How To Marinate

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I’ve always found it helpful to break down certain dishes (vinaigrettes, marinades, stews and soups) into formulas. Of course, formulas are overly simplified. But once you get the formula down, you can modify it according to the ingredients you have on hand, the type of cuisine you want to explore, the season, or your mood.

Marinades are especially formulaic because they’re born of function. The acid-and-salt combination was once used to preserve meats and fish before cooking. Now, we use them more for flavoring, tenderizing, and moisturizing. They still lend a holy and cleansed quality to whatever it is they bathe.

Though any marinade could be made from more or less, here’s a basic formula for making one:

acid (vinegar, wine, yogurt, citrus juice) +
oil (olive, vegetable) +
aromatics (onion, garlic, ginger) +
salt/umami (soy, miso, Worcestershire) +
herbs/spices (rosemary, oregano, cumin, cinnamon, clove) +
pepper/chile heat (red pepper flakes, hot sauce, sliced chiles)

A few applications of the formula, varied by cuisine type:For pork/beef/chicken (2 hours to overnight):

American:
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 thinly sliced onion
2 smashed garlic cloves
3 tablespooons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme leaves
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

Asian:
2 cups rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1 tablespoon minced ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup torn basil leaves
2 teaspoons sambal chile sauce

Middle Eastern:
2 cups plain yogurt
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 thinly sliced red onion
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup chopped mint leaves
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

For fish and shellfish (20 minutes to 2 hours):

French:
2 cups dry white wine
1/4 cup olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon chooped fresh parsley
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

Japanese (especially broiled or grilled oily fish like cod, sea bass, or mackerel):
3/4 cup mirin (sweet cooking wine)
1 cup white miso paste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Ceviche:
1 cup lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 red onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon coriander
1 jalapeno pepper, minced

The variations are endless. With a stocked pantry, a formula, and different cuisine types in mind, you’ll always be able to marinate meats and fish before grilling, broiling, searing or roasting them.

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