The purpose of marinating is to add flavor and, in some cases, tenderize meat, chicken and fish. Marinades can even be used on some vegetables, including eggplant, zucchini and artichokes. Part of the trick is to plan ahead so your food has time to absorb the flavors.
Marinades run the gamut but generally contain three basic components – oils, acids and seasonings.
The oil content in a marinade locks in the natural flavor and prevents the food from drying out. Good oils for marinating include olive, sesame, peanut and infused oils. Acids tenderize meat by denaturing its proteins (i.e. softening the surface and allowing flavors to be absorbed). You could use vinegar, wine, citrus juice or even buttermilk. Seasonings provide the unique flavors. Garlic, ginger and onion are staple seasonings but you can also include herbs (fresh or dried), chili, or even honey to add a bit of sweetness. And please do not forget the salt. It has a brining effect which increases the juiciness of the meat. You can, however, forget the pepper as it often will burn and result in an unpleasant taste.
Be sure that you mix the ingredients in a container that does not react to acidic ingredients. Glass or ceramic are safe options. All of your meat or veggies should be covered by the liquid; if they’re not, turn occasionally to make sure that everything is exposed to the flavorings. Always keep the food in the refrigerator while marinating but bring it to room temperature before you cook it.
Marinating times — Rules of thumb:
Shellfish: up to 1 hour
Fish: 1-2 hours
Meat or chicken (pieces): 3-4 hours
Whole chicken or large cuts of meat: Overnight
Here’s a really great Asian marinade recipe for spareribs, chicken or fish:
2 shallots, chopped
1 small piece of fresh ginger, chopped
1 serrano pepper, chopped
2 tsp sugar
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup lime juice
2 Tbs fish sauce
5 Tbs rice vinegar
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