than hard and brittle.
Next, you snip them up into bite-sized chunks to make them easier for you to eat later.
Heat some oil to 150-160C before adding the tofu sticks. The temperature is important here! If the oil is too hot, the tofu sticks will brown right away and will not form those attractive blisters that are so texturally interesting!
Flip them from time to time to help them blister on both sides. They miiiight spit gently as a result of the residual moisture from steaming, but it’s nothing dangerous.
Remove them from the oil and drain on paper towels. Look how gorgeous!
At this point, you can add them to salads, stews, chap chye, hot pots… you name it! They are dangerous good on their own too. Wex and I have gone through a ridiculous amount of these dipped in random stuff I have in the fridge like a soy-garlic glaze leftover from Korean fried chicken, and roasted sesame dressing. Happy frying!
Fresh soy milk is one of life’s simplest pleasures. Drinking some fresh and still warm from the pot takes me back to hawker breakfasts where I love to order a glass of ‘Michael Jackson’ (soy milk with grass jelly in it). You really don’t need a recipe for soy milk. There is really only one key ingredient – soybeans, soaked then blended with water. More water will yield a thicker, richer soy milk. There are many variations of soy milk throughout Asia, but my preference is to infuse the soy milk with pandan leaves and sweeten it ever so slightly with rock sugar. The pulp leftover from soy milk can be repurposed into falafels, added to pancake batters or deep-fried with minced garlic and scattered on top of seafood, typhoon-shelter style.
300g dried soybeans, rinsed, drained
4 pandan leaves, knotted
60g rock sugar
Soak soybeans 24h at room temperature in a liberal amount of water. Drain the soybeans. Grind the soybeans with 2.5L water in batches, adding the last bit of water to wash the blender out. Pour into a pot and add the pandan leaves. Heat over medium high, stirring, until it boils. Strain and squeeze through a nut milk bag while it is hot to ensure maximum yield. Cook again 10min, low heat, with pandan leaves and rock sugar.