When you think about it, the idea of marinating – infusing your regular foods with additional rich flavours before grilling, baking or frying – is nothing but appealing. It is an inexpensive way of adding loads of flavor to food. When it comes to homemade marinades, the type you choose to make and the proportions of the ingredients could very well spell the difference between a bland meal and a tasty one.
Personally, the most common ingredients, those that are present in just about every marinade I make are lemon, ginger and garlic for tang and strong flavor, turmeric for colour though it holds its own in flavor albeit subtle, soy source for dark colour and chilli for sizzle. In addition to those I’ll have assorted herbs, olive oil, coconut milk, brown sugar, honey, and really anything in my kitchen that looks like it could do good in the marinade. Including beer and wine. Not all at one go though. More often than not, I use a maximum of two strong yet complementary ingredients, along with a few other weaker ones. Generally aim for oil, salt, flavor and acid in all your marinades and then combine away.
Marinating is mostly associated with grilling but that is not always the case. Baking and shallow frying too go well with marinated meats and vegetables. Marinating is largely an open field but there are guidelines all the same. Here are a few dos and don’ts.
Do always marinate food in the refrigerator. Having meats in the different marinade ingredients at room temperature for the many minutes you’ll be marinating will encourage the growth of bacteria and hence the possibility of disease. As much as molecules may be sluggish in the refrigerator, it is still a better way to go.
Do throw away any leftover used marinade juices especially those used in meats. As much as it may be tempting to use it in further cooking, bear in mind that it has come in contact with raw meats and could very well be carrying bacteria. If you do decide to reuse it, reduce it over low fire if that is practical. In most cases the mix of ingredients may be too intense – too salty, too much vinegar etc and just won’t turn out right if cooked. If you want some marinade for basting, set some aside before putting it in contact with the meats.
Do marinate other foodstuffs as well as meats. A lot of people assume that only meats can be marinated but vegetables too can be marinated for grilling or baking. The point is to make a weaker marinade for vegetable that infuse faster.
Do limit the amount of salt you put in your marinades. For one, some of the spices you use may have their own salt already and two, too much salt will draw the moisture from meats, making them tough. Plus you do not want to over salt food anyway. You can always add salt to your taste later when cooking.
Do go crazy with experiments. Marinades are a perfect opportunity to try out your bright ideas in the kitchen, see how they pan out and either try them again or try totally new ones. Too much of anything is not always a good thing so, go easy on the number of ingredients you use in marinades at any one time to avoid masking the awesome flavours in each of them.
Do not marinate fish and other seafood for too long. You only need a maximum of half an hour or so. Fish is already tender and keeping it too long in acidity will make it mushy and difficult to handle. Tougher meats like beef and chicken however can handle several hours to overnight of marinating.
Do not go overboard with the seasoning. This could easily overpower the meal and make it unpalatable.
Do not marinate in metal containers. Metal may react with the acids in marinades and course the taste of the food to alter.
Do not marinate different meats in the same container as this could encourage cross contamination. In any case different foods have different marinating times.
Do not freeze the meats in the marinade. The reaction of ice and acids denatures the meat and makes it mushy.