The commercial tofu you purchase in the grocery store is made by coagulating soybean milk into curds and pressing the material into blocks. With a high protein content and low-calorie count, tofu is a foundation of Asian cuisine as well a mainstay for vegan and other healthy-eating styles of cooking.
The commercial manufacturing process leaves a great deal of moisture content still in the solid tofu. Depending on how the product is packaged and marketed, it may have some of the moisture already squeezed out of it. Firm and extra-firm tofu is still moist but has been pressed enough that the tofu holds its shape fairly well. Soft, extra-soft or "silken" tofu, on the other hand, has quite a lot of moisture content, and these products are usually used in recipes where the tofu is blended into other ingredients, such as when making smoothies or mousses.
However, in recipes calling for tofu to hold its shape, it's critical that you press the tofu to remove enough water so that it will hold its shape when used in recipes for salads, stir-fries, or grilling. Unless you do this, the tofu will fall apart and lose all shape. Even firm and extra-firm tofu requires some pressing in order to be effective in most recipes. Pressing improves the texture of tofu and is essential when it will be fried.
Commercial tofu presses are available, but you can do an equally good job with just a few materials you have around the house:
- Cutting board
- Paper towels or clean dishcloth
- Large bowl or second cutting board
- A heavy object to use as a weight (a large can of food, for example)
Note: Softer forms of tofu are not well suited for pressing since they will quite easily fall apart under even moderate pressure. For recipes calling for pieces of tofu to hold their shape, always buy firm or extra-firm tofu.
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Place the Tofu on a Layer of Paper Towels
- Fold a length of paper towels or a dishcloth in half or quarters to increase the absorbency.
- Place the folded towels on the cutting board, then place the block of tofu on the paper towels.
Note: If the paper towels become too wet after absorbing the initial moisture, you may want to place the tofu on a second, fresh layer of paper towels.Continue to 2 of 3 below.
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Place a Weight on the Tofu
The essence of pressing tofu is to apply steady weight to squeeze out the moisture from the block. Be careful, though, not to apply too much weight or the tofu will be crushed and you will be unable to cut it into slices or blocks.
- Place another layer of folded paper towels or a clean kitchen cloth top of the block of tofu.
- Place the bowl or another cutting board on top of the top layer of paper towels.
- Place the weight into the bowl or onto the cutting board. Your weight should be heavy enough to press down evenly across the top of the tofu, but not so heavy so as to cause the tofu block to crumble. A large can of food is a perfect weight. Other objects that might work include an iron frying pan, a heavy book, or a small exercise dumbbell weight.
- Let the tofu sit for at least 30 minutes. The weight will gradually and effectively squeeze the moisture out of the block of tofu, where it will be absorbed by the paper towels.
- If the paper towels become fully saturated, you may need to replace them with fresh paper towels and continue pressing until the paper towels stop absorbing moisture.
You can now proceed to cut the tofu block into strips or cubes for use in your recipes.Continue to 3 of 3 below.
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Option: Slice and Freeze the Pressed Tofu
After you have pressed your tofu for at least 30 minutes, you may also want to slice it into strips or cubes and then freeze it. Freezing tofu will change the texture of the tofu, making it firmer and "chewier," as well as more absorbent. This can be it very effective in recipes where the tofu is grilled, baked, or stir-fried since the stips or cubes will hold their shape without falling apart.