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Why You Don’t Actually Have to Press Tofu in Vegetarian Recipes

In many recipes, you can skip the lengthy step of pressing moisture out of your tofu

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By Bon Appetit US | October 3, 2023 | Recipes

You’ll see this instruction over and over and over in tofu recipes: Press the block for at least 30 minutes, ideally an hour, before cooking. Editors at this very magazine have written on the importance of pressing your tofu, sung the praises of a tofu-pressing gadget, and suggested hacks to drain the water out. Now I am another editor telling you to do exactly the opposite.

I’ve eaten a lot of tofu over the years, especially when I was vegetarian. Crispy maple-soy tofu, orange tofu and broccoli, you name it. Even now that I’ve reincorporated meat into my diet, I’ve maintained a deep fondness for this spongy block of soy. But in all this time, I have not pressed a single block of tofu.

Even those who own a tofu press says they only uses it “maybe 40% of the time, on a good month”. Image via Unsplash

More often than not, I’m too hungry to bother squishing tofu beneath a stack of cookbooks until it releases a cup of water through its pores. I need dinner, stat. A thorough pat-down with a kitchen towel will suffice. And you know what? It always comes out great. Yes, even when I’m making crispy tofu. As long as the outside is dry enough, the exterior of the cubes still crisps up nicely—especially with a quick coat of flour or starch—and the interior stays moist.

Sure, there are some cases when pressing tofu is beneficial. Associate food editor Kendra Vaculin presses tofu for frying or grilling, like in her recipe for Bulgogi Tofu Burgers (excess moisture can cause flame flare-ups on the grill). Five-spice doufu gan comes already pressed: This dense, chewy, and flavorful type of tofu holds up particularly well to stir-frying.

Instead of pressing tofu, patting the tofu dry, rather than fully wringing the block, keeps the inside of the pieces moist. Image via Pexels.

But most of the time, you can skip the pressing step and get away with it. My coworkers agree: “I eat tofu often and always feel like I don’t have the time to press,” says director of culinary production Kelly Janke, who rarely presses her tofu. Staff writer Ali Francis—who owns a tofu press—says she actually uses it “maybe 40% of the time, on a good month.” Food editor Shilpa Uskokovic agrees there’s really no need to press: “I’ve always thought unpressed tofu cooks up just as crisp and golden as pressed tofu,” she says. In her recipe for Tofu and Green Pea Curry, Shilpa simply calls for you to blot the tofu dry before searing.

And in my recipe for tofu nuggets, using unpressed tofu is crucial. Patting the tofu dry, rather than fully wringing the block, keeps the inside of the nuggets moist. Then a coating of flour and cornstarch, plus a quick toss in oil, ensures they get crispy and golden. The whole dish is ready in the time it’d have taken the tofu to press.

This article was originally published by Bon Appetit US.