Marinades are a super effective way to introduce a ton of flavor to food, but store-bought marinades can be delicious, expensive and full of salt and other fillers. The basics of a marinade can be broken down into three components: acid, oil and flavor.
First, you’ll need an acid. The acid will allow for a tenderizing effect. In all actuality, marinades do not tenderize meat. Most only penetrate about 1/8th inch into your protein. You may get the feeling of the meat tenderizing, but in reality the meat is most likely getting mushy from the breakdown of some protein fibers. We’ll have to discuss the tenderizing myths in a future post. There’s simply way too much information for a 101 post.
Possible acids are citric juices, soy sauce and dairy products. A lot of people don’t think of dairy products in marinades, but buttermilk or yogurt can be a super effective acid for protiens like lamb and chicken. Other great options are mango or papaya juices, wine and there’s a world of awesome vinegars.
Next up, your vehicle: oil. In my opinion, marinades should have an oil component, but I’ve seen the topic debated. I definitely think it’s easy to have too much oil, but the only downside is waste and added fats for no real benefit. Oil acts as a vehicle for the rest of the marinade as it provides an effective way for your flavor components to coat your protien.
A little goes a long way though. Just add enough to help with the amount of food you’re marinating. I generally stick to extra virgin olive oil because I like the flavor and quality.
Now it’s time to take your marinade to flavor town. This is where the fun and creativity begins. The possibilities are literally endless when your expiramenting with herbs, spices and other flavor adding components. For best results, I’d keep it simple. Remember, you’re not trying to overpower your food. You’re simply enhancing its natural characteristics.
Starting out, I’d keep your flavors down to five ingredients. You generally don’t need any more than that. Also, think about your finished dish as a whole. What else will the marinade flavors be playing off of? Will you be doing a glaze as well? Will there be a sauce?
Bobby Flay once said something that really stuck with me. A dish should have three flavor profiles to be successful: sweet, spicy and something else. No, I’m not forgetting what the third thing is. That’s where the flexibility comes in. For example, you might choose to make something sweet, spicy and salty.
So, think about which role your marinade will take. Will it be sweet, perhaps with some tropical fruit as the acid? Will it be spicy with chili powder, cayenne and red pepper flakes?
Check out some of our recent marinade posts, and here are some simple recipes to get you started as well.
Montreal Steak Marinade
- Soy Sauce
- Olive Oil
- Salt, Black Pepper, Red Pepper, Paprika, Fresh Garlic
Chicken Teriyaki Marinade
- Rice Wine Vinegar, Soy Sauce
- Vegetable Oil
- Honey, Fresh Grated Ginger, Fresh Garlic, Black Pepper
- Lemon Juice
- Olive Oil
- Salt, Black Pepper, Fresh Garlic, Dill
- Orange Juice, Soy Sauce
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Black Pepper, Fresh Garlic
- Lime Juice
- Vegetable Oil (very little)
- Honey, Orange Liqueur