The Case for Buying a Tofu Press
I am an avid tofu eater. As someone who is more interested in eating flora over fauna, I tend to keep several blocks of extra firm tofu in my fridge ready to be transformed into a meal at any given moment. What I have learned over the years is that the key to great tofu is texture. The crispier the tofu, the better. And what is antithetical to crispy? Water. Tofu, especially the grocery store variety, is filled with it. The best way to quickly get rid of the water? Press the tofu.
Some people have elaborate methods for draining and pressing tofu. I have very little patience, so my routine involves pouring off the water surrounding a block of tofu, wrapping the block in a clean kitchen towel (or paper towels), setting it in a strainer, and then precariously balancing whatever heavy things I can find nearby on top. Sometimes I turned to a cast iron skillet, other times heavy glass jars filled with f sugar. It's basically a sick-and-twisted hybrid game of Jenga and Tetris that I play, hoping it doesn't result in me spending hours vacuuming up shards of broken glass later. Given that I now cook tofu on average three times a week, it was clear I needed a better system. Enter the tofu press.
I have long known about tofu presses, but I am allergic to single use kitchen tools, so I never really bothered to get one. So I decided to try a few out, to see which one pressed tofu most efficiently. It's amazing how well—and safely—they do their job, regardless of what style you purchase.
The EZ Tofu Press ($22.49) is the simplest in construction and also the most versatile. It's essentially two slabs of food-grade plastic held together with two sets of bolts and grommets. You put the to-be-pressed tofu between the plastic slabs. There are no springs, which means you must twist the tension knobs every two minutes or so, for about 10 to 15 minutes, until no more water remains in the tofu block. I wish this was a little more hands-off, but you can put any size slab of tofu through this press and get even results. I kept it on a plate to catch any water that might run off. It's also not the best-looking press, but it gets the job done and is quite sturdy.
The other presses, while more aesthetically pleasing, require using an entire block of tofu for the best and most even results. (And when you are often cooking for one, you don't always want to eat a whole block of tofu!) The press from Tofudee ($30.95) as well as the press from Yarkor Tofu ($22.49) rely on a spring mechanism to squeeze water out of the tofu — the former has a spring on top that pushes down and the latter a spring on the bottom. They both are "set it and forget" type devices, but I found the Yarkor Tofu press a bit more fussy to use. The best part of both is that water just drains into the bottom of the devices and you simply have to dump it out after removing the tofu.
I found all three of the aforementioned presses to be a little bulky. The solution? The compact and efficient press from Tofuture ($21.39). Though the device has a terrible name, it is not much larger than a block of tofu itself and because it doesn't have a spring mechanism or bolts and grommets to fuss with — just a lid with strong bands that you clasp onto each side of the container — it's the smallest option. I like to put a block of tofu in the press and toss it in the fridge for a few hours or even overnight.
Regardless of which press you use, the tofu, within 15-30 minutes of being pressed is compacted to at least half of its height. The result is a product is much denser and way less crumbly. It cuts neatly and does result in a crispier end result when pan-fried. (I personally like to cut the drained tofu into cubes, toss with cornstarch, and then pan-fry which gives it an extra-crispy coating.) It also requires no finagling with rolls of paper towel and balancing cast iron skillets — not to mention it's secondary use as a mold to make slabs of paneer.
A tofu press is not a necessary kitchen tool in the way that a great set of knives or a good spatula is, but if you are someone who cooks with tofu at least once a week, I would consider springing for one. It's one of the cheapest ways to help transform tofu from something good, into something great — and I wish I had invested in one much sooner.