How to Press Tofu without a Tofu Press

Pressing Tofu by Hand

Tofu can be a little scary the first time you attempt to prepare it. First of all, it isn't the most attractive foods. Even worse, if you nibble a tiny bit of tofu straight from the package, you'll find that it has nearly no flavor whatsoever and that the texture isn't all that enjoyable. When it comes down to it, it's basically an unimpressive sponge waiting to be brought to life—and the potential is great! In just a short amount of time and with the help of a few household items, you'll learn how to make tofu crispy, tasty and ultra-appetizing.

How to Prep Tofu

At the grocery store, you'll probably notice a couple of different types of tofu in the refrigerated health foods section. The most common packaging is a square, plastic-bottomed carton covered by a removable plastic film. The tofu, either in block form or small cubes, is submerged in water to keep it from drying out and spoiling. You might also find vacuum-sealed packages of tofu—either standard or sprouted tofu. Sprouted tofu has a little bit more of a nutritional punch but may cost a dollar or two more. We'll be talking you through the prep work necessary for the block tofu that comes submerged. If you fail to follow the basic instructions for draining tofu, you'll have plenty of trouble achieving a golden brown finish, and it won't be soaking up any flavor if it's full of water. Even worse, put a piece of soggy tofu into hot oil, and it will be spewing and splattering all over the place. Water and oil simply do not mix. Soon enough, you'll see just how easy it is to create yummy, flavorful tofu.

The instructions below are for pressing the water from a solid block, not the cubed tofu. If you have purchased the pre-cubed kind, head straight down to our Tips section.

  1. Place a colander right in the kitchen sink or in a larger bowl. Make a small cut in the film of the package, and pour out the water. (You can also feed this to your plants for a little nutritional boost!)
  2. Layer a few paper towels or a clean folded dish cloth in the bottom of the strainer. Open the package of tofu, and gently set the block on top of the towels.
  3. Scavenge your kitchen for a few heavy items: soup cans, dishes, etc. Start by placing something flat on top of the tofu, like a small cutting board or an upside-down plate, then stack on the weight as evenly as possible.
  4. Let the tofu drain for at least 30 minutes or as long as 1 or 2 hours. This is a great time to prep the other ingredients for the meal you are about to make. The longer it sits, the firmer the texture you will achieve.
  5. Before you take apart your little tower, carefully apply a little pressure by hand to the top board or dish to squeeze out any excess water. Don't press too hard or you might crush the tofu.
  6. Slice, cube or crumble the tofu as you wish, then marinate or season it as you wish.

Tips and Tricks for Handling Tofu

  • Although it isn't the easiest to prepare, pre-cubed tofu can also be pressed to remove water. On a large dish or cutting board, layer several paper towels. Make sure your towel layer is quite thick so that it can absorb the water well, or else the tofu will never really lose the liquid from its bottom half. Then, arrange the cubes in an even layer. Cover the layer with another flat dish or board, and stack the weight on top like normal.
  • Although it seems a little backward, marinating tofu is a great way to give it lots of flavor. Since it behaves similar to a sponge, a liquid marinade with bold flavor will yield highly satisfying results. It may take a few experimentations before you get a feel for how strong the marinade should be. For your first take, don't be afraid to lean toward stronger flavors. You'll likely be surprised by how mellow the tofu turns out even when the marinade seems much too strong on its own.
  • Silken tofu is the best tofu for use in smoothies, puddings and other desserts and can't be pressed effectively. However, the Soft, Firm and Extra Firm varieties all turn out great when pressed, especially the latter two.
  • If you aren't using a whole block of tofu in a single recipe, cut off the necessary amount before pressing. Place the leftover portion in an airtight container with enough cold water to cover it. By changing the water each day and flipping the block each time, you can keep the tofu for up to 2 or 3 days without fear of spoilage.
  • Another strategy to changing the texture of tofu is to freeze it. Supposedly, it leads to a chewier final texture than pressing alone. If you want to try this trick out, place the unopened package of tofu in your freezer for at least one day, or until you are ready to cook with it. Transfer it to the refrigerator a day or two before you wish to use it so that it can thaw. Finally, press the water out of the tofu according to our easy directions above.
  • What is the Simplest Way to Press Tofu?

    If you're a sucker for cool kitchen gadgets, you might fall in love with this simple yet impressive tool. A tofu press takes the fuss out of pressing tofu, and most are small in both size and cost. Our favorite tofu press on the market is the EZ Tofu Press, which you can order online right this minute. No more stacking cans and dishes, and it will even cut down on the total time required for pressing tofu.

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