How to Drain and Cut Firm Tofu

How to Drain and Cut Firm Tofu

Tofu (condensed soybean curd) is a star of Asian cuisines that rely heavily on vegetable and soya - based dishes. It’s also gained popularity with Western palates due to its health benefits and widening availability around the world.

Cutting tofu is a process of choosing the right tofu for your knife and then both firming the tofu and draining off excess moisture before cutting. We’re going to examine this topic with you.

Choosing the right kind of tofu for cooking

Some types of tofu are appropriate for cutting and slicing down, and others are not. There are different types of tofu that vary in both density and firmness, and for the purposes of this article we’re focusing on ‘firm’ and ‘extra firm’ tofu. 

These are the types most recommended for cutting down and adding into things like soups, stir fries and vegetarian/vegan dishes because they’re dense enough (after being drained and pressed) to hold up under a knife and keep structure within a dish.

Other softer forms of tofu such as ‘silken tofu’ simply won’t survive being pressed etc. as they’re just too soft – we’ll provide a simple table guide to tofu varieties later in this article.   

Once you’ve got some ‘firm’ or ‘extra firm’ tofu to hand, your first step for easy cutting will be to drain and press it. Here’s how –

Draining and pressing your tofu

What you’ll need:

  • Your firm/extra firm block of tofu
  • A chopping board
  • A deep plate
  • Paper towels OR clean dish towels
  • A heavy item to use as a weight – a large book, heavy pan or some tinned food will do
  • A sharp knife – we recommend a chef’s knife or a sharp vegetable cleaver (AKA a cai dao)

The kind of knife that you use must have a non–serrated blade as a serrated blade will tear and damage the tofu as you cut.

Draining tofu

The point of draining tofu is to remove moisture – wet tofu won’t absorb spices or marinades and will also splatter in the pan, which you don’t want. 

Step 1. Place a triple layer of paper towels or your clean dish towel onto a deep plate.

Place a triple layer of paper towels or your clean dish towel onto a deep plate.

Step 2. Place the block of tofu onto this layer of absorbent material.

Place the block of tofu onto this layer of absorbent material.

Step 3. Cover the block of tofu with another triple layer of paper towel or another clean dish towel.

Cover the block of tofu

Step 4. With your tofu sitting between the 2 absorbent layers, you’re going to press down evenly with your hands, all over the tofu, being firm but gentle enough that you’re not squashing the tofu out of shape. 

Step 5. When you’ve slowly and thoroughly patted all over the tofu and you can feel a fair amount of moisture in the paper/dish towels, remove these gently from the tofu.

Pressing tofu

This next step of pressing your tofu is to remove even more liquid from the tofu and to press it into a firm and easily sliceable block. This is an easy ‘at home’ method to use if you don’t own a dedicated tofu press, and indeed – very few of us own tofu presses!

This gives you tofu that will crisp up well on the outside if you’re frying it, and it also ensures that seasonings and sauces will be absorbed by the tofu if you’re marinading it before cooking.


squashing the tofu

  1. Wrap the drained tofu entirely in your absorber – either paper towels or a dry dish towel.
  2. Place this wrapped block onto your deep plate, and on top of the tofu block you’re going to put your chopping board.
  3. Now this is where your heavy items (weights) come in – you’re going to place these on top of the chopping board, centered and distributed evenly over the block of tofu, so that the weight is pressing down evenly.
  4. Let the tofu sit like that and drain until its firmed up to your liking, about 45 minutes will probably do. 
  5. At the end of the pressing time, remove the board and weights, unwrap the tofu, and discard any liquid that’s seeped out into your plate.
  6. Pat the tofu dry all over again with paper towels or a dry dish towel.

Cutting tofu

Slicing your tofu

Sliced tofu looks a lot like slices of mozzarella cheese but of course soya based!


The thickness of your tofu slices will change the mouthfeel and the way that it absorbs your flavorings. Thicker slices will absorb less flavor from sauces whereas thinner slices will crisp up quicker – so consider the width of your slices in terms of the result that you want, and the recipe that you’re using.

