How to Make Your Own Tofu Press at Home
It’s unavoidable – to those unfamiliar with it, tofu has a pretty rough reputation. Even among vegans, the mere mention of the stuff can elicit wrinkled noses and groans.
“Mushy,” “weird”, and “flavorless” are all adjectives I’ve heard used for tofu, but in reality, tofu’s bad reputation is entirely undeserved.
The same people who use the words above to describe tofu are usually the same ones that have only ever taken their block of tofu from package to pan – no pressing, no marinating, no nothing.
Unless you’re buying pre-seasoned, ready-to-eat packaged tofu, it’s no wonder it tastes like nothing. You would never toss plain, unseasoned chicken breast on the grill or in a pan, so why do that with tofu and expect something different?
The real power of tofu comes from pressing all the water out and using a flavorful marinade to make a delicious protein-packed meal.
Why Should I Press Tofu?
I would say that, more than anything else, pressing tofu and extracting every last drop of water is the single most important step in separating mushy, gross tofu from flavorful, chewy, amazing tofu.
If you’re eating a lot of tofu at home and want I always recommend investing in a tofu press as it will save you a lot of time and a lot of mess. If you do decide to go that route, make sure you read my guide to finding the best tofu press first.
I’ll admit that I love my Tofu Xpress, but it’s always good to be able to put together a tofu press on a moment’s notice.
Maybe you’re traveling and don’t have your tofu press with you where you’re staying.
Maybe your tofu press breaks.
Or maybe you just don’t want to drop money on a store bought press when you can easily make a diy tofu press at home. And if that’s your reasoning, I don’t blame you - if you have a cookie sheet, a dish towel, and some heavy books or hand weights, you can be on your way to chewy, tasty tofu in just a matter of minutes.
Before we get to pressing, there're a few guidelines as to what kinds of tofu to use in your homemade press.
What You’ll Need
You don’t need any particular or exact supplies here, so we’ll go by the role each part plays:
1. Something Absorbent
Depending on whether your tofu is firm or extra-firm, it’s going to give off quite a bit of waterduring the pressing process.
Since you’re forcing water out of the tofu, you’ll needsomewhere for it to go – preferably not all over your kitchen counter and floor (I learned thatone the hard way).
Some people suggest wrapping your block of tofu in paper towels, but I find this wasteful asthe paper isn’t very absorbent and you need to change to a fresh layer now and then.
I use a big absorbent dish towel to wrap my tofu in, and when it’s done draining, I just toss it in the laundry. Much less garbage, fewer trees harmed, and I don’t have to keep coming back to the tofu to wrap and re-wrap it.
The towel does a good job of absorbing all the liquid expelled by the block of tofu.
If you’re really against having to wrap your tofu at all, the alternative would be to place your tofu in some sort of container to catch the water.
A loaf or casserole pan could work nicely ifit gives you enough space to stack weights on top of the block.
2. Something Flat
You’ll actually need two flat somethings here, but one shouldn’t be too hard as it’s just a flatsurface for the tofu to sit on – I use a plate, cookie sheet, or my kitchen countertops.
The second flat something will be something to put on top of the towel-wrapped tofu to evenly distribute the weight.
Try to use something that is not too much larger than the block of tofu itself – too muchoverhang on any of the sides will increase the likelihood that your weights will fall off the top - a small cutting board, flat plate, or heavy book is a perfect candidate for the job.
My only warning in choosing something flat is to remember that it will be sitting directly ontop of the towel, which is going to absorb water and get wet as it sits.
A gorgeous coffeetable book or your few-inch-thick $400 college textbook seems like it would be great for this purpose, until the towel, absorbs water and completely soaks the cover of your book and then the college bookstore won’t buy it back (not that I’m speaking from experience, of course).
Do your future self a favor and, if you decide to go the book route, make sure to useone that you don’t mind ruining.
3. Something Heavy
The weight on top of the tofu is going to be what forces the liquid out. Sometimes, your “something flat” and your “something heavy” can be the same thing – a really big book like a dictionary or a cast iron pan works well as evenly distributed weight.
However, if you’re using a plate or a cookie sheet that doesn’t have much heft to it, you’ll need something to weigh it all down and force the water out of your tofu.
You can use pretty much anything for weights – a couple of cans of beans or a hand weight from your workouts works perfectly.
Make sure to center your heavy objects well and evenly distribute the weight on your tofu – if it is crooked, the entire press will shift and you’ll risk the weights falling, which could cause damage or injury.
Be sure to keep the press away from pets and out of reach of small children.
Step-by-Step: Making the Press
Start with one pound of firm or extra firm tofu. If you bought a packaged block, remove the tofu from the plastic tub.
Wrap your block of tofu like a little burrito in paper towels or a dish towel. Ensure that there are no lumps or bumps, and the surfaces of the tofu are entirely flat.
Place your flat item, like a book or cookie sheet, on top of the wrapped tofu. I used a pie plate.
Place the canned beans, hand weights, or another heavy object on top, taking care to center the weight to avoid toppling. I used a 5-pound hand weight.
Wait. Press for at least 30 minutes, but longer is better – the drier your tofu, the better the result will be.
If you plan to do an all-day press (highly recommended!) move the whole apparatus to the fridge to keep your tofu cold and fresh.
