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Not pressing tofu is a sure route to sadness.
So, you’ve been dabbling in the world of meat alternatives and you’ve given tofu a try, but maybe it didn’t work out so well. You sautéed and sautéed, and it never got crispy. You poured in sauces and spices, but the cubes of tofu somehow dodged every drop of flavor you threw at them. You were left with something that looked and tasted like it came straight out of the package, despite your best efforts!
The reality is, tofu needs a bit of T.L.C. to crisp up (and flavor up)—tofu needs to be pressed! Packaged tofu contains a lot of water, and this water makes it difficult to change its texture and to infuse any flavorings. The good news is that you just need a few household items to get started on pressing your tofu, and the better news is that there are way more convenient kitchen tools available to make the process easier and cleaner. Once you’ve got a good system for pressing, all you need are a few go-to marinade recipes to masterfully prepare this meatless protein.
Note: This rule does not apply to silken tofu.
You likely already own a combination of kitchen and household items that will help you MacGyver your way into ready-to-cook tofu—as long as you’ve got the tofu. You’ll want extra firm, or at least firm tofu—anything softer is better-suited for adding creamy texture to desserts or for egg substitute recipes.
This guide explains how to hack a tofu press from household objects—for the most basic version, you just need two flat things (like a cutting board and a cookie sheet, or two plates), and some heavy weights that will distribute pressure evenly; these could be anything from a large book to several cans. The weighted object(s) will press the water out of the tofu block onto whatever flat surface is holding it; you should drain this water into the sink a few times during the 30- to 45-minutes of pressing. Make sure the weight and top plate/baking sheet/cutting board are centered and don’t start to slide off the block of tofu; you may need to watch and occasionally adjust to ensure even pressing.
If you’d prefer a bit less mess, you can use paper towels or kitchen towels to catch the tofu water as it drains. And this method has you place the towel-wrapped tofu on a wire rack over a bowl or the sink to catch any liquid that gets through the towels. If you opt for paper towels, you might get bummed out by the sheer number you need to catch all the water, so a linen kitchen towel may be your best bet.
Once you’ve dealt with pressing tofu by hand a few times, you’re likely to feel a little frustrated by weighted plates tipping and requiring constant rebalance, or by tofu-water-soaked kitchen towels needing your immediate attention (if you don’t wash them right away, you need to hang them somewhere). And if, like me, you’ve tried paper towels, you might lament using half a roll just to press tofu. Luckily, there are gadgets out there that make the whole process so smooth and convenient, that you might find yourself stocking up on tofu and dreaming of your next marinade.
I swear by this tofu press, by TofuXpress. Tofu goes in and the spring-loaded top plate immediately begins to apply pressure to the tofu. As the plastic plate presses down over a period of a half-hour (or a few hours, or even a day!) while in the fridge, water rises to the top, ready to be poured down the drain at your convenience. Once you have drained out the water, you can remove the spring top, add your favorite marinade, and return the press to the fridge with just a cover. After you’ve marinated the tofu, it’s up to you if you’d like to press one more time for super firm and easily crisp-able tofu.
A less expensive option by Tofuture offers you a similarly compact, mess-free pressing experience. Two stretchy rubber loops pull the top plastic cover downward, applying pressure to the block of tofu and causing water to be pressed out. This product can also be used to add marinades, post-press.
Once you’ve pressed the excess water from the tofu, it’s ready to absorb a flavorful marinade. This easy recipe for Beer Barbecued Tofu uses only beer, barbecue sauce, garlic, ginger, and onions for a marinade. Or, you can try this recipe for Carne Asada Marinade, which is both sweet and spicy. This recipe for Baked Italian Herb Tofu includes basil, rosemary, and oregano with oil, vinegar, and liquid aminos (substitute soy sauce if you only have that on hand). Any of your favorite meat marinades will work beautifully for tofu, since it is such a mild-tasting base for spices and sauces.
So, get yourself a supply of tofu, pick a method for pressing, and stock up on marinade ingredients. Treat that tofu right, and you’ll be rewarded with meals full of this tasty and versatile plant protein!