Add this miso-marinated tofu to your list of recipes to try ASAP if you're a tofu lover. It's loaded with umami flavors, a little salty, and slightly tangy. The miso marinade gives the tofu a nice depth of flavor while the sauce adds creaminess. You can cook it on the grill for some additional smokey aromas, or simply in a pan.
I love that this miso tofu recipe is incredibly versatile. You can eat it with a side of brown rice and veggies or add it to your favorite grain bowls or salads (for which I’d recommend cutting it into small cubes).
About tofu marinades
I’ve done an extensive amount of recipe testing when it comes to marinating and grilling tofu, and I’ve made all the mistakes you could ever make. Here’s what I learned:
- Don’t add oil to your marinades: Tofu is like a sponge that is filled with water and even after pressing it, the tofu will retain a certain amount of moisture. Since oil and water don’t mix, oil-based marinades will form a barrier that prevents the other components of the marinade to penetrate the tofu and make it less flavorful.
- Don't make your marinade too thick: It will end up sticking to the bottom of your pan or the grates of your grill. I like to add a little water to this miso marinade to keep it runny and prevent it from being too salty.
- Let the tofu marinate for at least 30 minutes: That’s really the bare minimum if you want your tofu to soak up some of the flavors.
- Cook it slow: I know it’s tempting to quickly cook the tofu over medium-high heat since the tofu doesn’t have to "cook through" like meat. However, although the tofu will get a beautiful golden color, it won’t have that really crispy texture. You need to cook it over medium-low heat to allow the moisture to evaporate and a beautiful crust to form. That’s what will really bring your tofu to the next level, trust me.
- Add a sauce, marinating the tofu is not sufficient: When cooking, the marinade will give the tofu some beautiful depth of flavor, but some of the volatile components will disappear. The cooked tofu will therefore not have the same vibrant flavors as your marinade. As a result, you really want to top the tofu with a sauce, which I actually like to make with the rest of the marinade.
- Firm or extra-firm tofu is the only kind of tofu you want for this recipe as it will hold its shape during the cooking process. Keep soft and silken tofu for other recipes (such as this scrambled tofu or this tofu smoothie).
- White miso paste is the king of umami flavors. It’s toasty, salty, and sweet all at the same time. You could replace it with red miso paste but may need to use a smaller amount as it’s stronger in flavor. Most large grocery stores keep miso paste in the Asian food aisle.
- Tamari is made of soybeans, water, salt, and fermented rice. I like it because most brands are completely gluten-free and free of additives (such as monosodium glutamate). You can totally replace it with regular dark soy sauce if you’re not on a gluten-free diet. Another great tamari substitute is coconut aminos but I have not tried it in this recipe.
- Water cuts the saltiness of the tamari, which provides a flavor that’s similar to low-sodium soy sauce.
- Maple syrup balances out all the flavors by adding a touch of sweetness. You can substitute it with agave nectar or brown sugar.
- Tahini is a great binder and thickener for the sauce and pairs incredibly well with miso.
- Sesame oil adds a nutty component to the sauce.
- Invest in a tofu press if you cook tofu regularly. It's extremely convenient as you can place the tofu into the tofu press and place it back in the fridge. I often press the tofu overnight if I know that I’ll be making tofu the next day. Well-pressed tofu also reaches another level of crispiness.
- Try the microwave method if you forgot to press your tofu. Cut your tofu block in half, wrap it in paper towels, and microwave for about 2 minutes in 30-second increments. This draws most of the water from the tofu and is a quick method that always works.
- Whisk the marinade to make sure the miso is well incorporated.
- Taste-test everything! You really want to taste test the marinade and the sauce as the salt levels of miso paste and tamari can drastically vary from one brand to another. If the marinade or sauce is too salty, thin it out with water and add more tahini to the sauce.
STEP 1: Press the tofu to remove the excess water. I like to use my tofu press but you can also wrap the tofu in paper towels or a clean dish towel and weigh it down with heavy objects (e.g., a skillet).
STEP 2: Cut the block of tofu lengthwise in half through the long edge. The thinner tofu planks will get a lot crispier!
STEP 3: Make tofu steaks. I like to cut the tofu block into 0.5-inch (1,3 cm) planks for a nice marinade-to-tofu ratio. If you plan to add the tofu to bowls and salads, feel free to cut it into cubes.
STEP 4: Make the miso tofu marinade. I recommend combining the miso paste, tamari, water, and maple syrup in a large rectangular container to be able to arrange the tofu pieces in a single layer.
