Soaked, Slathered, and SeasonedA Complete Guide to Flavoring Food for the Grill
John Wiley & SonsCopyright © 2009 Elizabeth Karmel
All right reserved.ISBN: 978-0-470-18648-0
Chapter One Soaked
This section delves deeply into flavored liquids in which you submerge food before cooking, including:
Marinades · Brines
Seasoned mixtures of an acid (vinegar, citrus) and a base (oil, yogurt) that impart flavor through soaking. Meat, poultry, fish, and vegetables marinate for at least 30 minutes, but generally not for more than 2 hours.
* You need base, acid, and seasoning ingredients.
* Be careful not to add too many sweet ingredients in a marinade, because the sugars burn quickly.
* The oil locks in the flavor, promotes caramelization, and keeps the food moist and juicy.
* The acid helps to "soften" the food and adds brightness and flavor.
* When marinating, you need a relatively short soak (generally 30 minutes to 2 hours) for most foods.
* Rule of thumb: The smaller and more delicate the food, the shorter the soak.
* Much more than an hour or two in an enzyme-rich marinade can overtenderize and result in a mushy texture. A long soak in an acid-rich marinade can toughen food.
* Always marinate in a glass, plastic, or stainless steel container, never aluminum, which will react with the acid.
* If you plan to serve the marinade as a sauce at the table, you must bring it to a roaring boil and let it continue to boil for 3 minutes before it is considered safe.
* Do not rinse off marinade. Drain the food and pat excess off with a paper towel-but do not rub, as you want to leave a coating of the marinade, and especially the oil, on the food.
Americans love to marinate what they grill. It's the first thing that weekend grillers think of when they want to add flavor to food.
And they're not alone: The Indian tandoori chef won't let fire touch his food until it's marinated in a rich aromatic yogurt marinade. Mojo is the signature marinade of Cuban cuisine, and all the delicious grilled and roasted Cuban meats start with a soak in this sour-orange and garlic mixture. And my own grandmother, like most Southern cooks, always threw her chicken in a buttermilk bath before baking or frying it. The whole world of cooking has a long history of marinating food.
It is commonly believed that people began the practice of adding flavor to foods by marinating or soaking them in seasoned and salted liquid between the mid-1600s and the mid-1700s. There are several ideas about the origin of the word marinade; it is commonly thought to come from both the French and the Italian, from the French word mariner, which means "to pickle," or the Italian word marinare, which means "to marinate." It is also said that the origin alludes to the use of brine, a.k.a. aqua marina (seawater or saltwater), in the pickling process, which goes reinforces the French origin of pickling.
Regardless of how and where they started, marinades are a great way to add flavor to meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, and fruit. At their simplest, marinades have one acidic ingredient (for penetrating foods) and a base ingredient (to lock in flavors and keep food moist), usually vegetable oil, extra-virgin olive oil, nut or seed oil, or sometimes full-fat yogurts. You can also use flavored oils like hot chile oil, lemongrass oil, basil oil, truffle oil, etc. to add both flavor and the oil component. Good acid choices include cider vinegar; lemon, lime, or orange juice; wine; beer; and buttermilk. ( Juices from raw pineapple, papaya, melon, figs, ginger, and kiwi contain powerful tenderizing enzymes that can turn meat into mush-a short soak is perfect but the longer the time, the mushier the meat gets.) Yogurt is one of my favorite marinating ingredients, and it is actually both an acid and a base (unless you choose the fat-free variety). Thick, full-fat Greek yogurt (one commonly found brand is FAGE Total) is my favorite yogurt to use because the excess whey (liquid) is already drained out.
Once the oil and acid are in place, flavoring elements are added to create marinade flavor profiles. Favorite and common ingredients include fresh grated or minced ginger, fresh or dried herbs, spices, garlic, onion, hot sauce, ketchup, soy sauce, fish sauce, Tabasco sauce, chutney, jellies, jams, marmalades, Worcestershire sauce, and Thai chile-garlic sauce (sriracha).
Note: Some people like leaving the oil out of the equation; I don't recommend it. If you don't have the oil to temper the acid, the acid and enzymes can "cook" or toughen the food and prevent the seasonings and moisture from being absorbed and locked in. The food may be tough, mushy, and dried out once it is cooked. The oil locks in the flavor, prevents a quick "cook" by the acidic ingredients, promotes caramelization, and keeps the food moist and juicy.
Not-Too-Sweet Tip: Be careful not to add too many sweet ingredients to your marinade since sugars burn quickly. This is also why it's not advisable to put barbecue sauce on the food at the beginning of the cooking time. By the time the meat is cooked, the outside will be burned.
