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Ultra-easy marinades

Keeping your cupboards stocked with spices is a must.

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Recipes Featured In This Article

Gloria’s Steak Tips

This is as good as it gets for marinades. The taste is sweet and savoury, but has a bit of...

Reesh’s Maple Marinade

Best for pork, but also good for chicken or steak. Using maple syrup makes this marinade s...

Chicken Souvlaki

This Greek classic also works well with pork. The lemon imparts a light, refreshing taste....

Growing up, my family’s annual summer vacation usually included a trip to visit relatives in the Boston area, where we enjoyed a seemingly endless supply of barbequed meats, many of them marinated. Americans are obsessed with barbequing, especially when it involves marinating. In recent years, I’ve become immersed in this obsession, following the teachings of my cousin Andy.

The culmination of this was a friend’s bachelor party at a backwoods camp in New Brunswick. I carved up a four-kilogram hunk of sirloin, cut it into cubes, marinated it in three different marinades and then grilled it up.

Photo: Beth Dunham

Photo: Beth Dunham

People marinate meats to tenderize tough cuts and add flavour. Fish is already quite tender, so marinating it is mainly about flavour. With fish, “it’s just about adding another dimension,” says chef Garry Gosse, the host of Eastlink TV’s Grill Works.

Research shows health benefits to marinating meat. This is because certain ingredients in a marinade, such as beer, wine, tea, vinegar, citrus juice, vegetable oil and fresh herbs, can help prevent carcinogen formation, says a May 2014 article in The Globe and Mail. The marinade “acts as a barrier, keeping flames from touching meat and poultry.”

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Photo: Beth Dunham

One of the best things about marinating is people can do it with ingredients they already have on hand. “You can throw together something very quick,” says Peter Dewar, a faculty member of Nova Scotia Community College’s culinary arts program at the Kingstec campus in Kentville, N.S. Whipping up a marinade from scratch usually only takes a few minutes, so it’s a great thing to do late at night or in the morning for the next dinner.

Always marinate in the fridge and be sure there’s a half-cup of marinade for every uncooked pound of meat or fish. As well, there are a few things to think about, such as how long to marinate the meat or fish, what kind of container to use and what kind of ingredients to include in it.

The timelines for marinating meats vary from as little as two hours up to 48 hours. For steak, pork and chicken, 24 hours is a good rule of thumb. (However, if the marinade is highly acidic, shorten the time. Otherwise, the meat could become mushy.) As fish is already tender, you should only marinate it for 10 minutes to a couple of hours. If you are finding the food tastes too much like marinade and does not retain its original flavour, reduce your marinating timeframe.

The options for containers come down to personal preference. “I like using resealable bags,” says Gosse. He likes them because you can scrunch up the bag, so the food won’t require as much marinade to be immersed in, taking up less room in the fridge.

While not great for the environment, you can just toss the bag away afterwards for an easy clean up. Stainless-steel bowls and glass containers work great, but avoid using plastic containers. “If you marinate something with heavy flavours in plastic, the plastic can take on those flavours,” cautions Dewar. In its most basic form, a marinade should have oil and an acid (think lemons, limes and oranges), something to give it some additional flavour (spices), plus a sweet component (such as honey or brown sugar) to offset the acidity.

These ingredients all serve different, but important purposes. The oil makes the food less sticky when grilling and prevents the spices from sinking to the bottom of the marinade. It also helps the spices adhere to the food. Keeping your cupboards stocked with spices is a must. Besides salt and pepper, think rosemary, thyme, basil and parsley. While dry spices will do the trick, consider having a herb box on your windowsill. “It’s really going to make the difference between good and awesome,” says Jesse Vergen, chef/owner at the Smoking Pig Real BBQ in Quispamsis, New Brunswick. Onions and garlic are also essential.

When making a fish marinade, the marinade should be “something that is light and is going to accentuate the natural flavours of the fish,” says Vergen. For this reason, keep the marinade simple. Use some olive oil, salt and pepper, an acid (such as lemon juice) and some fresh herbs. It’s as simple as that.
If you want to get a little more exotic, Vergen recommends his sweet and spicy seafood marinade, consisting of molasses, dark rum, cilantro, chili peppers, cracked pepper and sea salt.

You can get more elaborate with meat. Think about working with ingredients like cinnamon, maple syrup, cloves, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar, ginger and hot pepper sauce. Ultimately, marinades can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be. Follow the basics, but also incorporate your personal taste into the marinades. Don’t be afraid to stray from the guidelines. You won’t be disappointed.

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