This Marinated Tofu recipe transforms tofu from a watery blob into an addictive treat. Spongy on the inside and crispy on the outside, the tofu cubes are marinated in a sensational East Asian marinade before being baked to perfection.
The two elements in this recipe—the tofu and marinade—both have their perks. Frozen and thawed tofu is spongy, chewy, and has a crave-worthy crispy crunch without any excess fryer oil. The marinade, with its blend of savory, sweet, nutty, and warm flavors, soaks into the tofu cubes in as little as 30 minutes.
The best part is you can pair this marinated tofu with anything, making this an essential recipe for weekly meals, meal prep, and more.
Why this recipe works
A mind-blowing marinade.
I’m no stranger to tofu marinades. From my Maple-Dijon Crispy Tofu to my Greek-Style Vegan Feta, it’s a lot of fun to dress tofu in a blend of spices, herbs, vinegar, and oil to see what kind of flavors you end up with.
This recipe, however, is on an entirely different mind-blowing level. It’s made with just a handful of ingredients but is bursting with the deliciously savory East Asian flavors of soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, white pepper, and five spice powder.
Lastly, the consistency isn’t liquidy, unlike many other tofu marinade recipes. It’s thick and saucy, ensuring that every cube of tofu is evenly covered and marinated. And without the excess liquid, the tofu turns out perfectly crispy and never soggy.
Tofu sometimes gets a bad rap for being boring, watery, or flavorless, especially when it isn’t cooked properly. But not in this recipe.
The secret to the best marinated tofu is to freeze and defrost the brick of tofu first.
As Bon Appetit explains, the water in the tofu expands and turns to ice crystals once frozen, changing the molecular structure. Once defrosted, the ice crystals melt out of the tofu and leave air pockets behind.
And voila! You’ll have a brick of tofu with a ton of air pockets to fill with the delicious marinade. Once cooked, every bite is a spongy and bouncy treat with a crispy exterior.
We tried this recipe with regular tofu, and while it was nice, the texture was significantly chewier and crispier with defrosted tofu.
A kitchen staple.
Tofu is a sponge-like, nutrient-dense food that packs in 8 grams of protein in just 3 ounces (with just 70 calories). So when it’s marinated and baked until crispy, it becomes a nutritious AND tasty plant protein you can use in almost anything.
Skip to the “how to serve marinated tofu” section for ideas!
Tofu. Extra-firm tofu will give you the best results. It has relatively little water in it (which is pressed out before marinating) and a firm, chewy texture.
Remember: Use tofu that’s been frozen and defrosted. The spongy, chewy texture is a game-changer! You can learn how to freeze and defrost tofu in the Tips section.
Substitute: If you don’t have time to press the tofu, use super firm tofu (AKA high protein tofu) instead. It contains even less water and doesn’t need to be pressed.
Soy sauce. It’s the base of the marinade, adding a rich and umami flavor. It’s essential to this recipe.
Substitute: Use tamari if gluten free.
Toasted sesame oil. The oil not only gives the baked tofu a nutty flavor but also prevents it from sticking to the pan. Make sure to use toasted sesame oil for that bold flavor. My favorite brand is Ottogi.
Chinese five-spice powder + white pepper. Don’t skip this dream team! The white pepper is sharp and bright, and the five-spice powder is slightly sweet, warming, and aromatic. Together, they add an incredible, unique flavor, making this tofu marinade recipe unlike any other.
Where to buy: Both should be available at well-stocked grocery stores, like Whole Foods and Vons, or at Asian markets. You can also buy them online.
Brown sugar. Sugar is essential in most marinade recipes. The sweetness (1) helps balance the stronger, more acidic flavors, (2) adds a caramelized, golden-brown crust around each piece of tofu (a la the Maillard reaction), and (3) reacts with the protein, naturally tenderizing the tofu.
Substitute: If you don’t have brown sugar, use coconut sugar or cane sugar. I don’t recommend using a liquid sweetener like maple syrup because it gives the marinade a thinner consistency.
