Tofu is a strange ingredient; it can range from being totally bland and almost gross to a masterful, flavorful piece in a culinary work. It's all about how you prepare it. Aside from seasoning tofu, a crucial step to making tofu delicious is pressing it or draining it in some way.
To figure out the best way to press and drain tofu, we put three common methods to the test.
There are several methods out there to getting the water out of tofu:
More details on each method below:
A DIY tofu press can be made with a few easy items you have around the house.
The most basic version can be made with two plates (or any flat surfaces) and then a few weighted items such as books, cans, or more even blocks of tofu.
To make a DIY Tofu Press, place the block of tofu on one plate and place the other plate on top of the tofu. Then place the weighted items on the top plate and allow it to sit for 30-45 minutes.
Proceed to check the tofu after that amount of time as elapsed and drain the water out from the bottom of the plate to prevent the tofu from re-hydrating itself. You can also use paper towels to capture some of the water, but this could get wasteful rather quickly.
You can proceed to add more weight every 10-15 minutes to get all of the stubborn water out.
If you're not one for DIY projects, Tofu presses can be purchased rather inexpensively and works to simplify the process.
Simply put, a tofu press actually has its own set of plates with four screws. You slide your block of tofu between the plates and tighten the screws to apply more pressure to the tofu.
The advantage is that you don't have to do a balancing act like with Method 1 and you can create a similar amount of pressure every time you press.
Freezing tofu might sound a bit strange, but it actually has a legitimate culinary application.
Upon freezing, the water will turn into ice crystals and create small holes upon thawing giving it a more chewy and spongy texture.
Many people swear by freezing it, so we wanted to see how it worked as a standalone method.
With aspirations to narrow down the best technique, we decided to set up three experiments using each of the methods listed above.
To keep things simple, we marinaded the tofu in a vegan buffalo sauce after it was pressed or frozen. We then baked the tofu in a convection oven for 30 minutes. Our goals with this test were two fold:
Making the DIY tofu press was easy, but getting it to look and perform gracefully was hard. We assembled it with two plates, paper towels, and cans of beans.
The biggest issue that we had was getting even weight distribution on the tofu. At the end of the day, it didn't make a big deal in terms of getting the water out, but it did make the tofu a bit uneven. as you can see in the picture below.
The whole system ended up toppling over from this uneven weight distribution and the bang was quite alarming! We realized that cans probably weren't the best method here so we decided to get some weight dumbells.
The dumbells provided a much more stable press, but it looked a bit laughable. Also, given all of the room that it took up on the plate, adding more weight wasn't possible. This wasn't entirely needed to drain it, but it could have potentially been drained a bit quicker if we could have increased the tension.
While the tofu press did inspire a bit of skepticism at first, we were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to use. Needless to say, there were much fewer moving parts and it was a lot easier to set up than the DIY press.
The only complaint with the tofu press was that there's not really a great surface to do it on. If you do it on the counter then the counter will get wet, so balancing it on a plate seemed like a good idea. However, this was a bit of an inconvenience, and it meant that more things had to be cleaned.
Not the biggest deal, but perhaps next time it would be best done in an empty sink.
Given the balanced nature of the press, it allowed us to get an even press on the tofu. You can tell in the picture above which one was done on the tofu press and which one was done with the DIY press.
Both of these methods produced near identical results in terms of texture and flavor absorption.
The buffalo tofu came out delicious of course, but none of the sauce seeped past the outside of the tofu slices.
We'd probably recommend using the tofu press just for the ease of use, but if you're in a pinch or don't want to fork over the cost for one (they're usually pretty cheap) then the DIY press will work.
We froze the tofu overnight and then allowed it to thaw the next day.
After it was completely thawed we allowed it to marinate for several hours in the same buffalo sauce as the pressed tofu.
There was a stark difference in the texture of the tofu after it defrosted. It had a bunch of tiny little holes which allowed it to absorb more of the sauce than the tofu that was pressed. These holes were quite visible as well as the color of the inside of the tofu when we cut the slices in half.
Looking at it from the top, the tofu you can see the holes illustrated even better.
The texture of this tofu was more spongy and chewy than when it was pressed. Comparing it to another type of food is difficult, but it was kind of like a soy nugget only a lot better.
Simply for the factor of time invested and convenience compared to results, the freezing method was the one that came out on top. It changed the texture and flavor of the tofu in a very positive way without having to do much work at all.
However, it is not a "one size fits all" method for every type of flavor profile in our opinion.
For example, a sweet and smoky flavor profile for tofu would probably be better if it was denser, making one of the tofu pressing methods ideal.
If you're going to slather it in buffalo sauce like we did, having it perform like a boneless tofu nugget best served the flavor profile.
Overall, we're definitely going to be freezing or pressing our tofu from now on. Neither are a huge inconvenience and they both took the experience to the next level.
Cooking healthy, delicious, plant-based meals has been Joey’s true passion since he went vegan in 2015. He has a masters in Nutrition and Food Science and is committed to making the internet a place of education and knowledge rather than misinformation and clickbait. He currently lives in Delaware with his wife.