How to Squeeze Tofu – or Decide if It’s Even Necessary

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For a long time, when recipes suggested squeezing liquid out of tofu by sandwiching it between a lined plate and one weighed down with tin cans, I dutifully started piling on it. But did I need it? Was there a better way?

Andrea Nguyen, the cookbook instructor and author whose works include “Asian Tofu,” doesn’t blame home cooks for being confused or undecided about exactly how to get rid of excess liquid from tofu. – or if you really need it. “There’s so much fear and so much ambiguity about using tofu in cooking that people are afraid of it,” she says.

Here’s what you need to know before you start cooking.

What is the liquid. If you’re used to buying tofu at the grocery store, you’re probably familiar with water-packed blocks. This is mostly what you face when it comes to removing excess moisture. But tofu can also contain residual whey, a coagulation byproduct of soy milk that turns into curds. Whey is the liquid left over after the curd is removed (similar to cheese making).

Tofu sometimes gets a bad rap. Here’s how to make it awesome.

Know your types of tofu. Water-packed block tofu is sold in varying degrees of firmness: soft, medium, firm, and extra-firm. With these, it’s pretty obvious that you want to make an effort to get rid of excess fluid. But not all tofu is the same. Silken tofu, for example, is usually sold in an aseptic package with no added water (it also comes in soft, firm, and extra-firm varieties). The delicate nature of silken tofu also means you don’t want to squeeze or handle it too much. On the other end of the spectrum is super firm vacuum-packed tofu. It is dry and compact. “You don’t have to do much for this stuff,” Nguyen says.

In Asia, many people buy bagged fresh tofu intended for specific purposes, which means there is little or no preparation to combat dampness, says Jenny Yang of Phoenix Bean-based tofu producer. Chicago. If you happen to get your tofu from a similar operation, you’re way ahead of the game.

Understand when it matters most. “In some recipes, it doesn’t matter,” Nguyen says, indicating whether you need to make an effort to get rid of excess moisture. If you throw the tofu into the soup, “who cares?” Just drain the water and you’re ready to go.

Yang says she doesn’t worry as much when it comes to grilling tofu.

In general, says Nguyen, “you have to treat tofu like any other protein, frankly.” This means you should do your best to encourage browning for better flavor and appearance. And don’t forget to season the tofu (more on strategies that can do both below).

It’s worth considering if excess moisture will be a problem. This will be the case in the case of pan-fried plain tofu, as more of the heat from the pan will go to evaporating the water than to cooking the bean curd. If, however, you’re tossing the tofu in cornstarch or another starch before frying it, you want some, but not much, surface moisture to help the coating stick.

Yang says too much moisture can wreak havoc on gravy dishes such as mapo tofu, leading to something watered down in flavor and consistency.

You can have mapo tofu at home, with no takeout box — or meat — required

Choose your method. Nguyen’s philosophy: “Keep it simple. I think people are making too much of a fuss.”

When he spotlighted a Korean-style spicy braised tofu recipe from J. Kenji López Alt’s book “The Wok,” editor Joe Yonan also gave us permission to relax. “Instead of worrying about getting too much moisture from tofu, you can just focus on getting stopped the tofu. Drying the outside prepares it for better pan-frying, making the outside firm and a bit crispy, while leaving the inside creamy.

How to choose the right method? “It’s more up to the cook,” says Nguyen, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Do what you are most comfortable with, or what gives you the best results or the fewest dishes to clean.

Find your options below, roughly ranked from simplest to most complex.

  • Drain on towels: Nguyen is a proponent of simply slicing or dicing the tofu and letting the pieces rest on clean tea towels while she prepares the other ingredients. If you’re really impatient, you can just mop up the tofu and move on, as Joe learned with the Braised Tofu recipe.
  • Dry brining: This Nguyen technique is basically the same as the one above, with the addition of sprinkling a rounded quarter teaspoon of fine sea salt over a pound of cut up tofu and letting it hang for 10-20 minutes (if you use kosher salt, it will take a little longer to dissolve). It seasons and helps draw moisture out of the tofu, and Nguyen says you’ll get more even browning this way.
  • Microwave: Wrap the tofu in a clean kitchen towel and microwave on high for 1 minute. Unwrap, rewrap with a clean towel and repeat. It’s a quick and easy option, although Nguyen points out that you then have to wait for the tofu to cool.
  • Pressing: Using two plates and a heavy box of something from your pantry, as described above, is an easy way for home cooks to press tofu, no dedicated tofu press needed . “I don’t have a special gadget for weighing tofu,” Nguyen says, nor does she recommend it for home cooks unless you want one for homemade tofu. If you decide to press the tofu, be careful not to crush it too much, as it may break.
  • Rinsing: Unexpectedly, you can use water to finally help you get rid of it. Yang suggests rinsing the tofu with hot salted water, which adds flavor and ultimately draws out the moisture. She encourages people to treat tofu the same way as canned beans, which we are taught to drain and rinse before using. She finds that it can help remove any off-flavors from preservatives in the water for liquid-packed tofu.
  • Spinning: If you crumble or shred tofu for a recipe, Nguyen says, wrap the pieces in a towel. Twist the edges of the towel into a packet that looks like a wrapped mint candy and squeeze out the liquid, much like you would a zucchini or cucumber.

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