Marinades are a wonderful way to flavor meat. They can be simple or involved, depending on your desires, but they’re also a great way to use up ingredients. Have some leftover parsley? Make a marinade. Tomatoes? Make a marinade. An orange? You get the idea.

Generally, a marinade is composed of three parts: the oil, the acid, and the flavoring. The oil is simply the carrier. It can be a neutral oil like grape seed, an extra-virgin olive oil, or an infused oil.

The acidic option depends on what food you’re preparing. If I’m marinating beef for fajitas, I’d choose lime juice as my acid. If I’m marinating chicken for a stir fry, I’d choose sake or mirin. But there are other options as well. Orange juice? Pineapple juice? A ripe tomato? Sure! They all work.

The third part of creating a marinade is the most fun, because you can get really creative. Garlic is always important to me. There’s not one cuisine I can think of that doesn’t utilize this wonderfully pungent allium, be it Indian, Asian, Mexican, and so forth. Ginger is also perfect in Asian- and Indian -inspired marinades.

The next option for me would be fresh herbs, like cilantro, basil, or parsley. They provide beautiful color and freshness to a marinade.

Chile peppers puréed in a marinade provide wonderful heat as well as flavor. Just remove the stem of fresh jalapeños, for example, and pop them into the blender with the other ingredients. Alternatively, use roasted peppers or chile pepper purée, of which there are many varieties.

Here are some spice options for marinades: Cumin, chili powder, smoky or sweet paprika, coriander, Chinese 5-spice powder, curry powder, cayenne, chipotle, ancho chile pepper.

Other ingredients to flavor marinades include pesto, miso, ketchup, soy sauce, fish sauce, hoisin sauce, berbere, harissa, romesco, mustard, honey, maple syrup, roasted red bell peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce… the list is literally endless.

The following marinade is basically a red wine-based vinaigrette, seasoned with garlic, dried herbs, and cayenne pepper flakes.

Here is a marinade made with olive oil, lime juice, garlic and parsley puréed together for chicken breasts. The combination makes a wonderful green marinade, which colors the chicken beautifully after grilling.

For a beef tri-tip, I created an Asian-inspired marinade. I used soy sauce, sake, sesame seed oil, chile paste (Sambal oelek), ginger and garlic. After 24 hours I seared the thin slices of beef in peanut oil for a quick dinner. It’s that simple.

Yogurt can also be used as the “carrier oil,” which you learn about quickly when you indulge yourself in Indian cuisines. So for my final example of a marinated meat, I’m using a mixture of yogurt and harissa.

For a more involved Indian-inspired marinade, I would include garlic, ginger, and curry powder, but I wanted to show how easy it is to create a flavorful and unique marinade. It took10 seconds to prepare and you don’t even need to use a blender.

I’m simply smothering a pork tenderloin with the marinade, waiting a few hours, and then roasting it in the oven.

Marinating requires very little work. It’s just about planning. Try different variations and see what magic you can come up with!

45 thoughts on “Marinades

    • Especially with all of the fresh herbs outside. And I do use tomatoes in marinades. I got the idea after I made one from a recipe that used ketchup, and it was wonderful.

  1. I love a good marinade, Mimi! I love how you broke down the components and gave examples, it makes it so easy to make a marinade without a recipe!

    • I’m so against recipes! Well, I shouldn’t say that, because I’m inspired by new recipes of course. But they’re always hard for me to follow to a t. And rarely is a recipe really required. It’s what I used to teach in my cooking classes in yesteryears.

  2. So many options, Chef Mimi. Thank you. (Great pics and ideas, all!) My hubby raised an eyebrow at “Sambal oelek” when I first brought it home, but I’ve added it to many a dish with rave reviews (and without him knowing, LOL!) — marinating is a terrific way to add flavor without overwhelming “tender” tastebuds.

  3. Oh, I love being sneaky! I did it for years with the kids! I don’t ever do anything terrible, like something that would cause an allergic reaction 😬, but sometimes my husband is just so sure about foods, and he’s so wrong. I guess I should be lucky that he eats what he eats!!!

    • Well this was definitely not a post for vegetarians😀 but have you ever marinated raw vegetables? Fabulous!

    • It’s really fun. Of course, you don’t have to, but the flavors do get infused and makes meaty meals more tasty!

  4. Fun — and informative! — post. Love marinades, particularly at this time of the year. I mainly use them for meats, but am getting into marinating veggies a bit more — nice flavor twist. Anyway, thanks for a great read.

    • Thank you. Meant more for novice cooks, but I appreciate your comments. I’ve always tried to get people to not only use recipes! And marinades and vinaigrettes are a perfect example of being creative with what you have and what you like.

  5. Mimi, while I’ve made many marinades, I’ve never looked at my misc. leftovers of produce and things as a reason to make one — and it’s brilliant! That’s definitely going to be my new thing. Such a ton of great information here and I can’t wait to put it to use. :-) ~Valentina

    • Maybe it was because we went through lean times back when my kids were young. I had to be creative because I had to cook economically! But it’s also fun.

  6. Mimi, your marinades all look wonderful and are definitely making me hungry! I’ve got my eye on the Asian flavored one – so delicious!

    • Add more punch to your marinades, and less liquid? When I put a whole handful of parsley in a blender with garlic and olive oil, there’s no lacking in flavor. If you’re not using fresh herbs, use lots of seasoning. Or use pre-made ingredients like harissa. That will deliver flavor!

  7. What a great post, Mimi! Marinades are so fun because you can change the flavor profile quite easily. In fact, we used to put marinades in bags with chicken breasts and then freeze the whole thing. The chicken marinates as it thaws, so it makes for an easy weeknight hack.

    • I’ve never actually done that on purpose. I’ve done it when I made too much, which seems to happen a lot lately. Great idea!

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