How to Treat Tofu: To Press or Not to Press?

Seared tofu topping a quinoa grain bowl

Cooking with tofu can be tricky. Maybe you ordered it at a restaurant and loved its delicate flavor and chewy texture, but when you tried to replicate the results at home, you got a soggy, flavorless lump. 

Don’t despair! With a few tricks, you can prepare the delicious, toothsome tofu you crave right in your home kitchen. You don’t even need any special tools.

Just look at that beautiful bean curd browning

When it comes to achieving a crisp crust, part of the challenge is that packaged tofu has a high water content. Water is the enemy of browning. When you toss tofu straight from the package into a hot oven, that water will heat up and turn into steam. If your tofu is wet when it enters the oven, it will come out soft.

Luckily, the solution is simple. To give your tofu the chance to brown, you need to get some of that water out. This can be achieved quickly and easily with a plate and a heavy pot.

Just a plate, a pot, and a few paper towels

All you need to do is put the block of tofu on a plate lined with paper towels. Take a few paper towels (or a second plate) and place them face straight down on top of the block. Now add some weight on top. A heavy pot or a few cans will work nicely, but anything with a little heft will do the trick. Now it’s time to wait. You’ll want to give the tofu at least 10 minutes under pressure to start giving up some of its water. This is a great time to start prepping the rest of your ingredients, but it’s also perfectly acceptable to use this as a snack or cocktail-making break. 

See? Simple.

After 10 minutes, you’ll notice that plenty of liquid has been released. The paper towels on the base of the plate will be wet, and your tofu may even be sitting in a small pool of water. This is a good thing! Not only does getting the water out mean that your bean curd will be able to brown, it also frees up space inside the tofu. That whole block is now ready to absorb the flavors of a marinade, sauce, or topping. 

A spicy stir-fry with plenty of protein

Of course, there’s more than one type of tofu. Whether or not you should press it depends on what you’re preparing. If you’re working with extra firm tofu, and hoping for a crispy end product, pressing is the way to go. If, however, you’re hoping for something silky and smooth at the end, skip this step. A little water won’t hurt if your tofu is simmering in a sauce or a soup. 
Now that you have it prepped, tofu is the perfect blank canvas for a spicy Mapo Tofu, or an excellent topper on a savory grain bowl. The bottom line is simple: Control the water content, control the tofu.