Marinated tofu is one of the easiest foods to cook. Our recipe is quick and tasty, and you can make it in less than 30 minutes with simple ingredients.
We show you how to cook it on a pan, in the oven, in the air fryer, and on a grill.
Check out our best tofu recipe collection!
What is marinated tofu?
Have you ever asked yourself why we marinate tofu (or any other food)?
After trying many marinated tofu recipes, and after getting disappointed with the results (tofu turning out bland after pressing it and marinating it for several hours), we started to question why people marinate meats and if this technique applies to tofu.
And since the purpose of this blog is to provide you with everyday plant-based recipes, we didn't want to instruct you to marinate tofu for hours if it doesn't make a difference.
So the main questions we try to answer are:
- Does marinating tofu do anything?
- Do I need to press tofu before marinating it?
- What is the most effective and most convenient way to marinate tofu?
If you just want the marinated tofu recipe, you find it at the bottom of the page.
Definition of marinating
According to the book "Professional Cooking" by Wayne Gisslen, to marinate means to soak a food product in a seasoned liquid.
Marinades are usually used for meats, fish, and vegetables, but more recently, they have been applied to tofu, tempeh, and other protein-rich plant-based products.
Also, when marinating vegetables or tofu, the leftover marinade can be used as a sauce or as a dip.
Why do we marinate foods?
There are 2 main reasons why we marinate foods:
- To flavor a product.
- To tenderize a product (make it softer).
So the first thing to notice here is that since marinades contain at least one acidic ingredient (lemon juice, vinegar, wine), if we marinate for too long, we could damage our product.
When it comes to tofu, for instance, we noticed that marinating for more than 30 minutes starts making the tofu softer, which is not the result we want since the tofu is already pretty soft.
What's in a marinade?
Marinades are made up of 3 main categories of ingredients: oils, acid, and flavorings, and it's advisable to use all three.
Oils: olive oil, sesame oil, or any other vegetable oil.
Acids: lemon juice, vinegar, wines, and beers.
Flavorings: herbs like rosemary, thyme, or oregano, or spices such as pepper, cumin, ginger, garlic powder, garlic cloves, onion powder, cayenne pepper, paprika, and red pepper flakes. Even sugar, maple syrup, agave syrup, and soy sauce are used to add flavor.
How does a marinade work?
Oil is the main vessel for adding flavor to the tofu, but not on its own. The oil alone won't be able to penetrate the tofu. We need to combine it with an acid. The acid helps tenderize the protein, opening it up so that the oil and the flavors can get in.
The challenge, though, is to find the right balance of oils to acids. Too much acid will damage the protein, especially if you marinate it for several hours. Meats, for instance, would look partially cooked if marinated for too long in a very acidic marinade.
With tofu, the long marinating time makes its texture less desirable and generally softer.
My go-to ratio for a basic tofu marinade recipe is 1 part oil + 1 part vinegar + 2 parts soy sauce + flavorings to taste.
For a marinade to be effective, the oil and the acid must be emulsified. That means that they need to become one liquid. To do that, you've got to whisk it very well. You can also use an immersion blender, adding flavorings only after blending.
Also, to stabilize the emulsion and add even more flavor, I'd recommend adding a touch of mustard (classic American mustard or Dijon mustard both work).
What about salt?
That's a tricky one. In a classic meat marinade, salt is generally not added. Salt pulls water and can dehydrate the meat making it tougher.
When marinating tofu, however, I'd recommend adding salt to the marinade. The salt helps take some water out of the tofu, allowing the flavors from the marinade to go in.
Also, based on our tests, the salt in the soy sauce alone is not enough to add flavor to the tofu.
How long should I marinate tofu?
This is another tricky question, and the science is unclear. There are many different opinions in blogs, Reddit forums, and quora.
Some people like to marinate tofu for hours and even up to a day. Others don't marinate and just toss the tofu in the marinade to give it a quick coating.
For us, marinating tofu for a few hours in a liquid was one of the most disappointing experiences of vegan cooking. The tofu doesn't absorb as much liquid or flavor as we thought (not even after pressing it first). So we prefer to toss it in the sauce and cook it straight away.
Are you saying I should not marinate tofu?
No, not at all. You should marinate tofu, but not by just letting it sit in liquid.
