If you don’t think you like tofu, you’re probably just not preparing it right! Knowing how to press tofu the right way is key to achieving successful tofu recipes, and this tutorial will teach you how to do it, without a tofu press. Follow these steps before grilling, baking, or stir-frying tofu.
While many of my recipes are paleo, keto, or low-carb friendly, I don’t pretend to subscribe to any one of these diets. In fact, that is how this site started: I had to eliminate a lot of foods that I could no longer tolerate, so I accidentally became mostly paleo for awhile.
When you’re confined to the “rules” of a do-not-eat list prescribed by a doctor, you are far less likely to confine to the arbitrary rules of any one particular diet. Which is why, although I have many grain-free, dairy-free, and soy-free recipes on this website, once in awhile you’ll see dishes involving white rice or goat cheese.
Or in this case, tofu.
I don’t believe in restricting foods just for the sake of restricting, and as I’ve begun to tolerate certain foods better, I’ve reintroduced them to my diet, and fermented soy, aka tofu, is one of them.
People cringe when I say I love tofu, but I am convinced it’s only because they don’t realize what they are missing. Tofu is cheap, nutritious, versatile, and plentiful at a time when the media is reporting potential meat shortages.
I’ve heard people say they hate it because it’s mushy and flavorless, but you know what? That’s only because they’re skipping the most important step in cooking tofu: pressing it.
Why Do You Need to Press Tofu?
The tofu you purchase at the grocery store is filled with water. And before you cook tofu, it doesn’t really taste like, well, anything. But if you press some of that water out, tofu becomes able to absorb other flavors, and take on other textures. Once you press it correctly, you can marinade it, stir-fry it until crispy, or grill it with other veggies, and it tastes incredible. But – again – in order to soak in these new flavors, it can’t be soaked in water.
In other words, you have to press it. Once you squeeze out the excess water, you can bake, grill, or fry it.
Pressed tofu will achieve the nice, crispy texture you’re looking for. Pressing it also gives it a nice texture, with a crispy exterior and chewy interior.
How To Press Tofu
First of all, you don’t need a tofu press. It’s a waste of money and space, and it’s totally not necessary.
Start by removing the tofu block from its container, and discarding any liquid from the package.
Wrap the tofu in two layers of clean kitchen towels. Place your wrapped tofu on a cutting board, kitchen counter, or other flat surface.
Place a heavy object(s) — like a skillet or several dinner plates — on top of your tofu, and allow it to rest for 15-20 minutes.
The longer you press your tofu, the more water you extract. The more water you extract, the crispier your tofu will be. Don’t exceed 20 minutes, though, or your tofu will dry out too much. It’s a delicate balance! Once your tofu is pressed, you can begin marinating it.
FAQs for How to Press Tofu
Pressed tofu is a fairly straight-forward kitchen tactic. That being said, hopefully these tips and tricks set you up for success:
- What kind of tofu should I buy? The best tofu comes in a block — avoid anything that comes pre-cut.
- What should I use to press the tofu? You need a sturdy, heavy object to set on top of the tofu. A cast iron pan works great, or a small stack of plates.
- What’s the recommended amount of time for pressing tofu? For most tofu, pressing it for 10-15 minutes is long enough. However, for extra flavorful tofu, 20 minutes is better. The more you press it, the more marinade it will absorb. Don’t exceed 20 minutes.
- How do you know when the tofu is pressed enough? Your tofu has been pressed long enough when it no longer expels water easily. When you pick up the block (which should feel very dense and compressed), it shouldn’t drip any water. It is like a sponge: when you first get it out of the package, it will look and feel like a saturated sponge: heavy, floppy, and dripping water (mmm yum.). Once it’s adequately pressed, it will still be moist, but it will be firmer, less heavy, and won’t be dripping excess water.
- Should I buy a tofu press? Absolutely not! It is, in my opinion, a complete waste of money. I’ve pressed a lot of tofu in my life, and never once used an “official” press. It’s a wasteful gadget that uses up valuable cupboard space best left to more useful kitchen tools.
Tofu Recipes to Try on Your Own
Crispy tofu offers a vegan and vegetarian protein option for salads, wraps, or Buddha bowls. Here are five ways you can use pressed tofu:
- Baked tofu: This baked tofu recipe comes with a simple marinade, made from tamari (gluten free soy sauce), maple syrup, and sesame oil. Add a dash of sriracha to give it a subtle kick.
- Curry noodles: I absolutely love making Thai food, and these curry rice noodles are one of my go-tos. Toss or top your curry noodles with crispy tofu to enjoy a fake-out, takeout night in.
- Grilled tofu and wild rice Buddha bowls: If you’ve never enjoyed a Buddha bowl, it’s an easy way to combine a complete meal — with protein, carbs, and plenty of veggies — with very little effort. This vibrant, vegan bowl packs in rice, cucumbers, cabbage, and cherry tomatoes into a single dish.
- Paleo tortillas: You can use tofu as the centerpiece to any lunchtime wrap option. Lightly bread your tofu with arrowroot starch, then fry your tofu until crispy. Wrap in a paleo tortilla, butter lettuce, or collard greens. Add fresh veggies, hummus, dressing, or mayo to add a bit of texture and flavor.
- Cobb salad with Tahini dressing: Lunchtime salads aren’t limited to boneless, skinless chicken breasts or a filet or salmon. Place a serving of crispy tofu on top of this cobb salad for an easy dish (note: after adding tofu, this dish will no longer be Whole30 friendly).
Press Tofu to Enjoy in a Number of Dishes
Tofu is a versatile, vegan, and high-protein ingredient that works within a number of recipes. However, to get the most flavorful, crispy tofu, you should press it first.
Pressing tofu is necessary to extract any excess water. Once your tofu is pressed, you can marinade it to absorb a number of different flavors. Enjoy your tofu as a lunchtime wrap, placed atop a salad, or mixed within Thai rice noodles.
To press tofu, you don’t need any fancy kitchen equipment — just a few kitchen towels and some heavy kitchen items.
- 1 block firm or extra firm tofu
Remove the tofu from the container and discard the container and liquid.
Fold two clean, dry kitchen towels in thirds lengthwise so that they are about the width of the block of tofu. It's ok if there is some overhang.
Wrap one towel snugly around the block of tofu. Optionally, wrap the block of tofu in a dry paper towel before wrapping with kitchen towels. I only do this when I don't have any clean kitchen towels handy.
Wrap the other towel around it.
Place the wrapped tofu on a hard, flat surface. I like a cutting board, but you can put it right on your counter if you want.
Carefully balance a stack of dinner plates or something else heavy (like a small cast-iron skillet filled with something).
Let it rest for 15-20 minutes while the plates gently press the excess moisture of the block of tofu
Unwrap, discard the paper towel (if using), and prepare the tofu according to the recipes you're using it for.
- For best results, use firm or extra firm tofu.
- This does not work with pre-cut/cubed tofu, or marinated/prepared tofu.
- Be aware that the tofu does not always stay level and the plates may shift as the liquid is pressed out of it. I highly recommend bracing your stack of plates (or whatever weight you're using) against something. I typically do this at the back of my counter, so I can brace the stack of plates against the backsplash to keep them from sliding off the tofu.