Should you slice and salt tofu before pressing it? Should you press it with books or with your hands? Why press tofu at all? Let's answer these questions using a test of 5 different methods of pressing tofu to figure out what's the optimal way to get crispy golden pan-fried tofu.
Why press tofu? I always assumed that the purpose of pressing tofu was to squeeze out as much water as possible. But after the taste test, I changed my opinion on why you should press tofu and the optimal way to do it. Read on to find out what I learned from my tofu pressing experiment and the
laziest best way to press tofu.
Why press tofu
Pressing tofu expels excess water and dries the surface to allow you to get a crispy and brown crust when you pan fry or stir fry it. Some people prefer the mouthfeel of denser tofu, and pressing tofu is an easy way to achieve it.
Learning to press tofu is one of the foundational steps to cooking tofu. It's the catch-all solution when someone complains that tofu is watery, bland, and takes too long to cook.
Some people claim that pressing tofu makes it absorb sauces and marinades better. I disagree. Maybe pressed tofu has less water on the surface, which helps sauces coat it better. But I believe the best way to make tofu absorbent is to freeze it, not necessarily to press it.
Why press tofu then? Because blotting the surface allows you to fry it without oil splattering everywhere. If you don't press tofu, it tastes greasy tofu after you fry it. You want crispy and golden tofu, not tofu that tastes oily. If you press (and more importantly blot) tofu, you get a flavorful, golden crunchy texture outside and tender, creamy tofu inside.
Now you're convinced that you should learn how to press tofu, let's learn why I don't believe in tofu presses.
Why press tofu without a tofu press
There are many contraptions on the market to help you press your tofu. Some like the EZ Tofu Press have more than a thousand reviews on Amazon. It's decently priced ($25) for a single-purpose gadget that you could probably make with cheap materials from Home Depot if you're handy. (The reviews are hilarious so it's worth checking out just to read the reviews for entertainment). On the high end, the Sumo Tofu Press clocks in at $120. It looks a lot like a paperweight and a metal container with some holes drilled into it.
Call me a minimalist. But I don't get it.
WARNING: Rant ahead.
Machines can press tofu more perfectly than you ever can! And machines don't break tofu when they press it. To people who say the tofu press changed their life, have you tried cooking super-firm tofu that doesn't need pressing?
If you want firm, dense tofu that fries up crispy and is super high in protein, why are you buying watery medium-firm tofu? You should buy extra-firm or super-firm tofu that was made with more coagulant and pressed by a machine to drain most of the water.
NOTE: If you're fatFIRE and regularly find $100 bills in your coat pockets without trying, then maybe a tofu press makes sense for you.
For the rest of us, if you want to press tofu, you can DIY. Get a chopping board, paper towels/kitchen towels, and textbooks (yes, the books cost more than $120 combined but you can probably find old, heavy objects around the house for free). Roll up your sleeves. If you try DIY and decide you still want to click the affiliate links from bloggers pushing you hard to buy a tofu press, go for it. But at least give DIY a try.
Rant over. Promise. 😇
Read on to learn my favorite technique for pressing tofu without special equipment. But first, let's dive into my experiment to see what we can learn from 5 different ways of pressing tofu.
5 different ways to press tofu
I scoured the Internet to find everybody's favorite way to press tofu. I came up with the following 5 DIY methods to press tofu:
- Method #1 Whole Pressed: A whole block of tofu is pressed between paper towels/kitchen towels/kitchen rolls with heavy books to apply pressure to squeeze out water.
- Method #2 Sliced Pressed: Sliced tofu is pressed between paper towels with heavy books to apply pressure.
- Method #3 Sliced Steamed: Salted boiling water is poured over sliced tofu and the tofu is blotted after a few minutes with paper towels (this technique is attributed to Serious Eats and Andrea Nguyen).
- Method #4 Sliced Soaked: Sliced tofu is steamed for 5 minutes and blotted with paper towels (attributed to this comment on Reddit).
- Method #1 Sliced No Pressing: Sliced tofu is blotted with paper towels without pressing for 5 minutes (my idea for comparing what happens if you don't press).
My guess was that method #2 (sliced tofu pressed using heavy books) would result in the best taste and method #5 (blotting sliced tofu with zero pressing) would do almost nothing (after all, there's no pressing in method #5).
In addition to the 5 conditions, I also measured the weight of the tofu at 5 minutes, 25 minutes, and 60 minutes for method #1 (whole tofu pressed with heavy books) and #2 (sliced tofu pressed with heavy books) to determine whether there are diminishing returns to pressing tofu for longer. After all, I'm lazy and want my pressed tofu immediately! So is there any benefit to waiting longer for more water to be squeezed out?
Results from the tofu press experiment
Here are the results of the 5 methods.
|Whole (g)||Sliced (g)||Water removed from Slicing (g)||After 5 minutes (g)||% difference after 5 minutes||Change after 5 minutes (g)|
|Method #1 Whole Pressed||542||N/A||N/A||436||-19.56%||106|
|Method #2 Sliced Pressed||486||484||2||410||-15.64%||76|
|Method #3 Sliced Steamed||501||498||3||445||-11.18%||56|
|Method #4 Sliced Soaked||517||514||3||478||-7.54%||39|
|Method #5 Sliced No Pressing||491||487||4||460||-6.31%||31|
What can we conclude from this test?