When you’ve pressed your tofu for as long as you can, remove it from the towel – it will be considerably thinner than what you started with.
Slice into slabs or cubes. It’s ready for your favorite recipe!
Types of Tofu to Press
If you take a trip to the refrigerated section of your health food or grocery store, you’ll see a wide variety of tofu available.
On the whole, though, it comes in four different textures – silken, soft, firm, and extra firm. The difference between the varieties is simply how much water has already been pressed out of them.
Silken tofu is the wateriest, and therefore softest tofu, while extra firm tofu has already had much of the water removed during processing, and makes for a very sturdy block.
When you’re pressing tofu, you’ll want to be sure to use either the firm or extra firm variety – these textures will hold their shape despite the pressure of the press, and you’ll have a solid, dense result to use in your recipe.
Soft and silken tofus don’t tend to press well because they simply turn to mush when you apply weight to them. For this reason, you’ll want to keep your soft and silken tofu for creamy applications like smoothies, sauces, and pudding, while firm and extra firm tofus are best for sturdier recipes like tofu scramble and stir-fry.
I happen to be partial to the dry chewiness of extra-firm tofu (it’s also the only one available in bulk at my local food co-op), but you can use firm or extra firm tofu in your DIY press.
Look for them in the refrigerated or health foods section in square plastic tubs or in a bulk bin.
How Much Tofu Can I Press at Once?
The beauty of a homemade tofu press is that you aren’t limited by the size of the press container. If you want to press a few blocks of tofu at once, or you have an irregularly shaped block of tofu, you can press it no problem with this method.
As tofu usually comes in one-pound blocks, this is the size I find myself pressing most often. I generally press the entire block and do my slicing afterward, but there are some folks who like to cut the tofu into slabs, lay them out in a single layer, and press that way. I find it too difficult to slice them all very evenly, so the single-block approach works for me.
I don’t recommend cutting your tofu into very small pieces before pressing, or pressing less than half a pound or so at a time. If your pieces are too small, they’ll just wind up getting crushed by the weight and won’t keep their shape for your recipe.
A piece of tofu that is too small (1/2 pound or less) is hard to balance weights on top of and tends to topple over before the pressing process is complete.
Unless you’re cooking for a huge crowd, 1-2 pounds at a time should be a perfect amount.
How to Use & Marinate Pressed Tofu
If you want truly perfect tofu, the one-two punch of pressing and marinating is important.
After every last drop of water has been removed from your tofu, cut it into the shapes you need for your recipe and put it in a bowl (or return it to the dish you pressed it in).
When choosing a marinade, think about the final dish you plan to make using the tofu. For Asian-style stir-fries, I like a marinade of soy sauce, pineapple juice, and garlic, while baked tofu that will stand on its own gets a flavorful soak in balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard.
You can use anything you want to marinate your tofu – try a bottled marinade from the store, or even your favorite salad dressing – I love grilled tofu that’s been marinated in a zesty Italian dressing.
Chances are, if it sounds good to you, it will taste awesome. Don’t be afraid to use bold flavors!
Like pressing, marinating is best when you can do it for a long time. At a minimum, you should plan to marinate for at least half an hour, but you’ll get a much better flavor if you can marinate for a few hours, or overnight.
When the tofu has finished marinating, simply shake off any excess marinade and cook. You can baste with the excess marinade throughout the cooking process and, unlike chicken, you can serve the extra marinade as a sauce since there aren't any harmful bacteria in raw tofu.
No waste here!
Will Pressing and Marinating Make My Tofu Taste Like Meat?
Pressing and marinating will give you a dense, chewy, and flavorful tofu.
However, because it isn’t meat, it won’t taste like meat, and no amount of pressing or marinating is going to turn soybean curd into something that will fool an omnivore.
However, instead of looking for something that tastes “like meat”, we can appreciate tofu’s own taste and texture.
By achieving that very firm, dense texture through pressing, and applying flavor through marinades, tofu can be a satisfying and nutritious protein all on its own.
Storing Pressed Tofu
Once your tofu is pressed, you won’t be able to store it in water, which is how tofu is typically kept fresh.
I always recommend that you press the tofu a few hours before you cook it – once pressed, it will keep in the fridge for a little while, but any longer than a day or so, it will start to go bad.
If you absolutely must store the pressed tofu before cooking, try popping it in the freezer and allowing it to thaw when you’re ready to cook with it.
Note, however, that this will noticeably change the texture – frozen and thawed tofu tends to be much drier, and the air pockets are much more exaggerated. Some people like this texture, but it will not be as dense as freshly pressed tofu.
Patience Is a Virtue
Yes, pressing and marinating your tofu will add some time – mostly waiting – to your cooking process.
However, like most things, you only get out of tofu what you put in, and ultimately, your patience will be rewarded.
Much of tofu’s very unfair bad reputation comes from people not bothering to give the love and respect to tofu that it deserves.
With just a few minutes and a couple of items you have laying around your house, you can transform a somewhat wiggly white block into a firm, dense, and satisfying ingredient that lends itself well to hearty and nutritious meals.
With such an easy way to remove the water, there’s simply no excuse for soggy, watery, flavorless tofu anymore!