Baking is a precise method; an exercise in chemistry and physics. So, to some extent, is expert grilling. Cooking, however, extends more leeway. You can toss in this or that and probably be okay, most of the time.
There is one culinary practice, however, that still remains like the Wild, Wild West: the practice of marinating meat, fish or poultry prior to cooking to infuse additional flavor. Marinating is an ancient practice that came in especially handy in the days before the convenience of refrigeration, acting as a preservative and flavoring at the same time.
Preparing a marinade allows the home chef to experiment, lose his or her mind for a little while…and clean out the fridge. You can throw virtually anything into a marinade and it will not harm the result of your grilled or sautéed dish.
The only food item that doesn’t respond well to extended marinating is shellfish, such as shrimp. It will be become mushy and spongey. Marinate these delicate creatures no more than 30 minutes.
There are a few guidelines to produce an excellent marinade. Beyond that, anything goes. Most marinades will contain a tart liquid to cover and penetrate the food such as citrus juice, soy sauce, port, sherry or balsamic vinegar. Oil is also added to provide movement and integration with the other ingredients.
Toss in fresh herbs that need to be used up (rosemary and thyme are terrific), vinegars, lemonade, stale herbs and spices, jams or jellies, honey, mayo, jalapenos, bouillon, leftover broth. Citrus peels add sweetness and color. Freeze an interesting collection of lemon, orange or grapefruit peels that can be popped into a marinade at the last minute. Just to illustrate that anything really does go, even a fresh stick of spearmint gum won’t ruin your marinade; it will add a minty, sugary flavor.
Proportions so don’t matter in creating a marinade. The only thing that does matter is that the volume is sufficient to completely cover the food. Large baggies work well for this purpose.
So, have fun and throw caution to the wind when creating a marinade – it’s one of the few times in life when you can.
- Toasted sesame oil
- Pineapple juice
- Dark rum
- Chopped fresh garlic (or split, peeled cloves)
- Chopped fresh ginger root (or peeled strips)
- Soy sauce
- Mirin (Japanese Rice Wine) or sherry
- Teriyaki basting sauce or Oyster Sauce
- Chopped scallions
- Orange peels
- Kosher salt and pepper
- Place meat, fish or chicken in large baggie. Combine all ingredients and pour over meat. Double or triple-bag the marinating mixture to avoid leakage. Lay bag flat in the fridge and turn and massage the ingredients inside occasionally if marinating for more than one day.
- Just before grilling, remove meat from bag, strain and pat dry for better browning. Discard marinade.