- Pressing the tofu with heavy books squeezed the most water out. No surprise there.
- Slicing tofu loses on average 3 g of water.
- Steaming tofu before pressing squeezes out more water than soaking it and blotting alone (counter-intuitive to think that steaming tofu would do anything)
In case you want to dive into the weeds, here is the percentage change over time for method #1 and #2.
|Method #1 Whole Pressed||Method #2 Sliced Pressed|
|After 5 minutes pressing (g)||436||410|
|% difference after 5 minutes||-19.56%||-15.64%|
|Change after 5 minutes (g)||106||76|
|After 25 minutes (g)||389||367|
|% change after 25 minutes||-10.78%||-10.49%|
|Change after 25 minutes (g)||47||43|
|% change compared to whole||-28.23%||-24.49%|
|After 60 minutes (g)||365||353|
|% change after 60 minutes||-6.17%||-3.81%|
|Change after 60 minutes (g)||24||14|
|% change compared to whole||-32.66%||-27.37%|
The first 5 minutes squeeze out the greatest percentage of water. What's surprising is that after 60 minutes, there is still water squeezed out of the tofu. Whether you decide to press your tofu for 5 minutes or 1 to 2 hours is up to you. But there are benefits to waiting longer if you are not in a rush to cook your tofu.
Pressed tofu taste test
Ultimately, what we care about is how our taste buds respond to pressed tofu, right? I fried the 5 methods of pressed and blotted tofu to determine which was my and Alex's favorite. Here is what I learned.
My favorite was method #1 (whole and pressed with heavy books) because its nooks and crannies became crispier than the other pressed tofu methods.
Method #2 (sliced and pressed with heavy books) was too dense for me. I thought I would enjoy it the most because it was pressed the most. It was chewy and didn't have the soft texture inside like method #3 (sliced and steamed, not pressed), #4 (sliced and soaked in salted water, not pressed), and #5 (sliced and blotted, not pressed). However, method #2 was Alex's favorite because he liked the tofu density and firm.
Another lesson: I accidentally sliced method #3 (sliced, steamed, and blotted) along the shorter width rather than the length. Because less surface area was fried, it tasted inferior to method #4 (sliced, soaked, and blotted) and #5 (sliced and blotted). Perhaps the greatest surprise was that method #5 (sliced and blotted, not pressed) was not as tasty as #1. It couldn't get as crispy and flavorful outside though it was moist and tender inside. My conclusion is that there is a justification for pressing tofu! It makes a difference in taste and crispiness.
RELATED: Check out other Garlic Delight taste test results.
Conclusions from pressing tofu & the taste test
While there isn't much harm in pressing tofu for an hour since it's a "set it and forget it" process, it's up to you whether you think the time is worth it. If you're in a hurry, spending 5 minutes pressing tofu will get you most of the benefits. It's also a waste of time to try the "exotic" techniques like steaming or soaking tofu in salted boiling water.
There are 2 ways worth "pressing" tofu:
- Slice tofu. Blot with paper towels and rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Press the tofu between heavy books for at least 5 minutes.
If you need detailed guidance on how to slice and blot tofu or how to press it, read on to find my tips.
How to press tofu step-by-step
If you're in a rush, simply blot the sliced tofu with paper towels/kitchen towels to dry the outside and then fry it in hot oil. While not as delicious as pressed tofu, it still hits the spot. Here are the steps for slicing and then blotting tofu:
- Slice your tofu into 1 inch/2.5 cm thick slices.
- Put a layer of paper towels/kitchen towels on the chopping board.
- Put the sliced tofu on top of the paper towels.
- Put another layer of paper towels/kitchen towels on top of the sliced tofu.
- Leave it for 5 to 10 minutes. Prep your other ingredients or peel garlic while you're waiting.
- Your tofu is ready to fry!
If you're willing to invest some time, set up a stack of heavy books and crush either an entire block of tofu or sliced tofu until you squeeze out as much water as possible. You can press it for 5 minutes or longer. You can push down on the books to squeeze extra moisture out of the tofu. Then slice the pressed tofu into strips and pan fry. Here are the steps for pressing tofu:
- Optional: slice the tofu if you prefer it extra dense.
- Put a layer of paper towels/kitchen towels on the chopping board.
- Place your block of tofu on top of the paper towels. Place another layer of paper towels on top of the tofu. Place another chopping board over the paper towels.
- Put multiple heavy books (or cans, paperweights, or a Dutch oven) on top of the chopping board. You can also push on the top chopping board with your hands.
- Wait for 5 minutes while the moisture is squeezed out.
- Slice the tofu into 1 inch/2.5 cm thick slices (if you didn't already slice it in the optional step 1).
- Your tofu is ready to fry!
Remember, the point of pressing tofu is to create a dry surface that gets crispy and golden brown on the outside while tasting moist, tender, and creamy inside after frying the tofu. If you're looking for the densest, driest, chewiest, firmest tofu, and you don't care about a creamy, tender inside, you should save yourself time by skipping pressing tofu. Simply buy super-firm tofu or five-spice tofu instead.
FAQ about pressing tofu
Is there a less wasteful method of pressing tofu than using paper towels?
Yes, you can use a muslin cloth, cheesecloth, or kitchen towels instead of paper towels. I've also re-used the same paper towels to press tofu (I squeeze out the extra water and lay them flat to dry out).