Cooking tofu is not rocket science! All you need are your ingredients, some standard kitchen equipment, and a little knowledge on how to press tofu. Once you've mastered the basics, you'll soon be on your way to a world of healthy culinary delights using this versatile and delicious food product.
Also called bean curd, tofu is a star ingredient in vegan and vegetarian dishes, where it’s prized as a healthy, plant-based protein source. It is packed with nutrition and super low in calories. This makes it a perfect part of a healthy eating plan!
In this guide, you'll find out how to press tofu so you can use it in all of those yummy extra firm tofu recipes.
What is Pressing?
As you learn how to prepare tofu, you’ll probably come across the term “pressing.” This is a technique used to prepare a tofu block for cooking. Pressing is the best way to drain tofu to remove moisture. The process makes tofu easier to cook with, while still retaining its shape and flavor!
Depending on which delicious dish you’re making with tofu, you’ll find a range of different types of tofu available. From silken tofu and extra firm tofu to smoked tofu, the options are almost endless! But keep in mind, the type you choose will impact how much pressing you need to do.
Some recipes call for super firm tofu, which means that most of the moisture in the tofu has to be drained. You’ll need to learn how to dry tofu pretty before you can use it for a recipe calling for firm tofu, because if you don't, your tofu could break up while you're cooking and leave you with a soggy mess!
Why Tofu Needs to Be Pressed
Tofu is widely used as a protein-rich plant-based replacement for meat. So, for recipes where it is used as a substitute for something firm like chicken, it's important to learn how to remove water from tofu. If you’re going to bake or pan-fry it, you have to know how to press tofu so it can hold its shape.
Basically, tofu has to be pressed because of all the moisture it contains. But how does this liquid get into your tofu in the first place? Let's find out!
Why Tofu Contains So Much Water
As you’ve probably noticed, tofu usually comes packaged in water, but the way tofu is made also involves a lot of water! Because of its texture, tofu acts like a sponge that absorbs moisture.
To understand this better, consider how tofu is made.
How tofu is made:
- Dried soybeans are soaked for between 4 and 10 hours.
- The beans are then mixed with cold water and ground up.
- The ground beans are boiled for between 3 and 10 minutes.
- The boiled soy mix is coagulated by adding salts or acids. This will form curds.
- The resulting soy curds are pressed into tofu cakes using machinery (in ancient times, cedar boxes and slabs of stone were used!).
This process requires a lot of liquid and most of it remains behind in the tofu! To get rid of the liquid, tofu has to be pressed.
Some manufacturers prepare tofu blocks by draining out a lot of the moisture. This is the firm and extra-firm tofu, which is still moist but has already been pressed and holds its shape pretty well. However, even this type of tofu usually still needs to be pressed, depending on what you want to use it for.
When you are preparing tofu, and the recipe calls for tofu that will hold its shape – for example, tofu “steaks” on the grill – draining tofu of moisture is crucial! If you don't remove enough water, it will end up too soft – and soft tofu turns into a mushy mess, which is the last thing you need when showing off your tofu steaks!
On the other hand, if you press tofu, you’ll significantly improve its texture. Pressing turns tofu into a versatile ingredient that’s simple to cook and excellent at absorbing the flavors around it. This is why learning how to press tofu is so important.
How Do You Press Tofu?
There are two ways to press tofu! The quickest, easiest way is to use a tofu press. If you don't have a tofu press, you can use the more difficult manual method.
Both are effective, but using a press is quicker and less messy. Many a tofu-lover have experienced an avalanche of random objects when whatever they’re using as weights begin to topple over as they try to figure out how to press tofu!
How to drain tofu using a tofu press:
- Place the block of tofu inside the press between the two perforated plates.
- Close the lid.
- Press down the knob, or tighten the screws until the tofu is pressed down. Some tofu presses will make clicking sounds. One click is usually for level 1 pressure (light), and two clicks for level 2 pressure (to drain extra firm tofu.)
- Wait 15 to 20 minutes, and your pressed tofu will be ready for action!
Pressing tofu with a press is really this simple! Most tofu presses collect the water that's squeezed out of the block of tofu to be discarded later, so this method is also less messy.
How to dry out tofu using the manual method:
- Place a layer of kitchen paper or tea towels on top of the tofu. As long as the material is absorbent and clean, it will work!
- Place a bowl or cutting board on top of the layer of paper or towels.
- Weigh the bowl or board down with something heavy like cans, a frying pan, or even a couple of dumbbells!
- Adjust the weight, so it's well-balanced. You do not want your tofu pressing tower to topple over!
- Let the weights press the tofu for a minimum of 30 minutes.
How Long to Press Tofu?
If you've ever bought tofu and opened it up to find it soft and squishy, you've probably wondered how to make tofu hard so you can whip up some tasty treats like crispy baked tofu or sesame tofu triangles. The simple answer is to press it, but for how long?
A basic rule of thumb is that tofu should be pressed for approximately half an hour in preparation for cooking. This is a simple process and doesn't take a lot of effort, especially with a tofu press, making it easy, peasy, lemon (tofu!) squeezy. Using a press like this can also cut the time you need to press the tofu in half!
If you don't have a press, you'll need a plate, something absorbent like kitchen paper or tea towels, and something to weigh it all down, like cans or a frying pan. This can be a bit more challenging. Also, bear in mind, this method of pressing tofu takes a bit longer.
How Long Does Tofu Last?
The shelf life of tofu depends on what type of tofu you are using. If you haven't pressed your tofu yet, follow the expiration date and guidelines on the packaging. Once the tofu is pressed, you can use your tofu right away. Pressed tofu absorbs flavor very quickly, so it doesn't have to marinate for too long. It also doesn't need to rest before it's cooked.
If you've pressed the tofu and don't use all of it immediately, you can store it in the fridge. Keep it in water to make sure it doesn't dry out, and use it within four days.
Should All Types of Tofu Be Pressed?
There are many different tofu types to choose from, and most of them haven’t been pressed much. You may be able to find some firm and extra firm tofu brands that are vacuum packed instead of being packed in water that may not need to be pressed.
To tell whether or not your tofu needs to be pressed:
- Dab the tofu block's surface with a clean towel, and check if it absorbs any moisture.
If it comes back dry, you can go ahead and use the tofu without pressing it. If the towel is wet you will likely need to use these instructions on how to press tofu.
There is one other type of tofu that usually does not need to be pressed. Silken or soft tofu. This type of tofu is very soft, so pressing it hard will crush it and turn it to mush. However, you can still use a tofu press to gently squeeze some moisture out of this type of tofu. Just be careful not to press this type of tofu too hard.
Is It Worth Getting a Tofu Press?
If you love tofu and enjoy it often, then getting a press is an excellent idea! If you're new to cooking tofu and you’ve just learned how to press tofu, you'll soon get the hang of it and be ready to experiment with tofu recipes. Once you get the hang of it and see how many tofu options are out there, chances are you may want to eat tofu a lot more often!
If you want tofu to become a regular star on your menu, it is absolutely worth getting a press. You'll never again wonder how to press tofu or what you're going to be using as a weight to get the job done.
Tofu presses are reasonably inexpensive and save you time and effort. They’re also not as messy as manual tofu pressing. But whatever you decide, be sure to take what you’ve learned about pressing so you can make delicious tofu that you and your friends and family will love!