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!