Unitaskers — those kitchen tools or appliances that serve a single function — get a lot of shit. To be honest, though, I don’t understand the hate. They fit in with my general kitchen philosophy: that I’ll be happier if I use the exactly right utensil or bowl, even for just one teaspoon-sized step, and even if it leaves me with a sink full of dishes. That’s why I love my 1.5-cup measuring cup, my lemon squeezer, and my three sizes of sieves.
It’s true that not all single-use gadgets are really worth the space they take up or the plastic they’re made of (or the moral calculation we undertake before having Jeff Bezos ship them our way). And I’m not advocating for strawberry hullers or banana slicers, necessarily. But there’s an argument to be made for the tofu press.
For the uninitiated, the device is fairly simple. The one I have, made by a company called Tofu Bud, consists of a plastic box that neatly fits a standard block of tofu, two perforated planks that sit inside, and a large metal spring attached to a knob. The tofu goes between the two planks and the knob-spring contraption is fitted in through a hole in the lid of the box, applying pressure to the tofu (there are two levels at which you can screw the knob — the less-tense option is for less-firm tofu). Nestled inside, the tofu is gently squeezed. After 15 or 20 minutes of compression — this is the thrilling part — you empty the excess water from a spout at the top of the box.
Pressing tofu is a key step in cooking tofu. Pressed tofu absorbs marinades and crisps up more easily. In its denser, dehydrated form, it also holds its shape better during cooking, rather than crumbling into sad, soggy pieces.
I don’t know if I ever really drained my tofu correctly before I had a tofu press. Usually, I’d put some paper towels or a tea towel around the tofu block and place it under a plate weighted with a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes. Then, I’d squeeze the tofu some more with my hands, usually requiring another set of towels. I’d be left with a soggy pile of paper towels or a damp dish rag, a depressing sight for someone without an in-unit washer-dryer. These methods felt almost, but not quite right, ad hoc solutions for an ingredient that deserved better.
The Tofu Bud is a good option, but it seems as though the tofu press industry is experiencing a boom. Take the handmade hardwood or 3D-printed versions flooding Etsy and the many plastic iterations on Amazon. It would be a relatively simple shop class project, too. All will deliver the satisfaction of a well-calibrated squeeze and superior tofu.