The best part of marinating is that you can vary the flavors of your food just by adding herbs, spices, and flavorings indicative of a particular cuisine. It is an especially appealing option these days when so many international cuisines are available to us. Most of the food I ate growing up was Southern, Continental, or French-and the French was courtesy of Julia Child beaming onto the tiny black-and-white television set in my mother's kitchen. My mother's mother never made a French dish in her life, but already things were changing when her daughter cooked for my sisters and me using family recipes, and with recipes provided by the TV station. Growing up in North Carolina, it was highly unusual to have extra-virgin olive oil (or any olive oil, for that matter!) and Dijon mustard in our pantry. Today, those two items are standard grocery store items and not exotic at all-even in the smallest town in North Carolina!
Today, we all have access to restaurants specializing in international cuisine regardless of where we live. And it is natural that we want to replicate (or at least mimic) food at home that we eat in restaurants. Who wouldn't like to make grilled chicken taste like that fragrant oregano chicken that we've all had in Greek Town or recreate the smoky, moist tandoori meats from our neighborhood Indian restaurant? I often eat something great in a restaurant and then come home and riff on the dish to create my own version. Most of the time it is just as pleasing and sometimes even better than what I remember from the restaurant. You no longer need to learn the traditional techniques and details of a world of cuisines-you can stock your pantry and create exotic meals on the grill with just a few palate-pleasing seasonings.
That is where marinades come in handy. Marinades are the easiest way to impart grilled food with these distinctive flavors. For that reason, I have included marinades that will capture all your favorite restaurant flavors. My Double Happiness Chinese Marinade (page 61) captures all the prominent flavors from that cuisine. Truth be told, there are so many styles of Chinese food that my Chinese friends would probably laugh at the idea that one marinade could bring you all the flavors of China. That said, if you are used to eating American versions of Chinese food and like those flavors, you'll love this marinade. The same is true for all of my international marinades. For all but the most extreme purists, these marinades will deliver just what you are looking for-a hint of Italian, French, Mexican, Vietnamese, or Indian, etc., flavor in your own backyard cuisine.
A note on the process of marinating: Most of the time, a marinade does not penetrate food much beyond the surface. Unless you use a vacuum marinator such as the Vacu Vin Instant Marinater, you only flavor the first 1/4 inch of the food. (The instant marinater eliminates the oxygen within food and creates a vacuum seal, which locks in flavor. The marinade takes up the space where the air used to be.)
Generally, every bite includes this flavored layer, and it is enough to nicely flavor the dish. In addition, the acids or enzymes in marinades change the texture of (the food during the process of marinating (the term tenderize is often used but is technically incorrect unless it is an enzyme-rich marinade that will breakdown tough meat fibers). When marinating, I recommend a relatively short soak for most foods-30 minutes to 2 hours. Much more than an hour or two in the marinade can oversoften food and result in a mushy texture, especially if the marinades contain enzymes from ingredients like pineapple or papaya, or a tough texture if the marinade has a lot of acid-rich citrus juice and/or vinegar. My rule of thumb is the smaller and more delicate the food, the shorter the soak.
I know that some of my BBQ Buddies disagree with me and marinate food in acid-rich baths for days at a time. If you look at the meat during the marinating process, you can literally see the acid or enzymes "cooking" the meat and changing the molecular structure. One visual sign of over-marinated meat is a gray or dark blueish color instead of a healthy red color (see photo below). In my experience, when you grill or barbecue meat that has already been "cooked" by the acid, the result is meat with mushy texture and flavor. If you think about how quickly citrus juice and vinegar "cooks" raw seafood when you make a ceviche, this will make sense to you. If you have a marinade recipe that calls for letting it soak for days, and you love the results, keep making it. But try it my way and see what you think of a quick, flavor-filled soak that leaves the meat firm and full flavored. The only exception to my short-soak approach is an olive oil and dry herb marinade (devoid of any liquid acid) that can be used for up to 3 days to great effect.
Marinades penetrate meat with flavor. One note of caution when using acid-rich or enzyme-rich marinades: Soaking meat for too long can result in a mushy, tough, or overprocessed texture. Be careful not to put too much of these ingredients in your marinade. For example, both ginger and pineapple contain natural enzymes that quickly break down proteins. One or two acidic ingredients will add dimension to your marinade, but more than that will rapidly ruin your meat and make it tough.