Step 1. Place your block of drained and pressed tofu onto your chopping board, centered in front of you. If your chopping board isn’t stable, consider adding a damp dish towel under it to secure it. Ensure that the block of tofu is face down on its largest flat surface.

step 1 of slicing your tofu block

Step 2. Using your knife or cleaver, you’re going to cut through the tofu block lengthwise, with a firm and steady pressure. There should be no hacking or sawing, just a clean cut downwards through the tofu. Before you start to cut, mentally visualize how many lengthwise slices you want to get out of the block and make that many cuts. The closer together your downward cuts are, the thinner the resulting slices will be.

step 2 of slicing your tofu block

Step 3. Continue in this fashion until the block of tofu is sliced into 4 or 5 slices of roughly equal width.

And that’s it, very easy.  Your slices can now be breaded, marinaded, or seasoned to your taste before cooking.

Cubing your tofu

Cubing your tofu is the way to go for dishes like the ‘hot and sour’ soup pictured above. Cubed tofu if firm enough can also be used in stir fries and omelets to good effect.


With your tofu block centered on your chopping board, follow the slicing method we covered previously so that you end up with your tofu block in neat slices.

Step 1. You’re going to carefully stack these slices of tofu on top of each other and tamp them into place, so you have a neat pile of slices like a deck of cards, one under the other. The slices should be sitting parallel to you.

Step 2. Using your knife or cleaver, you’re going to cut once lengthways through the pile of slices, so that you now have divided the pile of slices laterally in half. For blocks, cut those lateral strips in half again lengthwise into strips.\

step 2 of dicing your tofu block

Step 3. Next, keeping the strips firmly together, you’re going to cut down vertically in regular increments (spaces) along them so that you end up with cubes of tofu. The wider apart your cuts are, the larger the cubes of tofu will be.

step 3 of dicing your tofu block

For frying you can use smaller cubes for high crispiness, and for adding into stir fries or omelets for example you can space your cuts wider and use substantial cubes.

Where do I find tofu and which kind of tofu should I buy?

Most large retailers will stock different types of tofu, or you can visit your local Asian foods store or online retailer. 

Discriminating between the different kinds of tofu, though, can get a bit perplexing. Here’s a nifty guide to picking the right tofu for your needs!



Silky smooth & soft texture for soup or dessert

Silken tofu

Pre – cooked, soft & spongy for dipping and frying, edible thawed or fried

Puffed Tofu (sold frozen)

Envelopes of medium firm tofu

Fried tofu boiled then cut open

Ready to eat fried tofu

Fried tofu – seasoned and pressed, then deep fried

Fermented tofu flavor

Buy ready fermented tofu in glass jars for best flavor

Firm and ready to cook tofu

Pressed tofu – available plain or seasoned to cook at home

Small pieces of tofu, pre – cooked and seasoned

Tofu a la minute

Smoky flavor and firm texture

Buy smoked tofu, you can pan fry, use in liquid bases, or eat raw

A meat substitute

Buy super – firm tofu for your dish

A dense tofu for frying 

Buy extra – firm tofu for your dish

Use in a variety of dishes and easy cutting

Buy firm tofu for your dish

A good tofu for soups and stews

Buy regular tofu for your dish

Eager to dive into a tofu recipe?  We’ve got you covered with a classic Chinese dish!

Mapo tofuMapo tofu

Mapo Tofu has been around for centuries, and when you taste it, you’ll understand why. Watch out though, it’s yum factor lies in a very spicy kick!

Check out the recipe here


Tofu FAQs

How can I ensure that the tofu I’m buying is fresh?

Buy tofu in clear packaging so that you can view the quality. Any liquid in the package should be clear, not murky. The tofu should be dense and feel solid for its weight without bits of it crumbling off.

Does it matter if I add sauce to my fried tofu after I’ve fried it instead of before?

You clever thing! A lot of Asian specialist cooks will add the sauce only after frying because it coats the fried tofu well. Also, tofu left marinading doesn’t really absorb more flavor than dressing it afterwards, so skip that fussy step and coat in sauce once fried.

Is there a cheat’s version of firming up my tofu?

We’re so glad you asked. If pressing and draining simply doesn’t float your boat, simply freeze a block of FIRM tofu overnight, then thaw. It will change color, don’t worry about that. Blot off any excess moisture thoroughly, and you’re good to cut and cook.

In conclusion

Tofu is both high in health benefits and easy to prepare once you know how. If you’re looking to up your nutrition or simply broaden your veggie recipe selection, this simple guide to cutting and using tofu will see you through.

Do visit this blog regularly for insightful articles on artisan knives, spectacular ingredients, and general ‘cooking like a whizz’ excitement!

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