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The Science (and Art) of Making Tofu at New York City’s Fong On

By Dan Souza Published

Soybean artisan Paul Eng reveals secrets to tofu that has hipsters and traditionalists alike lining up at his door.

I’m a tofu devotee. So imagine my excitement when I took a road trip to New York City’s Chinatown to film an episode on the topic for my YouTube series, What’s Eating Dan. My friend, award-winning author and wok-cooking expert Grace Young, took me to one of her favorite destinations, the tofu shop Fong On on Division Street. Here, owner Paul Eng shared how he transforms soybeans into a creamy rich product that may just be some of the best tofu in the country.

Recreating a Family Legacy Recipe

Crafting such an excellent product has been no small feat. Paul opened the shop in 2019, two years after his family’s original well-loved store on Mott Street closed after more than 80 years in business. None of the recipes for how to make the tofu were ever written down. So Paul had to rely on science, experimentation—and a craftsman’s intuition—to recreate his family’s version of this ancient product.

“I had to set out to relearn all the recipes from a scientific standpoint,” Paul told us. “It had to be measured, and then of course, now that I’ve figured the measurements of everything, there is that other part about feel.”

Key Steps to Tofu Perfection

Here’s how the tofu gets made at Fong On:

  1. Soak soybeans in water for 6 hours or up to overnight. Paul uses locally sourced, non-GMO soybeans.
  2. Grind soybeans with water, the amount and temperature of which Paul carefully controls. 
  3. Separate the creamy-white, protein-rich milk from the pulp, which Paul grinds a second time to extract even more rich liquid.
  4. Heat milk to deactivate enzymes including lipo oxygenase, which can be responsible for an undesirable beany taste.
  5. Boil milk for 10 to 15 minutes.
  6. Add coagulent that transforms milk into a wobbly solid. For the coagulent, Paul prefers calcium sulfate, a.k.a gypsum.
  7. Break up gel to release whey and press the solids to release even more liquid. Typically, more liquid is pressed out for firmer tofu and less is pressed out for the softer versions. Instead, Paul removes more or less solids to achieve the soft or firm textures of his block tofu.

You can learn more details about Paul’s process, including how he makes a gloriously silken product he calls tofu pudding, by checking out this episode of What’s Eating Dan below.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.