Rice vinegar. This adds a subtle tang and helps balance the sweet and savory flavor profile.
Arrowroot flour. Last but not least, arrowroot powder is used to coat the marinated tofu before baking. This flavorless starch is naturally gluten free and expertly sticks to and crisps the tofu as it bakes.
Substitute: We tested this recipe with cornstarch but found that it left a subtle chalky after-taste. However, this isn’t as noticeable when you’re serving the tofu with other elements, like grains, veggies, and sauces in vegan grain bowls.
Do you love the sound of these East Asian flavors? Then you’ll want to bookmark by Chinese restaurant-style Tofu Stir Fry!
Cut the tofu into 4 slabs. Press the tofu slabs for 10 minutes to drain the excess liquid. Slice the tofu slabs into cubes.
While the tofu is pressing, stir the marinade ingredients together.
Transfer the tofu cubes to a large zip-top bag. Pour in the marinade and toss to coat.
Marinate the tofu. Seal the bag and leave it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.
Tip: Gently massage the tofu in the bag at least once to ensure each tofu cube is well coated and has a chance to soak up those amazing flavors.
Once the marination is over, add the arrowroot powder to the bag with the tofu and marinade. Toss and gently massage to coat every piece.
Bake the tofu. Arrange the tofu in an even layer on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan. Keep any excess marinade in the bag.
Tip: Make sure the tofu isn’t piled on top of each other or too close together. This leads to steaming and will result in soggy, not-so-crispy baked tofu.
Bake until the tofu is crisp and browned. The pieces may look a little soft, but they crisp up after resting for 5 minutes!
Tips for making this recipe
Frozen and defrosted tofu is a game-changer. It improves the texture and absorbs more flavor.
To freeze tofu, you can either:
(1) Stick the whole block of tofu (still in the packaging) in the freezer or
(2) Unpackage the tofu and transfer it plus its water to a freezer-safe bag or container. Freeze for at least 8 hours, or longer.
To defrost tofu, you have a few options:
1) Leave it in the fridge if you aren’t in a rush. This should take 1 or 2 days, depending on how long the tofu was frozen.
2) Defrost on the kitchen counter fora few hours, then return it to the fridge to continue thawing. To speed things up, place the tofu in a bowl or pan of warm water when it’s on the countertop.
3) The quickest method is in the microwave. Run the frozen tofu under warm running water until it can easily slide out of the packaging. Place it in a bowl of warm water, then microwave in 1-minute intervals until thawed (this might take 8 to 12 minutes).
Pressing the tofu is necessary. It’s the only way to remove all of the excess water from the brick. Skip this part and you won’t achieve the crispy, chewy texture.
A tofu press is a quick and easy way of pressing tofu, but the old-fashioned way works just as well.
Lay the sliced tofu slabs on a cutting board and lay a thin kitchen towel overtop. Place a heavy cookbook on top, add a cast iron skillet on top to weigh it down, then leave it to drain for 10 to 30 minutes.
You can cut down on the amount of time you have to press the tofu by (1) first squeezing out the residual water in the tofu packaging, and (2) slicing the tofu into slabs before pressing; this gets more water out of the tofu than just pressing the entire block.
For more detailed instructions on improving the taste and texture of tofu, head to my 40 Terrific Tofu Recipes.
Don’t skip the rest time. The tofu is going to feel a bit soft after it’s done baking. Don’t stress! Let it rest on the kitchen counter for 5 minutes. During this time, the texture will firm up and become deliciously crispy.
Use it for meal prep. If you want to marinate the tofu as part of your meal prep, store the tofu and marinade separately in the fridge for 1 to 3 days. When it’s time to eat, marinate the tofu for 30 minutes, then bake as normal.
How to serve marinated tofu
- Load the tofu into lettuce wraps with tangy sauces or fresh salsas.
- Use it as a protein-packed topping on virtually any grain bowl or salad.
- Enjoy the flavorful bites on top of these 15-Minute Vegan Chili Garlic Noodles.
- They’re a fantastic addition to any of these Budget-Friendly Vegan Lunches.
