Quick Versatile Marinade
I’m a huge fan of using marinades to help add a boost of flavor into whatever protein I might be cooking. However, most times, I find marinades to be cumbersome and time-consuming and something that requires the protein to marinade overnight or at least for several hours in the refrigerator. But really, what person has this kind of time? Trying to plan for a marinade overnight means you actually have to be organized, have a set menu, have the ingredients and find the time the night before to prepare. For me, this just isn’t realistic. Sometimes, I’m just not that organized. I can’t think beyond the current day and what I’ll be making. And let’s face it, after I’ve already made dinner for one night, washed the dishes, cleaned the kitchen, etc. who wants to then start thinking about dinner the next night? That’s the last thing on my mind!
So, over time and some trial and error, I’ve developed my own personal quick and versatile marinade which I whip together in a few minutes, use to marinade protein for as little as 30 minutes while I prep everything else, and them am good to start cooking with. I find the marinade adds a nice punch and extra shot of flavor, and tends to be concentrated enough to really penetrate into the marinade in just a few minutes time. For me, there are a few basic ingredients: olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper, citrus juice and either honey or mustard as an emulsifier. If these ingredients seem familiar, my quick and versatile marinade is really like making a super concentrated oil-and-vinegar homemade salad dressing.
For me, the key to the marinade is to make it concentrated and strong. You’re not eating the marinade, it’s not a dipping sauce, you’re not chugging it, so it’s ok to concentrate the flavors. The stronger the marinade, the easier it is to penetrate and flavor your meats and seafoods. Concentrated, strong, pungent flavors to me start with garlic. It’s no secret that I love garlic. While you can use granulated garlic to cut down on some time, I really do find that adding fresh garlic cloves (if you have them available) really does add an extra punch of flavor. The fresh garlic really shines through in the marinade.
In order to release the flavors and juices in the garlic clove, mince it up really fine. Just take your knife and run it through the garlic cloves a few time until you get it minced. Throw the minced garlic into a non-reactive bowl in which you will be making your marinade. Depending on what I’m marinade, and the type of meal I’m serving, sometimes garlic is not the only aromatic fresh ingredient I use. If I have fresh ginger on hand, I’ll use fresh minced or grated ginger as well to add flavor to the marinade if I’m making something that I want to have a bit more Asian flavor.
In with the mince garlic, I add honey. Everyone knows that oil and vinegar don’t mix together very well. If you make your own home-made salad dressing it’s obvious when you try to combine the oil and vinegar that if you don’t shake it up really well, they won’t come together. When making a marinade using oil and vinegar, you can’t have the two ingredients separate from each other in the marinade, so you need an emulsifier that can help bring the oil and vinegar together. Generally, the two common emulsifiers are mustard or honey. I regularly use both. But it depends on what type of flavors you want to add into your marinade. If you feel that your marinade will be too strong and tangy with flavors such as balsamic vinegar, or perhaps some other type of tart acid, then honey is the perfect thing to use to balance it all out.
Fresh ground salt and pepper get added into the bowl with the minced garlic and honey. Again, the amount of salt and pepper you add is entirely up to you and your taste buds. We like a lot of pepper and very little salt, so that’s what I use. I notice that a lot of other recipes tend to use salt 2:1 over pepper, but that’s too much salt for me. Besides, in taking too much salt is never a good thing. Another option for salt, again, if you’re going for more of an Asian-flavored marinade, is soy sauce. If you use soy sauce, don’t use salt at all because there’s enough salt in soy sauce.
Now it’s time for the oil and vinegar. When making any sort of vinaigrette, which essentially is what this is with a twist, the general rule of thumb is 3:1 in the vinegar to oil ratio. Start by adding the vinegar into the bowl with the other ingredients. I use balsamic vinegar most often, but I’ve also used apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar and seasoned rice vinegar. If you’re adventurous, you can even combine the various ingredients together to create a blend.
Besides the different combinations of vinegars that you can use for the marinade, you can also use other types of acid. I like using lemon juice, especially if you have lemons on hand that you are trying to use. Orange juice and lime juice, or a combination of any sort of acidic fruit juices work as well.
Take a fork or a whisk to combine all the ingredients in the bowl. As you are whisking everything together, drizzle in the olive oil. Since this isn’t a vinaigrette, it’s not necessary to stick to the traditional 3:1 oil to vinegar ratio. You actually probably are looking more for a 1.5:1 ratio for the mixture. Continue to whisk as you drizzle in the oil in order to help the emulsion process.
At this point, your marinade is basically complete. You don’t have to take it any further, if you don’t want to. This will create a nice flavorful marinade for your meats and seafoods. But, there’s still other ways to dress up your marinade and pack even more flavor into it. For instance, if you had fresh herbs on hand, you could chop of basil, thyme, or rosemary and throw it into your marinade. This works especially well if other items you are making with your meal contain any of these fresh herbs, this way your marinated meats and seafood mirror the same flavors found throughout the rest of the meal. On this occasion, I had some fresh basil, so I julienned it and threw it right into the marinade. Even just a little bit of fresh herbs goes a long way.
So now you’ve got yourself a quick and versatile marinade. Start with a few basic ingredients and them dress them up to match your tastes and styles. You really can’t go wrong with this marinade.
When it’s complete, just take your meats or seafoods, throw them right into the marinade and make sure that the marinade coats it completely. Chill it in the refrigerator, even for just 30 minutes and your meats and seafoods will be ready to go. This makes a perfect marinade for grilling. Quick, easy, simple and so full of flavor!