The secret of a good marinade lies within the choice of acid, fat, the aromatics and the spices. Despite the simple formula it’s easy for it to seem too complicated to DIY, which is why there are so many pre-made marinades on grocery store shelves. Like most foods, homemade marinades are always the better option.
Marinades are a simple way to brighten everyday foods while prioritizing both health and flavor. It also is a great time saver in the kitchen allowing us to prepare sides while it works its magic. As we progress into the summer months of the year, marinades are a great way to save time in the kitchen and maximize flavor whether you’re grilling or not, so now’s the perfect time to learn how to make your own and leave those store-brought versions on the shelf.
Besides the great flavor that marinades infuse our foods with, their purpose is twofold when it comes to meat. When marinating tougher cuts such as chicken breast, pork tenderloins and leaner cuts of beef, the acid in the marinade breaks down the meat making it more tender and juicy once cooked. These types of meat are more likely to dry out on the grill due to high heat and lack of marbling, so marinades help to loosen up the muscular fibers and allow both the moisture and the flavor to penetrate the meat.
When marinating seafood, the purpose is mostly for flavor infusion making sure that each bit is tasty all the way through. Since fish, shrimp and other types of seafoods are lighter, marinating them for no more than 30-60 minutes is a must to retain shape and texture. Be careful when marinating your seafood in highly acidic marinades because you’ll end up with ceviche which is a different dish all together.
If you’re new to marinating your foods, you may just toss your vegetables in the marinade along with your main course. If you’ve ever done so, you know that over-marinating resulted in mushy vegetables rendering them inedible. Using marinades as an added flavor component to drizzle over veggies right before cooking is always a good idea, but the purpose of marinating anything from meat to veggies to seafood, is not to overpower its natural flavor. To be on the safe side, toss your vegetables in the marinade no more than 10 minutes before you plan on cooking them.
As mentioned, marinades brighten up foods by giving them a complex burst of flavor without piling on the fat. Despite a fat component being a key ingredient in a marinade, using extra virgin olive oil boosts health benefits such as reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. However, store bought marinades often cheap out and use oils that are high in saturated fat and other preservatives that circumvent the health benefits that you’re trying to achieve by marinating your foods.
In addition to using soybean or vegetable oils, store bought marinades often have sugar listed as the first or second ingredient and multiple sources of salt to preserve the liquid. When making your own, you’re in control of how much sugar – if any – and the salt.
The key to a great marinade is to start with a 1:3 ratio of acid to fat. That means 1/3 cup of lemon juice, vinegar or even yogurt should be paired with a full cup of olive oil. The herbs and spices are up to you, which allows you to get creative. Marinades are about balance, so if you’re into a bit of heat, try adding a hint of sweetness like honey, maple syrup or sugar to take the edge off, like this Thai-inspired grilled skirt steak marinade, which is also great for chicken and shrimp. If you’re into sweeter marinade like teriyaki, consider adding the juice or zest of a lime to brighten up the flavors and add a bit more complexity.
t’s easy to overthink marinades, but by simply thinking of the flavor profiles that you prefer, you’ll be able to create one using ingredients you have on hand. For example, if you’re in the mood for oregano and garlic, consider adding them into a mixture of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil for a classic marinade. If you’re looking for more of a Middle Eastern flair, try pairing Greek yogurt, lemon juice, cilantro and extra virgin olive oil. You can also play around with some heat and add a dash of cayenne pepper or hot chili peppers. The great thing about marinades is that you can taste as you go, giving you a chance to perfect it before you marinate your food.
Our favorite part of cooking is the process of trial and error. While experimenting on your own may result in a few food mishaps, the process of getting it right is half the fun. In the meantime, Colavita has plenty of marinade recipes to spark your creativity. Buon appetito!