STEP 5: Let the tofu sit in the miso mixture for at least 30 minutes. Cover it with plastic film or a sustainable alternative and place it in the refrigerator. I recommend letting it sit for 2 hours, or overnight if possible.
STEP 6: Cook the tofu. Preheat your grill, grilling pan, or frying pan, and add a generous amount of olive oil (or avocado oil). Cook the tofu slices over medium-high heat for 2 minutes to obtain beautiful grill marks. You can find detailed instructions in the recipe card or in this marinated grilled tofu post. Make sure to keep the rest of the marinade, you’ll need it for the sauce.
STEP 7: Flip the tofu steaks with cooking tongs. Cook or grill them over medium-low heat for another 5 minutes on each side to obtain a nice crust. The tofu should be crispy and golden brown or have beautiful grill marks.
STEP 8: Make the sauce. Combine the rest of the marinade with sesame oil, tahini, and water. Whisk to form a sauce. The best part is that you don't need to heat it. Drizzle over the tofu. Garnish with sesame seeds if you'd like.
- Grilled vegetables, such as this grilled cabbage, grilled bok choy, or grilled mushrooms.
- Stir-fried vegetables with fresh ginger and garlic.
- A simple salad, such as this raw broccoli salad with edamame beans.
- Homemade or store-bought seaweed salad.
- Rice: brown rice, sticky rice, or cold rice in bowls.
Frequently asked questions
Miso is a thick fermented paste made from soybeans, rice, and salt. It's a traditional Japanese seasoning used for sauces, spreads, and soups.
Miso paste has a strong umami flavor. It has a salty, almost nutty taste, and a delicate sweetness that's characterized by the higher proportion of rice compared to soybeans.
White (shiro) miso contains more rice than soybeans and has been fermented for a shorter period of time than red (aka) miso, which has a higher proportion of soybeans. As a result, the red miso had a stronger and more pungent flavor. Always remember: the lighter the miso, the milder the taste.
You can marinate firm tofu for up to 3 days without it becoming soft or crumbly.
You can store leftover miso tofu for 4-5 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Note that it will lose its crispiness.
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Miso Marinated Tofu (Grilled Or Pan-Fried)
- 14 ounces (400 g) firm tofu
For the miso marinade
- Press the tofu. Use a tofu press, weigh it down with heavy objects, or wrap in paper towels and microwave it at 30-second increments for 2 minutes to draw out excess moisture.
- Cut the tofu. Cut the tofu block through the long edge, then into 0.5-inches (1,3 cm) planks or into cubes (see step-by-step pictures).
- Make the marinade. Combine the miso, tamari, water, and maple syrup in a large rectangular dish. Add in the tofu and let it sit in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. I recommend 2 hours or overnight.
- To cook it in a pan: Heat a pan over medium-high heat with olive oil. Cook the tofu planks over medium-high heat for 2 minutes on each side. Save the rest of the marinade. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook the tofu for another 5 per side. If using tofu cubes, cook them for 4-5 minutes on each side.
- To cook it on the grill: Preheat your grill to about 450-500°F (230-260°C). Once hot, clean it with a grill brush to prevent the tofu from sticking. Brush some oil on the grill grate. Place the tofu over the burners at medium-high heat. Close the grill and cook the tofu for 2 minutes per side, until beautiful grill marks appear. Flip the tofu and move it away from the burners (e.g., on the sides or at the back of the grill) and continue grilling for 5 minutes per side at indirect heat until crispy.
- Make the sauce. Add the tahini, sesame oil, and water to the container with the rest of the marinade. Whisk until combined.
- Serve. Add the sauce to the pan or pour over the grilled tofu that you transferred to a plate. Garnish with sesame seeds.
- Slow cooking is the key to crispy tofu: I know it’s tempting to quickly cook the tofu over medium-high heat since the tofu doesn’t have to "cook through" like meat. However, although the tofu will get a beautiful golden color, it won’t have that really crispy texture. You need to cook it over low-medium heat to allow the moisture to evaporate and a beautiful thick crust to form.
- Taste-test everything! You really want to taste test the marinade and the sauce as the salt levels of miso pastes and tamari can drastically vary from one brand to another. If the marinade or sauce is too salty, thin it out with water and add more tahini to the sauce.
- Marinating tips: You can marinate the tofu up to 3 days ahead of time.
- Storage tips: You can store leftover miso tofu for 4-5 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
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