To add the most flavor to tofu without compromising its texture:
1) dice it and toss it in the marinade until fully coated (1 minute).
2) Cook it on a pan with a little oil till brown and crispy (12 minutes).
3) Pour the leftover marinade onto the pan and cook until fully reduced (3 to 5 minutes). Based on our tests, this final step makes adds the most flavor.
In less than 20 minutes, you'll have the best marinated tofu you've ever had. Pan-frying removes some water from it. Then, as soon as the marinade is added to the hot pan, the tofu will soak up some. It will also absorb a lot of the flavors and aromas of the marinade. This is the fastest and most effective way to marinate tofu and pack it with flavor.
Honestly, you won't be able to tell it's tofu when cooked this way.
Do I need to press the tofu before marinating it?
Based on our testing, pressing tofu before marinating has no (or negligible) impact on the final result. The tofu will not absorb more marinate after pressing it. We tested it, and we could not see or taste any noticeable difference.
All you need to do is take the tofu out of its package, drain the water, and pat it dry with a towel. Then dice it and toss it in the marinade.
You can, however, press tofu if you like to change its texture. If you like a firmer, tougher, drier tofu, feel free to press it. To make it even chewier, you can freeze it, thaw it, and press it.
We tested all these methods as we are super curious about this stuff. For everyday cooking, there's no material difference between freezing, pressing, and not pressing.
If you are new to tofu, our advice is to try it without pressing it. If you like chewier tofu, pick extra firm or super firm. For a softer one, pick firm or regular tofu. If you are already used to pressing it, that's fine too. It's probably already part of your cooking routine.
Tofu: use firm or extra firm tofu for best results. Soft tofu and silken tofu will fall apart as they are too soft.
Oil: we use extra virgin olive oil to add the most flavor to the tofu. Extra virgin olive oil is also the healthiest oil as it contains the highest amount of antioxidants which make it stable at high temperatures. You can replace olive oil with other vegetable oil such as canola oil, sesame oil, etc.
Vinegar: we use apple cider vinegar. You can replace it with white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, rice vinegar, lemon juice, and lime juice.
Soy sauce: we use reduced-sodium soy sauce. You can use regular soy sauce but reduce the amount of added salt. Tamari, liquid aminos, or coconut aminos are good gluten-free options.
Mustard: yellow American mustard or Dijon mustard. It adds flavor and helps emulsify the marinade.
Flavorings: we use garlic, rosemary, dried oregano, salt, and black pepper. The tofu is gonna taste like an Italian roast with this seasoning. You can change the flavoring based on your preferences. Try garlic, ginger, coriander, and cumin for a more oriental twist.
Step 1: Make Marinade
To a small mixing bowl, add extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, mustard, rosemary, dried oregano, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Whisk well till fully emulsified. Alternatively, you can add these ingredients to a mason jar, close it, and shake it well.
Step 2: Marinate Tofu
Drain and pat the tofu dry with a kitchen cloth. Dice tofu into cubes or slabs. Smaller cubes and thinner slabs will absorb more flavor as there is more contact surface of the tofu that touches the marinade.
Transfer the tofu to a large dish. Pour the marinade over the tofu. Toss the tofu around with your hands until fully coated by the marinade.
Step 3: Cook Tofu
Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a large nonstick pan. We do not recommend a cast-iron skillet unless you know how to use it. The cast iron should be very well seasoned and requires more oil than a non-stick skillet, or else the tofu will stick badly to it.
Warm up the oil on medium heat. Add tofu to the pan without marinade. Reserve leftover marinade for later.
Cook for around 12 minutes. Do not touch the tofu for the first 3 minutes. Use a timer. Flip tofu every 2 to 3 minutes until brown and crispy.
Now add reserved marinade to the pan and move the pan around, flipping the tofu often to coat it in the marinade fully.
Finish frying on medium-high heat until the marinade is reduced. It should take another 3 to 4 minutes. In this phase, the tofu will absorb the most flavor from the marinade. Taste and adjust for salt before serving.
Serve marinated tofu in a salad, on rice, or on pasta. It's even delicious to snack on its own. We love it on top of our pasta with garlic and oil, on top of our cauliflower rice, or added to our vegan pasta salad.
Use it in a sandwich, wrap, or vegan tacos. But our favorite way to use it is with stir-fries. Try stir-fried vegetables, such as spinach and broccoli. It's the perfect recipe to add flavor and protein to a plant-based meal quickly.
