Pressing Tofu for Stir-Fry: Do I Really Have to Do That?

There are certain labor-intensive recipe phrases that can make the

most diligent cook roll her eyes. "Do I really have to do that?" we wonder. Leave your Do I Really Have To Do That? questions in the comments and they shall be answered, saving us all a lot of needless trouble.

Do I really have to press tofu for stir-fry?

"If you're aiming for springy and crisp tofu, pressing it is an essential step," Mallory Stuchin, senior digital editor at Everyday Food, told us. You know when people say tofu's like a sponge when cooked, soaking up whatever delicious flavors you're cooking with? The same sponge principle is at work when tofu is just sitting in its package.  "Tofu retains a large amount of the water it's stored in, so pressing it will release the excess liquid and allow it to firm up while cooking." Like a wrung-out sponge, the pressed tofu can soak up even more of those delicious ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and scallion flavors in the pan.

What kind of tofu should I use?
"For stir-frys and sautes, firm and extra firm tofu works best." Did you buy silken tofu by accident? Use it as a thickener in soups, sauces, or in smoothies. Another brilliant tofu idea from our Everyday Food friends is to roast lightly oiled tofu sticks in a hot oven, then dip them in peanut sauce. Instant appetizer!

So how do I press tofu?
"Make sure to rinse the block of tofu under cool water and dry it completely before placing it on a plate with another weighted plate on top (any canned good will add the right amount of pressure)," advised Mallory. "Press your tofu for anywhere from 1 hour to overnight. The longer you give it, the more concentrated it will become."

Is there a faster way?
Let's say you haven't got all night to press your tofu––ain't nobody got time for that, as they say––do like Mark Bittman and cut the tofu in half through its equator and put the halves on four paper towels. Cover with four more paper towels, then weight with canned goods or a heavy cutting board. The tofu should bulge at the sides but not crack. Doing this for even a few minutes while you prep the other ingredients will help.

But come on, do I really have to do this?

The worst thing that happens is that your tofu falls apart because it's not super-firm. Deep breath. This is stir-fry we're talking about, not your retirement savings plan. But if weeknight stir-fries are part of your regular rotation, and you'd like to feel as if you don't fail at life every time you take out the wok, Mark Bittman suggests a shortcut that marries convenience and good results in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. "For the absolute easiest stir-fries, start with store-bought pressed tofu, the brown-skinned stuff that is so dry, firm, and meaty that it will not fall apart no matter how roughly you treat it. Given its long shelf life and incredible convenience, there's no reason not to have a package or two in your refrigerator at all times." It's like a tofu miracle.

Final verdict: If you don't want your tofu to fall apart and do want it to soak up every drop of delicious stir-fry flavor, yes, you really have to press your tofu. But you can also cheat and buy the store-bought version.

Tofu and Broccoli Stir-Fry
from Everyday Food

Serves 4

1 package (14 1/2 ounces) firm tofu, drained, cut crosswise into 6 slabs (about 3/4 inch wide), each slab halved horizontally and cut into triangles
1 1/2 pounds broccoli, stalks trimmed, peeled, and cut into 1/4-inch rounds, florets separated into bite-size pieces
Coarse salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup cashews, toasted

Arrange tofu in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with several layers of paper towels. Top with more paper towels and another baking sheet; weight with canned goods. Let tofu drain, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook broccoli (stalks and florets) in a large pot of boiling salted water until bright green, 2 minutes. Drain; set aside.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add tofu; cook until golden brown, turning gently halfway through, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to paper towels.

Meanwhile, make sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, vinegar, red-pepper flakes, garlic, cornstarch, and 3/4 cup water; set aside.

Add broccoli to skillet; cook over high heat, stirring often, until crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk reserved sauce to combine; pour into pan. Return tofu to pan; stir to coat, about 1 minute more. Serve topped with cashews.

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