Admit it, carnivores. You still think tofu is some kind of meat-substitute for hippies; a wan, quivering excuse for a protein foisted upon the culinarily conscientious. But that ain’t the whole story.
Tofu's a culinary as much as conscientious staple (evidence: the cuisines of China, Japan, Korea, etc.). And that’s owing to its incredible versatility—it's adaptive to a variety of preparations, able to soak up flavors and transform texturally with just the right amount of coaxing.
We won’t get ahead of ourselves with some misguided “tofu-is-cool” conversion effort. Instead we’ll just share a technique that’ll help non-tofu eaters understand just how malleable and useful an ingredient it can be. It’s called pressing tofu, and all you need is tofu, a plate, something heavy, and an open mind.
Tofu image via Shutterstock
Step One: Purchase Tofu
Seems easy, and it is. Just be sure to find a tofu that’s firm—pressing soft or silken tofu will end up in a mushy mess. Medium or firm work best. If you’re lucky enough to have access to freshly made tofu, go a little gentler on the weight, as fresher tofu is bound to be more delicate.
Step Two: Plate the Tofu
Home with your new block of tofu? First, a celebratory fist pump. Now, open your tofu, drain it, and pat it with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Place your tofu in a plate with high rims or a wide shallow bowl. The liquid from the tofu will collect in here, so the longer you plan on draining it, the more room you should have for the liquid. Some people recommend placing a paper towel beneath it to encourage absorption.
Step Three: Weigh that Tofu Down
Retrieve a second plate; this will hold your tofu weight. Go for something as wide as the plate your tofu is on—distribution of weight makes for more even pressing. Now select a tofu weight. This is important (not like save the whales important, but it’s up there): too heavy and it’ll crack your tofu, too light and you won’t extract much liquid. Good options are wide books (avoid Tolstoy, something hardbound and not too thick). Want some irony with your pressed tofu? Use other packages of tofu, side by side, to press it. Now walk away.
Step Four: Check Your Tofu
Check your tofu, lest you wreck it. Come back about 30 to 40 minutes later. You should see moisture starting to seep out of your tofu—that’s good! Depending on the level of dryness desired (drier tofu will have a chewier, “meatier” texture) drain your tofu for anywhere from 20 heavily—carefully—weighed-down minutes to several hours. If you’re not leaving your tofu to drain for the day, feel free to periodically drain the liquid as it collects—but that’s not necessary.
Step Five: Flavor that ‘fu
Okay, now we are trying to make it sound cool. Properly pressed tofu has a great, toothsome texture. It does not, however, contain much in the way of flavor (unless, like some of us, you love the ghostly, milky nuttiness of plain tofu). Fortunately, by pressing tofu, you have just prepped it to absorb a variety of flavors—whatever (oil-free) marinade your heart desires. Slice your tofu for maximum surface area and faster absorption, and marinate for at least 30 minutes.
Step Six: Prepare Your Tofu
Take your newly pressed, flavor-packed tofu and do just about anything with it. Slice it up for a classic stir fry, coat it and toss it into a health-be-damned pan fry, or throw it on the grill for some meatiness-upping char. The possibilities are endless.