Stinky Tofu That You Can Make At Home
Stinky (or fermented) tofu might not sound like the most appetising food, but don't be put off by the name! It's true that it does have an intense aroma and a corresponding depth of flavour, but as well as that it's rich in several key nutrients and fits well into a healthy diet or weight loss programme. So what is stinky tofu? Well, it's made from a mixture of firm tofu (which you can buy fresh or make yourself from soft tofu and a tofu press), fermented bean curd, plus a few other ingredients. Here's how to make stinky tofu yourself:
Is stinky tofu vegetarian?
The stinky tofu recipe above is vegetarian apart from the oyster sauce, for which you can substitute any one of the mushroom based alternatives available in most Asian supermarkets. The other ingredient to watch out for is the fermented bean curd, which may or may not be vegetarian friendly depending on the exact production method.
If you're ordering a dish containing stinky tofu in a restaurant or cafe, you may want to ask about how it's been prepared, as it's not uncommon for chefs to soak the tofu in milk or shrimp brine as part of the fermentation process - which would make it unsuitable for vegans and vegetarians respectively.
The safest option is to find a vegetarian (or vegan) restaurant which specialises in Southeast Asian cuisine, then you can be sure that whatever you order will be in line with your dietary requirements.
Why does stinky tofu smell so bad?
The distinctive smell of stinky tofu comes from the various organic compounds which are present in the tofu due to the fermentation process. The most common compounds found in stinky tofu are indole, dimethyl trisulfide, phenol, dimethyl disulfide and dimethyl tetrasulfide which combine to form the distinctive aroma of the product.
Don't be put off by the chemical sounding names, these are all harmless organic molecules which are produced by a natural process. Furthermore, some of the compounds found in stinky tofu are of particular benefit to the human body, such as isoflavones, including large quantities of the isoflavonoid equol, which is rarely found in foods.
What does stinky tofu taste like?
The taste of stinky tofu varies according to the length of time it has been fermented. Longer fermentation leads to greater levels of the organic compounds which give it its distinctive smell and taste. Like other foods created through fermentation, such as blue cheese, fermented fish or certain mushrooms, the strong smell and taste are appealing to some, while off putting for others.
Although it smells much stronger than it tastes, some people still like to use rice vinegar or chilli sauce to partly mask the flavour when eating it. It is also sometimes served topped with pickles of various types, which again provide a balance to the main flavour. The texture is also important, it should be crusted on the outside, but smooth and almost runny in the middle, like a soft cheese such as Camembert or Brie.
Aficionados of stinky tofu claim that the stronger the smell, the better the flavour, and it's certainly true that most people develop their taste for it over time. So if you don't like your first couple of bites of stinky tofu, don't give up on it just yet. Give it another chance, maybe by making your own and reducing the fermentation time a little - you might find the perfect amount of flavour vs smell!
Stinky Tofu That You Can Make At Home
14 oz of firm tofu, cubed
4 tbsp stinky fermented bean curd
2 tsp potato starch or 1 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp oyster sauce
2 finely chopped cloves of garlic
1 tbsp parsley
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp powdered fennel
1 tsp vegetable oil
Take a large sealable container, such as a tupperware or plastic food storage container with a fitted lid.
In this, mix together the white vinegar, water and stinky fermented bean curd until you have a consistent liquid.
Place your tofu, chopped into chunks of around 1 in square, into the liquid, seal, and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours. The longer you store it, the stronger the flavour will be.
Remove the tofu chunks from the liquid and drain them thoroughly.
Heat the oil in a wok, and fry your tofu chunks until the surface is golden. Place them to one side on a plate.
Now fry the garlic until it becomes fragrant, and then add the oyster sauce, fennel powder and half a cup of water.
Bring it to the boil, then add the tofu chunks back into the wok and simmer for one minute.
Add chopped parsley and serve.
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