Marinades are used to flavor foods and to tenderize tougher cuts of meats; the marinating process may take seconds, hours or days. From a simple mixture to the most complex blend, there's nothing like a good marinade to bring out the best in your poultry, meats, fish and vegetables.
Left to do their work, marinades can add flavors to dishes without a lot of effort on your part, leaving you time to focus on other aspects of your meal. You can buy ready-made marinades or create your own but the key is in balance - no one taste, i.e., salty, sweet, sour, bitter - should dominate the marinade flavor.
Most marinades have three primary components - an acid, e.g., vinegar, an oil and seasoning. With these three kinds of ingredients, the possibilities are endless and the range of flavors excitingly diverse. Different cuisines fancy different marinade ingredients. For example, Indian cuisines typically use yogurt in their marinades; Asian cuisines often use ginger and soy sauce. A good way to experience the difference a marinade can make is to cook a roast or chicken in three sections: one-third with no marinade, one-third with one kind of marinade, and one-third with a second kind of marinade. You'll be surprised how distinctly different the tastes can be among the three sections.
Some marinating tips:
* Use glass or ceramic dishes for marinating; metals like copper, aluminum and cast iron can react to certain acids and spoil the flavor.
* Remove excess marinade before cooking. Excess seasonings can burn and generate bitterness in your dish.
* Boil any marinade that comes in contact with raw poultry or meat for at least 2 minutes.
* As with most soaks, the longer you marinate a food, the more intensely the seasonings will "color" the food being marinated.
* When I don't have time to create one and no prepared marinades are handy, I opt for a bottle of vinaigrette, usually the balsamic vinegar kind, as a basic marinade for meats or fish. Keep a bottle or two in your pantry for your multi-purpose cooking needs.
Use the basic marinade recipe included here and modify it in several ways to suit your own personal tastes. Keep a batch of your favorite blend on hand and use it as often as desired. Most marinades will last about a week, refrigerated. Marinate on, citizens!
Jacqui lives in San Ramon with her pug, Nina Simone, and volumes of cookbooks and recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at email@example.com.
1 basic marinade = 4 applications
Basic Marinade Recipe: Combine 2 Tbsp lime juice, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/4 tsp ground black pepper, 1 tbsp minced rosemary, 1 tbsp honey, 1/2 tsp vanilla.
* Chopped Salad (6 side servings): Chop 2 large tomatoes, 2 lbs. seedless watermelon, 1 large cucumber and toss with 1/4 cup sliced red onion. Omit the lime juice, vanilla and rosemary from the Basic Marinade Recipe; instead whisk in 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, 1/4 cup raspberry vinegar, and 1/2 tsp dry mustard. Pour over the salad, cover and chill for 2 hours. Serve with a baguette to enjoy the juices.
* Spicy Steak (4 servings): Use three 6-ounce rib eye, flank or skirt steaks. Whisk the Basic Marinade Recipe, omitting the lime juice and vanilla but adding 1/2 sliced yellow onion, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar and 3/4 tsp cinnamon. Pour over steaks, cover and chill for 3 hours. Grill to desired doneness; let rest 15 minutes before serving.
* Grilled Fruit: Select 6 fresh, medium stone fruits, e.g,. peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines; cut all into halves and pit. Decrease the Basic Marinade Recipe by half, omitting the honey, black pepper and rosemary and adding 1/4 cup red wine and 2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme. Marinate for 3 hours; then grill fruit until warm throughout. Serve with vanilla ice cream or as a compliment to grilled meats.
* Baked Fish (2-4 servings): Select a large piece of salmon or white-fleshed fish, about 1 lb. Whisk the Basic Marinade Recipe, adding 1 Tbsp each minced garlic and shallots. Marinate the fish for 4 hours or more; bake or broil until cooked throughout.