In Search of Marinated Tofu

May 10, 2017

Apologies for the quiet Chez IK. About two weeks ago, whilst photographing for a post, I bent to retrieve my camera and dislocated my left knee, which refused to slip back into place. This caused a whopping case of bursitis.

It got a little difficult to locomote. Also mildly painful.

The above is an understatement.

Tuesday I got a cortisone shot, alleviating the worst of it.

“You don’t present with just bursitis” The physician assistant said, palpating my knee. “Your tendons seem to be very painful, too.” Seem? Moments ago this guy said he was familiar with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. I hardly expect all medical personnel to be experts on rare illness, least of all mine. But please don’t lie.

He did, however, do an excellent job with the injection.

Driving home, I tuned in to NPR (European readers: think BBC) just in time to hear a stunned Judy Woodruff announcing James Comey’s ouster.

The idea of marinating tofu arose from the product pictured below. Much as I’d love to say I made this, I did not. These soy-sauce marinated eggs and tofu come from the deli aisle of Ranch 99 Market.

Originally I purchased the package thinking I might enjoy the eggs. The tofu was an afterthought. This soon changed.

I did not grow up eating tofu. It hardly features in Ashkenazi cuisine; one does not hear of tofu kugel, tofu kreplach, or Shabbat dinners of Tofurkey. Friday night dinner means roast chicken or a nice brisket (always a nice one, mind you) surrounded by a moat of potatoes. Nobody, to my knowledge, has ever attempted a tofu latke. Nor should they. Don’t go getting any ideas.

John is no fan of tofu, either. In fact, he professes to loathe the stuff. All to say, tofu hasn’t exactly become a staple in Chez IK.

Let us travel back in time. The year is 1994. Your intrepid hosts–albeit much younger, healthier, and attractive back then–have moved to Humboldt County in pursuit of graduate degrees. Many citizens of Humboldt County, at least in 1994, were crunchy vegetarian types.

One of these crunchy vegetarians attended my grad program, and gave me a recipe involving firm tofu marinated in a famous sauce. After slicing the tofu into domino-sized squares, you poured the famous sauce over it. Then you did something else, I can’t remember precisely what. Baked the tofu? Let it sit? Nineteen ninety-four was a long time ago.

Well, variants of said forgotten recipe do of course reside online. First step was to market, where reading the ingredients of Famous Sauce nearly caused on-the-spot fainting. The stuff contains enough sodium to kill even me, a person with low blood pressure. Plus there was the large print reading: “This product contains GMOs.” Yeah? So much for Famous Sauce.

Back home, I hit the cookbooks, stirred up a marinade, and baked a batch of tofu.

I tasted. And was disappointed. But stay with me here.

There’s nothing like screaming pain to scramble your brains. And your taste buds. This was Sunday afternoon, after a day spent cooking. My bursitic knee, nay, my entire physical self, was in some distress.

Come Monday morning, ravenous after helping John shower and dress, I decided to snack on the tofu. Which I found delicious. I scarfed the entire batch, cold, straight from the fridge.

Ideally you’ll be in better shape when preparing and eating your tofu, which may be added to stir-fries, Asian-style salads, or, as I’d planned, a room temperature noodle salad. Nor would this go amiss in a bowl of Udon noodles. Then again, if struck by terrible hunger, marinated tofu is very good eaten directly from fridge.

Marinated Tofu

Serves 1-2 as a snack or as an addition to a salad, stir-fry, soup, noodles, or wherever you like to use tofu. Amounts are easily multiplied.

Preparation time: Drain tofu at least 2 hours, ideally overnight. Marinate at least 2 hours, ideally overnight. Cooking time is about 35 minutes

8 ounces firmest plain tofu available, ideally organic

2 medium to large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

approximately 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce (I used dark mushroom soy, use your favorite, but avoid “lite”)

1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine (if unavailable, use sherry)

1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar or Mirin (see notes)

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon fine sea or table salt

1 star anise, left whole

good squeeze fresh lemon juice

Cornstarch, for dusting

Drain the tofu:

Remove the tofu from the packaging. If you plan to drain it overnight, you’ll need a setup that can be refrigerated. I set my tofu on a wad of paper towelling, which I rested in a glass baking dish. I piled more towelling atop this, then fitted a heavy clay loaf tin over the tofu. I tucked this carefully into the fridge, then laid two full glass jam jars in the loaf tin. It was a little Rube Goldberg, but it worked.

If you plan to drain your tofu for a few hours, I did something similar with cutting boards and clean dishtowels, using two textbooks from my graduate English program as weights. I knew they’d be useful someday.

Marinate the tofu:

Make the marinade:

In a small bowl, mix together the garlic, ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine, brown rice vinegar, red pepper flakes, star anise, salt, and lemon juice to taste. Taste the marinade; tweak for your taste.

Slice the tofu into squares and arrange in a small lidded baking dish. Anoint with the marinade. I used a pastry brush to gently paint both sides of each piece of tofu. The marinade may seem scant. Don’t worry. There will be enough. Once you’ve used the liquid, pour the solids over the tofu.

Allow to marinate for at least 2 hours; ideally overnight. If your kitchen is reasonably cool and you plan to cook within a few hours, it is okay to leave the tofu on the counter. Otherwise, cover lightly with foil and refrigerate.

To cook the tofu:

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a small baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat, if you have one (I don’t). Carefully transfer the tofu to the baking sheet and shake a little cornstarch over each piece if you’d like additional crisp coating.

Place tofu in oven and bake, turning each piece frequently with tongs. The tofu will be fragile at first, but firm up as it cooks, becoming easier to handle. Mine was ready within 35 minutes. For some reason I didn’t expect it to smell of anything–tofu always seems so bland–but the soy and sesame scented the kitchen. This will indeed smell done when it is.

Serve marinated tofu as a snack, sliced into soup, Asian-inflected salads, Udon noodles, stir-fries, or anywhere else you enjoy tofu.

Provided your tofu was fresh from the package, this will keep about five days, refrigerated. I don’t suggest freezing it.


I’ve found cheaper brands of tofu taste “off,” which is why I suggest buying organic. Even organic tofu is inexpensive.

I use Ohsawa Organic Brown Rice Vinegar. This is not cheap. If you prefer use Mirin–which is cheap and widely available.

Following David Lebovitz’s advice, I added (ahem) cornstarch to the tofu just before baking. This is to help the crisp factor. You might note there’s a bit too much cornstarch in these photos, so lighten up accordingly.

There isn’t much marinade. In fact, it might seem like there won’t be enough. There will.

I know I say this in nearly every recipe I publish, but there’s plenty of flexibility here. Taste the marinade as you go. The 1/4 teaspoon of pepper flakes adds flavor without making things terribly spicy.

I am indebted to Mollie Katzen’s The Enchanted Broccoli Forest for help with measurements and general information regarding tofu. David Lebovitz’s post about tofu was also helpful, as was Nancy Hachisu’s writing about marinating tofu in Preserving The Japanese Way.