Answers to all of your pressing tofu questions! How to press tofu, why pressing is recommended, how to do it with or without a store-bought press, and alternatives to pressing.
Before I went vegetarian in 2005, I’d never cooked with tofu (also known as bean curd). It was something I’d eaten in small blocks in miso soup at restaurants. But it wasn’t something that I bought or prepared at home.
At that point in my life, I didn’t even really like it. I thought it was bland and squishy.
But when I stopped eating meat, I started looking into alternative proteins to fill the gap left behind. Tofu seemed like an obvious choice, in addition to beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and seitan.
While it doesn’t have a lot of flavor on its own, it can pick up flavors like nobody’s business. It can be fried, grilled, baked, or sautéed. So many options!
It is like a magician. It can be whatever you want it to be.
But if you’ve ever had a bad vegan scramble at a restaurant, you know that it isn’t foolproof.
(Whhhhy, restaurants? Please don’t give me tofu that’s somehow still watery from its package and then only seasoned with a heavy handed dose of turmeric.)
Tofu preparation isn’t hard, but it does take a little know how.
So today we’re talking about pressing tofu. Why it’s recommended in recipes, how you can do it, and even how you can avoid it.
(Confession: I almost never press it anymore, because I use the vacuum packed variety instead. More on that later in the post!)
Why press tofu?
Tofu is like a sponge. It can take on the flavors of any marinade you soak it in.
However, if it’s stored in water, then right now that sponge is filled with water instead. So you want to squeeze the water out, so that it has room for picking up other flavors.
It’s like if you had a kitchen sponge soaking in a bowl of water. Before you could use it to wipe up a spill, you’d want to squeeze it first. Otherwise, you’d have no chance of soaking up any other liquid.
Pressing it also gives a denser texture. When you squeeze out the water, you get a more toothsome bean curd.
Finally, pressing it helps with browning. If you’ve ever fried anything, you know that wet things are hard to brown, and water causes splatter.
When should I press it?
If you’re using the water-packed variety, you should press it first. If you want it to really soak up the marinade you’re using, pressing is key.
Plan an extra half an hour into your cooking time for pressing. (If you’ve got an hour, that’s even better. If you’ve only got 15 or 20 minutes, that will do.)
Some tofu dishes don’t require pressing. For example, if you’re making a vegan tofu scramble, even if you’re using the water-packed type, you don’t have to press it first.
Just drain it from the package, and blot it with a towel. Then you can crumble it with your hands into a hot skillet with a little oil.
Should I press silken tofu?
No, the silken variety is very soft. It won’t stand up to being pressed.
Silken tofu is typically sold in shelf stable packages. Use it in sauces and other dishes that require a very soft block.
How to press tofu
There are a few different ways of pressing it.
Let’s start with the old school method that uses stuff you already have on hand in your house. No extra purchases required!
Cut open the package & drain it.
Cut the block into half inch slices. Then lay them on a towel-covered plate. (Since the block is rectangular in shape, I find that it fits a little easier on a square plate if you have one.)
Some people don’t cut it into slices before pressing. They just press the whole solid block. However, slicing it first makes for even denser tofu that presses in less time.
Going back to the sponge example, which would be easier to squeeze dry – a great big waterlogged sponge or a small sponge that’s about a half an inch thick?
Also, your makeshift press is less likely to fall over if it’s not piled on top of one block of bean curd. The weight is more evenly distributed across a wider surface, which means it has less chance of toppling over.
Next, top the slices with another kitchen towel.
Then lay something firm and flat on top of it. A thick hard cover book works well. Veganomicon is my go-to. A cutting board works or a large heavy skillet.
(Don’t use a paperback book, because it could get wet & ruined. I know this by experience.)
Then add extra weight for a final layer. I use a 10 pound kettlebell or hand weight. Some people use cans of soup, or a box of non-dairy milk.
If you’re going to have it press for a while, move it to the refrigerator.
I recommend pressing for at least a half an hour. An hour is better if you have the time. If you’re really short on time, 20 minutes will do.
After it has been pressed, you can put it into a marinade, bake it, grill it, or fry it.
What about store-bought presses?
There are lots of presses on the market if you’re looking for a slicker option. I’ve tried a couple of them.
Tofu Xpress is a box that has a lid with a spring. It costs $42.95 + $9.99 for shipping.
You put a whole block of water packed tofu into the box. Then the lid gives gentle pressure to it, pushing out the liquid. The liquid stays contained in the box, so that it’s easy to drain it off afterwards.
I did have a problem with the tabs on my lid breaking once. But the company begrudgingly sent me a new one, which has worked fine.
You can use the box to marinate as well, but I don’t recommend that.
The marinade has a better chance of getting to the inner portions of the block if you’ve cut it into slices first. Otherwise, the outer portions of the block will be marinated, while the inside of the block is still white & unflavored.
EZ Tofu Press
Another option I’ve tried is the EZ Tofu Press. It’s less expensive than the Tofu Xpress. It’s $21.99 with free shipping if you have Amazon Prime.
It’s made with two flat BPA-free plastic pieces that have bolts attached. You put your block of bean curd into it. Then manually turn the bolts tighter over time, kind of like tightening braces on a kid’s teeth, until you’ve gotten them into the position you want.
As it drains, you can put the press in a bowl or in the sink.
Because you’re turning the screws yourself, it takes a little more thought than the other two methods, but still not much.
The tofu is also more prone to cracking in the EZ Tofu Press than the other two methods. And since it doesn’t have towels or a box for holding the liquid that’s coming out of it, it’s not quite as seamless of an option.
Which press option works the best?
All of the options work fine. Many years ago I did a side-by-side experiment on how thin you could get tofu with each of the options.
Here were the press results:
- With the old school book & weight method, the tofu was one inch thick after pressing.
- With Tofu Xpress, it was 1 ¼ inches thick after pressing.
- With the EZ Tofu Press, it was 1 1/8 inch thick after pressing.
What about freezing tofu?
Another option for removing liquid from tofu is to freeze it.
It’s really simple to do. You just put a whole block into the freezer – either in its package or in a glass Pyrex container. Then let it freeze.
When you’re ready to use it, move it to the refrigerator to thaw. Once it has thawed, you can use your hands to literally squeeze the water right out. You’ll be surprised at how much water comes out!
Freezing it changes the texture completely. It becomes dry, and kind of rough inside.
The places where the water has frozen inside of it leaves holes. This denser tofu has a meaty texture that works particularly well crumbled in chili or used in a vegan chicken-style sandwich.
Although, I do find that the freezing makes it a little more crumbly and more prone to breaking when slicing it.
Can I skip pressing it?
Absolutely! Nowadays I rarely press it, because I buy the vacuum packed variety in an aseptic package. Because it’s not packed in water, there’s no water to press out.
You can immediately use this dense bean curd in a marinade. Also the firm texture means it can hold up better on the grill.
It has a drier, more toothsome texture than the water-packed variety. So for that reason, some people don’t like it as much in a scramble. However, I’ve gotten used to the texture, and I prefer it. Plus, it’s easier to just keep the one kind on hand.
You can find the vacuum packed variety at natural grocery stores and Trader Joe’s. (The super firm style is one of my favorite Trader Joe’s vegan products.) In addition to the Trader Joe’s brand, Wildwood makes vacuum-packed tofu.
For more ways to use tofu, check out the 30 best tofu recipes everyone will love.
Originally posted May 2010. Content and photos updated October 2019.