Jazz Up Your Meals with Easy Marinades
Want an uncomplicated way to jazz up that plain pork chop, fish fillet or veggies?
One of the easiest food preparation methods for infusing flavor is to use a marinade. Soaking (or “marinating”) meat, seafood, vegetables, or tofu prior to cooking not only seasons it but also helps to tenderize and maintain moisture. Measure a few ingredients into a bowl, whisk together, and, presto, you’re ready to go! And, depending on what food you wish to marinate, the process can take as little as 15 – 30 minutes.
A marinade is much like a vinaigrette – composed of oil, acid, aromatics, and salt – and, in fact, many vinaigrette recipes can do double duty as a marinade. As an alternative to oil, yogurt, coconut milk or buttermilk also are star marinade ingredients that tenderize, add moisture and emulsify.
Marinades are generally used for food that is grilled, roasted, pan-fried, stir-fried, or sautéed. One exception is for ceviche in which raw fish or seafood is “cooked” or cured in a higher acid marinade for a longer period of time and not heated prior to serving.
CAN’T I JUST BUY A READY-MADE MARINADE AT THE GROCERY STORE?
Yes, you can. However, most manufactured marinades contain ingredients that you may not wish to have such as low-quality oils, vinegar, spices, additives, preservatives, added refined sugars, food coloring, etc. By taking a few minutes to craft a marinade yourself, you are able to use fresher, more flavorful, better quality ingredients, control levels of sodium and sweetener, and adjust the flavor profile so it is just right for your taste buds.
HOW DO I MAKE A MARINADE?
Most basic marinades start with a 3 to 1 ratio of oil to acid, just like a vinaigrette. However, the ratio can vary depending on the desired flavor profile and the food item being marinated.
Poultry, fish, seafood, and vegetables do well with lower acid marinades – either equal parts oil and acid or larger parts oil to smaller parts acid. Use any of the following ratios for these food items:
- 3 parts oil to 1 part acid
- 2 parts oil to 1 part acid
- 1 part oil to 1 part acid
More dense meats like beef, pork, and lamb do well with either equal parts oil and acid or higher parts acid to oil. Use any of the following ratios for these food items:
- 2 parts oil to 1 part acid
- 1 part oil to 1 part acid
- 1 part oil to 2 parts acid
When using yogurt, coconut milk, or buttermilk, less acid is required. Use approximately 1 cup yogurt, coconut milk or buttermilk to 2 tablespoons acid (such as lemon or lime juice).
To get you started, check out the recipes listed at the end of this post or use the ratios above and follow these steps to create your own custom marinade.
- Select Ingredients:
- For oil, choose a good-quality olive, avocado, safflower, or canola oil for the marinade base. A small amount of nut or seed oil can also be added for flavor. As a flavorful alternative to oil, choose yogurt, coconut milk, or buttermilk.
- For the acid, choose a traditional or fruit-infused balsamic vinegar, red or white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, lemon, lime, apple, cranberry or orange juice, or wine.
- For the aromatics, choose any single or combination of fresh or dried herbs, dried spices such as basil, thyme, oregano, marjoram, cumin, coriander, paprika, etc. Pre-made herb or spice blends work well.
- For salt, choose either Kosher or Sea Salt. Soy sauce, tamarin, or coconut aminos can replace salt in marinades.
- Measure and Mix:
- Measure the oil and acid into a small mixing bowl
- Add aromatics
- For 1 cup of marinade, use approximately 1 tablespoon fresh herbs or 1 teaspoon dried herbs and/or ¼ – ½ teaspoon dried spices
- Add salt
- For 1 cup of marinade, use approximately ¼ – ½ teaspoon Kosher or Sea salt (Too much salt will draw out the moisture in the meat.)
- As an alternative to using Kosher or Sea salt, use approximately 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce, tamarin, or coconut aminos
- Whisk all ingredients together until fully combined. Your marinade is ready to use!
For Added Flavor
To really get creative, consider adding any of these ingredients to the basic formulation outlined above –
- onion (1 teaspoon fresh, minced, or 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon dried)
- garlic (1 teaspoon fresh, minced, or 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon dried)
- ginger (1/2 – 1 teaspoon fresh, minced, or 1/4 teaspoon dried powder)
- Dijon or grainy mustard (1/2 teaspoon – 1 tablespoon)
- dry ground mustard (1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon)
- honey, maple syrup, or molasses (1 teaspoon – 1 tablespoon)
- citrus zest (1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon)
- black or white pepper (1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon)
- cayenne pepper or dried red pepper flakes (1/8 teaspoon – 1 teaspoon depending on desired heat level)
To create a flavor profile for a specific type of cuisine, think about the seasonings used in those cuisines and incorporate them into your marinade.
- Asian – garlic, ginger, hot pepper or wasabi, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce
- Creole – onion, garlic, celery, parsley, lemon, Cajun, and blackened seasoning blends
- French – onions or shallots, chives, thyme, tarragon, herbs de Provence, red or white wine
- Greek – garlic, rosemary, bay leaves, oregano, lemon, olive oil
- Indian – yogurt or coconut milk, garlic, curry, garam masala, cardamom, ground coriander, cumin, dried chili peppers, fenugreek, fennel
- Italian – garlic, onions, basil, rosemary, oregano, fennel, parsley, lemon, olive oil, balsamic vinegar
- Mexican – garlic, onions, cilantro, chili powder, oregano, cumin, ground coriander, lime, hot sauce,
HOW LONG DO I MARINATE THE MEAT, FISH, SEAFOOD, VEGETABLES, OR TOFU?
Times vary based on the items being marinated. It is best to check specific recipes but as a general guide:
Chicken, vegetables, tofu, fish, and seafood are best when marinated for a shorter period of time because acids can affect their texture, making them either tough or mushy.
- Marinate chicken for 30 minutes – 2 hours
- Marinate softer vegetables and tofu for 30 minutes, denser (root) vegetables for up to 60 minutes
- Marinate fish and seafood for 15 – 30 minutes
Beef, pork, and lamb can benefit from longer marinating times because they are generally denser in texture.
- Marinate pork for 1 – 12 hours
- Marinate beef and lamb for 4 – 24 hours
WHAT ABOUT FOOD SAFETY WITH REGARD TO MARINADES?
Marinades can pick up bacteria from the raw foods that are soaked in them so to avoid any undesirable effects remember to –
- Marinate items in the refrigerator, not on the counter at room temperature.
- Discard marinating liquid after the food is removed. Do not save it for future use, brush it on the food as it is cooking, or serve as a sauce.
- If basting or a sauce is desired, save a portion of the unused marinade in a separate container prior to adding the food items.
- Thoroughly wash bowls, containers, utensils, etc. used for marinating in hot soapy water or in a dishwasher, and toss plastic zip-lock bags.
- Use non-reactive, food-safe bowls or containers for marinating food items such as glass, stainless steel, good-quality plastic containers, or heavy-duty plastic zip-lock bags. Do not use containers made of aluminum.
- Prepare approximately 1/2 cup of marinade per pound of food.
- Freezing food items in their marinades can cause them to become mushy so is not recommended.
What are your favorite foods to marinate? Share them here in the comments section.
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