Since marinades are acidic, always marinate in a glass, plastic, or stainless steel container, never aluminum, which will react with the acid. This is what recipe instructions are referring to when they call for a "nonreactive bowl or container."
I like to use large resealable plastic bags for marinating, brining, and oiling foods before grilling-I even packaged two sizes of heavy-duty, leakproof bags for my line of Grill Friends products. Look for the Turkey Brining Bag around the holidays and the Everyday Brining and Marinade Bag year-round. The bags are airtight and you can move the food through the plastic so all parts are exposed to the liquid easily and without any mess.
How to Safely Turn a Marinade into a Sauce
Although it's common knowledge to many cooks, it's worth repeating: Don't repurpose used marinade as a serving sauce. Raw meat, fish, and especially poultry have natural bacteria when raw. These bacteria are cooked off during the grilling process. However, the bacteria may have transferred from the protein to the marinade during soaking. For this reason, if you want to serve the marinade as a sauce at the table, you must bring it to a roaring boil and let it continue to boil for 3 minutes before it is considered safe. That said, most of my marinades are designed to impart raw food with bold, bright flavors-not to be cooked and used as a table sauce. Unless the recipe specifically calls for cooking the marinade down and serving the marinade, I'd toss it, confident that it has already served its primary purpose.
Most of my marinade recipes say that you can make them and store them in the refrigerator for 2 days or so. This is correct; they won't go bad, but know that all marinades are best made just before you want to use them. The fresher a marinade is, the brighter and more intense the flavor will be.
Marinade 101: Viva! It's Homemade Italian Dressing!
Makes 1 1/4 cups
I chose a homemade Italian "dressing" for Marinade 101 because everyone I know has taken a bottle of store-bought dressing and doused it over chicken, fish, shrimp, and vegetables before grilling. And it is the "secret" marinade of just about every competition barbecuer I know. My home-made version is a simple and so-much-better version. I give you the choice to use olive or canola oil. My personal preference is extra-virgin olive oil, but feel free to use canola if you prefer a more neutral flavor. I've listed individual spices, but you may substitute your favorite Italian spice blend. You can also make the marinade lighter and more contemporary by substituting basil for the oregano.
Good for Soaking: Zucchini, cut vegetables, chicken pieces, pork tenderloin, salad greens
1/2 cup white wine vinegar 1/4 cup white wine, preferably Chardonnay 1 teaspoon mayonnaise, preferably Hellmann's 2 cloves garlic, chopped 2 teaspoons dried oregano or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh 2 teaspoons chopped fresh curly parsley 1 teaspoon granulated onion 1 teaspoon granulated garlic 1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt 1/2 cup olive or canola oil
In a medium bowl, mix the vinegar and wine together and whisk in the mayonnaise until the color is milky white and there are no lumps. Mix in the fresh garlic, oregano, parsley, granulated onion and garlic, red chile flakes, and salt. Slowly whisk in the oil until it is completely incorporated. Taste and adjust the seasoning. The marinade will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Red Wine Marinade for Beef and Lamb
Makes 3 1/2 cups
This classic marinade is great for all cuts of red meat, and, it is a great use for a half-finished bottle of wine. That remaining wine may not be good enough to drink, but it'll be just perfect for this marinade.
Good for Soaking: Any kind of red meat, veal, mushrooms, onions
2 cups favorite red wine 1 cup water 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil 2 tablespoons coarse kosher salt, preferably Morton, or sea salt 1 tablespoon chopped fresh or dried rosemary leaves 6 cloves garlic, smashed
Combine all the ingredients in a large nonreactive bowl and whisk until the sugar and salt are dissolved. (Alternatively, warm the water, dissolve the sugar and salt in it, and then add the rest of the ingredients.) Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using. The marinade will keep for up to 2 days.
White Wine Marinade for Fish, Poultry, and Pork
Makes 3 1/2 cups
Think of this as the classic marinade for "white" meat.
Good for Soaking: Meaty fish fillets, salmon, Arctic char, chicken, pork cutlets, pork loin
2 cups favorite white wine 1 cup water 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil 3 teaspoons coarse kosher salt, preferably Morton, or sea salt Zest of 1 large lemon 1 tablespoon each of 3 herbs such as chopped fresh or dried tarragon, basil, sage, and/or rosemary leaves 1 tablespoon dehydrated garlic
Combine all the ingredients in a large nonreactive bowl and whisk until the sugar and salt are dissolved. (Alternatively, dissolve the sugar and salt in warm water and then add the rest of the ingredients. Make sure the marinade is cool before using.) The marinade will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.