Pressing tofu is the key to getting that perfect texture and flavor when baking, frying, or stir-frying. Learn how to press tofu using three methods, both with and without a tofu press!
If you've made many of my tofu recipes, you may have noticed that quite a few of them instruct you to press your tofu. I've had a few readers ask about this, so I decided it was time to give you some detailed instructions!
Why Press Tofu?
If you buy a package of tofu at the store, you'll probably notice that it's packed in water. (There are a few exceptions to this, including precooked and silken tofu.) Tofu acts like a sponge, sucking up that water that it's packed in, and it tends to hold onto some water, even after you remove it from the package.
Pressing tofu is simply a way of removing excess water before cooking. Depending on the cooking method you'll be using, water in your tofu might not be a good thing.
Think about different cooking methods: for some, like steaming, water is part of the process, so it's fine. But if you're trying to fry something or brown it in the oven, excess water can get in the way. Such is the case with tofu, and this is why we sometimes want to press it before cooking!
When to Press Tofu
Whether or not you'll need to press your tofu before cooking depends on both the variety of tofu you're using, and the cooking method.
- Silken tofu. Silken tofu doesn't get pressed. It's too delicate and would get smushed to bits if you tried to press it! For this reason we generally don't cook silken tofu using the methods that require pressing.
- Soft tofu. Soft tofu can be pressed, but gently! I only use method 3 (below) to press soft tofu.
- Firm and extra firm tofu. These varieties are ideal for pressing.
- Super firm tofu. Super firm tofu is a variety that's been popping up on store shelves quite a bit in recent years, and as you might have guessed, it's the densest. It's so dense, in fact, that it doesn't need to be pressed — it doesn't have much room inside to hold water.
- Baking. I recommend always pressing tofu before baking it, especially if you're marinating it first — removing water will make room for all that flavorful marinade.
- Pan-frying and frying. Pressing your tofu before frying or pan-frying is a good idea! Too much moisture will prevent your tofu from getting crispy, so press it out first.
- Scrambling. This is where it's up to you! I like to press my tofu before scrambling, in order to get some crispness. If you prefer softer scrambled tofu, skip the pressing step.
- No-cook methods. If you're simply tossing diced up tofu into a dish without cooking it, then there's usually no need to press it.
How Long to Press Tofu For
Unless you're using method 3 below (the super-fast option), 15 minutes is about the minimum amount of time you'll want to press your tofu for, and 30 is about ideal for most recipes. The longer you press your tofu, the more water you'll remove.
Method 1: Use a Tofu Press
A tofu press is by no means necessary, but it's a good investment if you cook with a lot of tofu! The advantage is that it can squeeze out more water that the other two methods.
- Tofu presses have different designs, so follow the user instructions on your model to press your tofu.
- If you're working with a tofu press that looks like mine, simply place a whole block of tofu into the base, which is shaped like a box with an open top. Place the top plate over top of the tofu, and engage the plunger to press the plate down on the tofu, squeezing out the water.
- Let it sit for at least 15 minutes, remove the tofu from the press, and get cooking!
Method 2: Use Heavy Objects
This method presses tofu in basically the same way as a press, but uses everyday household items instead of the press.
- Take your tofu out of the package and wrap it in a few layers of paper towels.
- Now wrap the paper towel wrapped tofu in a dish towel.
- Place the wrapped block of tofu on the counter, then place something flat and heavy on top. I like to use a cast iron skillet (sometimes weighed down with a couple of cans of food in the middle) or a couple of heavy cookbooks.
- A word of warning: sometimes the heavy object(s) will start to slide off of your tofu as it presses. Keep an eye on it in case you need to shift things around!
- After 15 minutes or more, you can remove and unwrap your tofu. It's now ready for cooking!
Method 3: Dice and Blot
This is the method I use when I'm in a rush — usually because I forgot to plan ahead and get started on my tofu pressing in advance.
- Cut your block of tofu into appropriate shapes. This be mean cubes, slabs, little triangles...pretty much anything with a uniform thickness will work. Place them on a paper towel-lined work surface.
- Now place a couple layers of paper towels on top of the tofu, and firmly press down to blot up as much moisture as possible. You might find that your paper towels get pretty saturated, in which case you'll need to repeat the process a couple of times.
- There's no waiting period for this method — your tofu is ready to go!
Recipes for Pressed Tofu
Now that you're a tofu pressing pro, try out a few of my favorite recipes that call for pressed tofu!
- Crispy Baked Teriyaki Tofu
- Tofu Bacon
- Spicy Tofu Burrito Bowls
- Tofu Stir-Fry with Garlic Sauce
- Savory Lemon & Herb Baked Tofu
- Crispy Tofu Steaks with Caramelized Onion Gravy
Want to learn even more about tofu, including the different varieties and ways to prepare it? Check out my comprehensive guide to tofu!
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