- It would be an extra-flavorful substitute for the tofu in this Chinese Takeout-Style Tofu and Broccoli.
- Personal fave easy dinner (below): serve marinated tofu with white or brown rice, drizzle on toasted sesame oil, and garnish with cilantro, scallions, toasted sesame seeds, and pickled onions.
Frequently Asked Questions
You can leave the tofu in the bag with the marinade for as little as 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours.
Technically, yes, but in our tests, the tofu that marinated for longer than 4 hours absorbed too much of the marinade and ended up less flavorful and crispy.
No problem. You can achieve a similar spongy, chewy texture by boiling the refrigerated and cubed tofu in salted water instead. It’s the same method I use to maximize the chewiness and flavor of the tofu in my Vegan Curry recipe.
(1) Bring a medium pot of water up to a boil on the stove.
(2) Once it’s boiling, add 1 heaping tablespoon of kosher salt (or 2 teaspoons of sea salt) and the cubed tofu.
(3) Once it returns to a boil, set a timer for 2 minutes. Drain well.
You can also make this recipe with refrigerated and pressed extra-firm tofu instead. We tested this and, while it worked just fine, didn’t have the same amazing texture.
Potato starch and cornstarch will work. Cornstarch tends to leave a subtle chalky flavor behind, but it isn’t too noticeable when serving the tofu in dishes with an abundance of other flavorful ingredients.
Sure. You’ll need an extra 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil to pan-fry. Cook the tofu in a large non-stick or cast iron skillet in an even layer to ensure they can all brown evenly. Work in batches if you need to. I prefer baking though, as it’s hands off.
The same goes for air frying. Although we haven’t tested this method, it’s best to spray the even layer of marinated tofu with non-stick spray before air frying.
Yes, just be sure to use tamari or gluten-free soy sauce instead of regular soy sauce.
If you love this Marinated Tofu, please give it a rating and review below! And of course, tag me with your remakes on Instagram!
- 1 (14-ounce/400g) block of extra firm tofu, previously frozen and defrosted*
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari**
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 2 ½ tablespoons organic brown sugar
- 1 ½ tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder***
- ½ teaspoon white pepper***
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ginger powder
- A pinch of kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder****
- For defrosted tofu: over the sink, gently squeeze the block tofu with both of your palms to extract as much water as you can but don’t squeeze so hard that you crumble it.For regular (non-thawed) tofu: skip this step, as the tofu might crumble.
- Slice the tofu into 4 vertical slabs. For defrosted tofu: You can press it for 5 to 10 minutes (see below), or you can simply press down on each slab with a dry towel to remove a lot of the water (almost as if you're giving the tofu slab CPR!). For regular tofu: cover the slabs with a thin dish towel or paper towels, weight down the tofu with a heavy cookbook, and press it for 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a jar, combine the Marinade ingredients in a jar and shake until well combined (note: this does NOT include the arrowroot powder).
- Slice each tofu slab vertically in half, so you have 8 slabs. Now slice each slab into 3/4 inch-cubes (~ 2 cm).
- Add the tofu to a quart-sized ziploc or zip top bag. Pour the marinade on top and toss gently to coat, shaking the bag back and forth. Cover and marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours, flipping the bag over a few times (at least twice during 1 hour) to distribute the marinade evenly.
- Preheat to 425ºF/218ºC and arrange a rack in the middle or bottom third of the oven. Line the a rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper.
- Add the arrowroot to the marinated tofu in the bag and seal. Toss and massage gently to coat. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the tofu to the pan and spread out in a single layer, leaving behind any extra marinade.
- Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and flip the tofu. I use my hands to make it easiest, but be careful!Rotate the pan by 180º for even heating and return to the oven and bake for 10 to 13 minutes, or until tofu is nicely browned (a few blackened spots are okay).
- Rest for 5 minutes. The tofu will be rather soft when it comes out of the oven, but after resting for 5 minutes, it will crisp up.
Recipe: Nisha Vora / Rainbow Plant Life | Photography: Megan Morello