Air fryer marinated tofu
Step 1: preheat the air fryer for 3 minutes at 390F or 200C. In the meantime, make the marinade by whisking all ingredients for the marinade in a bowl.
Step 2: drain and pat-dry tofu. Cut into cubes or slabs. Toss in the marinade. Arrange tofu in the air fryer basket. Transfer leftover marinade to a small bowl. Air fry for 8 to 10 minutes, checking it and shaking it halfway through.
Step 3: drizzle with leftover marinade before serving, or serve with marinade on the side.
Note: every air fryer is slightly different, and it might take a few minutes more or less than ours. We use Ninja AF161.
Oven-baked marinated tofu
Step 1: preheat the oven to 390F or 200C. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Make the marinade by whisking all ingredients for marinade in a bowl.
Step 2: drain and pat-dry tofu. Cut into cubes or slabs. Toss in the marinade. Arrange tofu on a baking tray. Reserve leftover marinade for later. Bake at 390F or 200C for 15 minutes. Turn around. Bake for another 5 minutes.
Step 3: transfer leftover marinade to a non-stick skillet. Warm it up, add the oven-baked tofu, and cook for 3 minutes till the marinade is reduced and the tofu is fully coated in it.
Grilled Marinated Tofu
Can you grill marinated tofu? Yes, absolutely. In this case, our advice is to make a thicker marinade to brush on the tofu shortly before and during grilling it.
Use 1 tablespoon oil, 1 tablespoon vegan Worcestershire sauce (or vinegar), 1 tablespoon mustard, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 tablespoon of brandy or beer (optional), and 1 sprig of rosemary or sage and thyme to taste, 1 teaspoon roasted garlic and herb seasoning, ½ teaspoon salt.
Mix everything very well, then brush it on the tofu before grilling it or barbequing it. You can drizzle leftover marinade on top of the tofu before serving it. It only takes 5 to 10 minutes to grill tofu.
2 tablespoon sesame oil, 2 tablespoon rice vinegar, 4 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sugar (or maple syrup), 2 cloves grated garlic, 1 teaspoon grated ginger, 1 teaspoon mustard, and ½ teaspoon salt.
More Tofu Recipes
If you want to get more ideas on how to cook tofu, check out our best tofu recipes. Among our favorites are:
- easy fried tofu - even easier than marinated tofu.
- tofu soup - with variations for all seasons.
- orange tofu - with a crazy delicious sweet and sour orange sauce.
- tofu scramble - if you miss eggs, that's your recipe.
- tofu egg salad - perfect in a sandwich or on its own.
- best tofu salad - with creamy tahini dressing
Store leftovers in the fridge for up to 3 days. Reheat in the microwave or on a pan with a drizzle of olive oil.
Freeze marinated tofu for up to three months. To do that, just put it in a freezer bag. Thaw overnight in the fridge or the microwave with the thawing function. Note that frozen and thawed tofu will have a slightly different texture as the ice crystals that form break the structure of the tofu, making it slightly chewy.
For many more tofu ideas, check out our tofu category page.
- 16 ounces tofu firm or extra firm
- 2 tablespoons olive oil extra virgin + 1 tablespoon for the pan
- 2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder or 2 grated cloves
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried rosemary
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
STEP 1: MAKE MARINADE
- Add ingredients for marinade to mixing bowl and whisk well.
STEP 2: MARINATE TOFU
- Drain and pat dry tofu. Cut into small cubes or slabs. Transfer to a large dish. Pour the marinade over the tofu. Toss around with your hands until fully coated.
STEP 3: COOK AND SERVE
- Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a large nonstick pan. Arrange tofu (without marinade) onto pan and cook for 12 minutes. Reserve leftover marinade. Do not touch the tofu for the first 3 minutes. Flip tofu every 2 to 3 minutes until brown and crispy.
- Add reserved marinade to the pan and move the pan around, turning the tofu often to coat it in the marinade.
- Finish frying on medium high heat until the marinade is reduced (3 to 4 minutes). Taste and adjust for salt before serving with rice, pasta, salads, or in a sandwich.
- 2 tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar (or maple syrup)
- 2 cloves grated garlic
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- ½ teaspoon salt