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Marinating food for better flavors
July 3, 2016, 10:09 am

Marinating is a resourceful way of boosting the flavor of meat, fish or tender vegetables, by dipping or placing them in a marinade for a brief or extended period of time. Though marinating is claimed to tenderize tougher cuts of meat, marinades usually soften only the surface proteins of meat with the inner areas remaining unaffected.

The 'marinade' may be acidic (made with ingredients such as vinegar or lemon juice) or enzymatic (made with ingredients such as pineapple, papaya or kiwifruit).Additionally, you can add oils, herbs or spices to up the flavor further.  However, to prepare a great marinade you need to keep the following points in mind.

Avoid overdoing: A proper marinade should have a focus and clean flavor—not a mixture of whatever random ingredients you find in your pantry. Choose a simple theme or defining ingredient and do not stray too far from the course. The point of a marinade is to enhance the protein in meat — you will want to be able to still taste and enjoy that steak, chicken or tofu.

Take charge of salt and acidic content: Avoid using too much salt. The marinade should mingle with the protein for a few hours, which is a good amount of time for the garlic, oil, herbs, what-have-you to infuse everything with flavor. This is equally true for acidic marinades; be careful of how much citrus and vinegar you add. Remember, salt pulls out moisture from ingredients resulting in dryness.

Go bold with flavors: Marinade works its magic in subtle and slowly-released ways, so do not be afraid to add lots of garlic. Additionally, the single-best thing you can do to build flavor is to kick start the aromatics by bruising the herbs, toasting spices, smashing garlic cloves and chopping alliums. These seemingly simple steps will help release the goodness into the rest of the marinade, which will then be transferred to the main dish.

Fat content: Fat carries flavor and will help distribute all the ingredients in the marinade into the dish. In most cases, inexpensive neutral-tasting oil will work just fine. Expensive artisan or specialty oils, such as nut oils, may taste great, but their delicate flavor will get obliterated when introduced to the heat.

Let it process: A good marinade takes time to sink in. Most require at least a few hours to make a discernible difference in taste, and all are infinitely more effective when allowed to mingle with the protein overnight in a refrigerator. There are certain exceptions though and it would be better if the marinade is prepared in advance. In case you are running out of time and a marinade is needed to be prepared, leave the protein at room temperature and give it a few flips and massages to help absorb.

Reserve, but do not reuse: The biggest marinade mistake is also a dangerous health hazard. Do not use the original marinade to baste the protein while it is cooking. Instead, separate the prepared marinade into two batches. Use one half to marinate the raw meat and when you are ready to grill, sear or roast, discard the raw-meat marinade. Use the second, uncontaminated marinade during the cooking process. The end result will be a flavored, glossy dish without the risk of salmonella poisoning.

Marinades to try:

Grilled snapper with fresh turmeric marinade

Fresh turmeric lends a unique and earthy note and color to the finished dish.

To prepare, pound four sliced garlic cloves, two tablespoons coarsely chopped peeled fresh turmeric and ½ teaspoon kosher salt in a mortar and pestle to a coarse paste. Transfer to a large bowl and mix in one medium finely chopped shallot, four coarsely chopped scallions and one finely chopped fresno chile, one tablespoon finely chopped lemongrass, three tablespoons sugar, ¼ cup fresh lime juice, one tablespoon fish sauce and two tablespoons water. Season the fish with salt and toss to coat in marinade. Let it sit at room temperature for one hour.

Prepare grill for medium-high heat. Keeping marinade on fish, place each fillet between two sheets of foil and grill until cooked through, about five minutes per side. Transfer fish to a platter and serve with rice and lime wedges.

Berbere Spice Mix

A mix of sweet and savory spices means this blend can be used on all kinds of dishes. Toss it with vegetables before roasting, use it as a dry rub on poultry before grilling, or stir it into yogurt and serve with fruit.

To prepare about ½ cup, hit a five inch cinnamon stick with the dull side of a chef’s knife to break into small pieces. Toast with nine whole cloves and one tablespoon allspice berries in a dry medium skillet over medium heat, tossing constantly for two minutes. Add one tablespoon coriander seeds, one tablespoon cumin seeds and toast, tossing for about a minute and then transfer the spices to a small bowl and let it cool.

Grind the spices in a spice mill and add one tablespoon paprika, 1 ½ teaspoons cayenne pepper, 1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger, ½ teaspoon finely crushed dried oregano and ¾ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg and pulse in a food processor until combined and no clumps remain.

The mixture can be made three months ahead but must be stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

Herbed Grilled Chicken Wings

This marinade is bright and light enough to let the skin of chicken wings get nice and crispy. To prepare, combine four finely chopped garlic cloves, ¼ cup chopped fresh oregano, ¼ cup chopped fresh rosemary and ¼ cup olive oil in a large re-sealable plastic bag; season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add one kilo chicken wings, seal the bag and turn to coat. Chill for at least an hour or possibly overnight.

Prepare grill for medium heat. Remove wings form marinade and grill, covered and turning occasionally for about 20 minutes and serve.

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