Being a vegetarian doesn’t mean subsisting on steamed broccoli and bowls of pasta. In her monthly column, nearly lifelong vegetarian Sarah Jampel will tackle cooking, eating, and navigating the world meat-free—even when her grandma still doesn’t know what she makes for dinner.
Every week I buy a couple of blocks at the store: It’s plain, protein-rich, and relatively cheap (is tofu the vegetarian’s boneless skinless chicken breast…?) and I never have trouble finding ways to eat it: I’ll make a big batch of Spicy Tofu Crumbles on Sunday to eat throughout the week, or I pan-fry planks for a vegetarian banh mi, or I simply cube it and douse it in soy sauce and gomasio and spoon it over rice.
But my biggest barrier, the hurdle that used to make me reach for eggs or chickpeas instead? Pressing it, a necessary evil in ensuring flavorful, crispy tofu. What a pain, to wrap the tofu in paper towels, place it between two cutting boards, pull the heaviest objects off the shelves to weigh it down, wait a long time, and inevitably clean up the puddle that spilled off the cutting board and onto the floor. It didn’t seem worth it to press, but it also didn’t seem worth it to eat flabby, flavorless tofu. What was a tofu lover to do?
I found my answer in the TofuXpress, a small tool that made me look forward to pressing my tofu (is that weird?) and greatly increased the likelihood that it would be delicious. The TofuXpress is the neatest, fastest, most efficient (and not to mention visually satisfying) way to press tofu. Place the entire block in a compartment, then smush it down with a tense spring that applies force from above. You can see the tofu compact in real time: Even after five minutes, you’ll notice that it’s lost a ton of water, all of which is contained in the box.
Okay, okay, but why bother pressing tofu at all? A block of tofu is like a big saturated sponge: Blotting it dry with towels may help the surface crisp and brown, but using pressure to squeeze out the water from the interior produces firmer, chewier, denser, creamier pieces that don’t fall apart as you’re cooking. Getting rid of all that water also makes space where flavorful sauces and marinades can penetrate. (Don’t try this with silken tofu, which is meant to jiggle and lean: I’m talking about firm and extra-firm tofu here—the kind you’d roast, grill, or fry.)
When I know I’m making tofu for dinner, I’ll put the block into the press as soon as I get home from work. By the time I’ve changed into sweatpants and prepped some vegetables, the tofu is ready to go. Just fifteen minutes makes a difference! If I have extra time (and foresight) in the morning, I’ll stick the TofuXpress in the fridge; when I return to it at night, the tofu block is half its size, primed to be sliced, seared, and sizzled.
Oh, and if you’re wondering whether you can use the TofuXpress to firm up paneer or weigh down Japanese pickles, I have yet to try it, but I look forward to many Xpress Xperiments in the future.