One of the simplest ways to flavor food is to marinate it. That is, treat it like a sponge. All you have to do is pour sauce on the food, let it soak for a while and then cook it. There are many different types of marinates including a teriyaki marinade for Asian dishes, marinades for steak or a yogurt-based marinade for Middle-Eastern dishes.
Marinades typically consist of an acidic ingredient like vinegar, lemon juice, wine or yogurt, plus oil and spices. The acidic ingredient softens the food, allowing it to absorb the flavors of the sauce. Marinating works on all kinds of meat, as well as fish, tofu and vegetables.
You can either follow recipes or experiment with whatever ingredients you have on hand. A handy formula for creating your own marinades can be found at Cookthink, along with recipes for different styles of marinades.
How long should you marinate? Depends on what you want to marinate! Here are some pointers on poultry, beef and fish.
- You can marinate an entire chicken or chicken parts. Piercing the chicken with a fork, or cutting it into smaller pieces will help it absorb marinade.
- Removing the skin from the chicken will help it absorb marinade
- In general, two hours of marinating is long enough for the meat to soak up the flavor, but poultry can marinate for up to two days in the refrigerator, according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. Very acidic marinades can actually toughen the meat over time, so follow the recipe or package directions.
- Marinating is best suited for the tougher steak cuts like flank, skirt, sirloin, round and hanger. These cuts can usually marinate up to 24 hours. You can actually ruin better-quality steaks, like porterhouse or rib-eye, by marinating them.
- Fish and shellfish should marinate for only 30 minutes to an hour; any longer and the flesh might start to “cook” and go mushy.
Marinade Dos and Don’ts
- DO think ahead: If possible, start marinating meat the night before, or in the morning before you leave for work.
- DO marinate food in the refrigerator, rather than at room temperature.
- DO marinate in re-sealable plastic bags, rather than in bowls or other containers. They cut down on cleanup and allow you to evenly distribute the marinade. But you can marinate in plastic, stainless steel or glass containers too.
- DO cover containers containing marinating meats
- DON’T use marinade from raw meat or fish as a sauce unless it’s boiled first for several minutes. It contains bacteria from the raw meat.
- DON’T reuse leftover marinade for other food.
- DON’T marinate in aluminum containers or foil, because a chemical reaction could spoil the food.
Marinating is a great way to experiment with new flavors and new recipes. If you have a favorite marinade, please share your recipe with us!
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