If you're new to tofu, this is everything you need to know about marinades! Instantly transform your meals and convert tofu-haters with this simple trick.
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If you think tofu is bland, boring, or straight-up inedible, I’m willing to bet you just haven’t found the right tofu marinade yet. As a blank canvas, tofu is only as tasty as the flavors we use to infuse it with! Every cook should know this simple trick to transform any meal from blah to brilliant.
This essential concept of marination comes from another type of long soak: Pickling. Originally, marinades were all very high in salt and used as a method of preservation and tenderization, particularly for meats instead of vegetables. The difference is that marinades are for short term flavor enhancement, not food storage, and typically are much more acidic than your average pickle brine.
You have complete control over taste and nutrition when you make your own marinades, which means you can make your meals salt-free, sugar-free, oil-free, gluten-free, and anything else you need to be and eat happy!
Not all tofu is meant to be marinated. Firmer, denser options are your best bets for success, since they can withstand a long soak in liquid without falling apart. That means soft and silken tofu are out for this preparation. Instead, these are the best types of tofu to use for marinating:
Super firm: Dense, extremely high in protein, and capable of standing up to any sort of cooking without crumbling, this is the best choice if you want to skip right to the good stuff without pressing. All the excess water has already been removed, and they’re packed with very little to drain off, too. Beyond meaty mains, super firm tofu is also excellent for turning into plant-based feta cheese or paneer as well.
Extra firm: The classic option found in most restaurants and grocery stores, this is a great starter tofu for people who think they don’t like it. It’s far from mushy and very easy to work with, frustration-free.
Firm: Higher in moisture but still strong enough to withstand a quick soak, it absorbs marinades quickly since it’s more porous. It might start to fall apart a bit if you sauté it vigorously, which makes it better for hands-off cooking methods like baking or air frying.
How To Press Tofu
When working with firm or extra-firm tofu, it can be helpful to press your tofu before beginning to infuse more flavors. That’s because it creates a denser texture while removing extra water to make room for the marinade instead. It’s a matter of personal preference though; you can just as happily skip this step for a moister tofu interior.
Drain off as much excess water from the package as possible before getting started.
Slice the block of tofu half lengthwise to expose more surface area. Place them on a clean kitchen towel or paper towels and cover with another layer.
Sandwich the towel-wrapped tofu between two flat plates and stack a few heavy books, cans, or anything else handy on top to weigh it down.
Let stand for at least 15 to 30 minutes. There are no hard and fast rules for how long tofu should be pressed, especially since the weight on top is variable based on what you use, so feel free to experiment and see what you like best!
How To Marinate Tofu
The biggest challenge when marinating tofu is often finding space in the fridge for a big, bulky container that can accommodate both a block of bean curd and enough liquid to keep it fully submerged. Don’t overthink it! Keep it simple for the greatest return on your efforts.
Start by cutting the tofu into the shapes you’ll want for the final dish. Whether that’s cubes, batons, slabs, or triangles is up to you. This creates more surface area to absorb all that flavorful marinade all the way through, so you won’t end up with bland bites at the center.
Mix up your marinade and pour it into a shallow glass container or a food-safe, airtight plastic bag. A bag is easier to store in small spaces, but a glass container will protect the food better with more rigid sides; see which works best for you! If the tofu isn’t completely covered by the marinade on all sides, you’ll need to flip it about halfway through the process.
Let rest to marinate for as long as your recipe suggests. Just like that, your tofu is marinated and ready to cook!
How To Cook Marinated Tofu
There’s no limit to what marinated tofu can do! Every single flavor variation can be cooked exactly like plain tofu. That means your grilled tofu marinade can be the same as your baked tofu marinade; there’s no additional steps you need to take to adjust the basic recipe.
Grilled: Large slabs of tofu can go directly onto a hot grill or grill pan, but smaller pieces will need to be skewered so they don’t fall through the grates. Grill for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until lightly charred.
Pan fried: Add a thin layer of oil to a medium skillet and set over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the tofu and let cook, undisturbed, for 2 to 3 minutes. After the bottom is nicely browned, flip the pieces and repeat the process until all the sides are golden.
Baked: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. For crispier edges, toss your marinated tofu with cornstarch to coat. Arrange in a single layer and bake for 15 minutes; flip and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until golden brown all over.
Air fried: Use the same general approach as baking, but air fry at 370 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes overall. Depending on the size of your air fryer, you may need to cook the tofu in two batches.
Tofu Marinade Flavor Ideas
Thousands of store-bought marinades are available for convenience, but you can whip up your own easy tofu marinade in minutes, if not seconds. If you get stuck for ideas, here are a few foolproof flavor pairings that will always serve you well:
For a simple, low-effort tofu marinade, check out the best tofu marinade below! It’s foolproof and perfect for those just starting to explore the world of tofu marinades.
How long should I marinate tofu?
If you’re pressed for time, you can get away with a quick 30-minute soak in some cases, especially with a very concentrated, intensely flavored marinade. However, if you can wait, your patience will be rewarded. 12 to 24 hours is ideal for most dishes, which also makes it a great option for make-ahead meals. Keep the tofu in an airtight container in the fridge for marinades that need to sit for longer than 1 hour.
What can I do with the leftover marinade?
Marinades used with conventional meat, poultry, or fish need to be tossed after the first use since they’re contaminated with potentially dangerous bacteria, but that’s not the case with tofu! Tofu is perfectly fine to eat raw, which means the excess liquid is too. Instead of dumping that flavorful meat starter, use it to make soup or stew, curry, salad dressing, pickles, and more. Just bear in mind that it might be very salty, so adjust your recipes accordingly.
Can you freeze marinated tofu?
If dinner plans change at the drop of a hat, don’t panic. You can easily freeze your marinated tofu for safe keeping. In fact, you don’t even need to remove it from the brine at all. Freezing tofu does change the texture to become chewier and meatier overall. Depending on your preference, that may be even better than the original texture!
More Marinated Tofu Recipes
Use super-firm tofu to skip the pressing and maximize the flavor of this Tofu Satay!
Slice tofu into 1 inch rectangles or cubes. Set aside.
Add the soy sauce, rice vinegar, maple syrup, garlic powder, onion powder, and ginger powder to a resealable food-safe plastic bag and mix to combine.
Add pressed tofu and seal thoroughly. Gently toss around the tofu in the marinade to evenly coat. Allow to marinate refrigerated for at least 30 minutes or overnight for maximum flavor. Gently flip the bag over halfway through to evenly marinate tofu on both sides.
Cook tofu as desired. Bake, air fry or pan fry until golden and crispy. Enjoy!
Leftovers – Store in an airtight container refrigerated for up to 5 days.
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I love everything tofu! This recipe looks delicious!
love this soo good and why do triangle tofu makes everything look better
Love this recipe! We love tofu and this is a real winner!
Always looking for a new tofu recipe to try! I love that these are triangle shaped. Perfect for appetizers!
These are so good!! I love finding new marinades for baked tofu, it’s one of my favorite foods!
I can never get enough tofu and these triangles have such a lovely balance of flavor! Y-U-M!