Let’s Talk Marinades

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Memorial Day is right around the corner and that means firing up the grill. In my Food Network obsession, I have seen chefs put everything on the grill, from oysters, to lettuce, to pineapple to the basic burger. Taking the cooking outside during the summer months is especially nice on those hot days when firing up the stove or oven seems impossible.

One of the ways I like to keep meals interesting is by changing my marinade or dressing from one part of the meal to the next. For example, on Saturday night, I was entertaining and made some grilled salmon (with Harissa Olive Oil and our Spicy Caribbean Chicken blend sprinkled on top), along with some roasted asparagus (topped with some Tuscan Herb Olive Oil) and a caprese salad with the Basil Olive Oil and Fig Balsamic. Just because you are using one flavor on your main dish doesn’t mean you can’t branch out and use other flavors on other parts of the meal.

So let’s address some basics about marinades:

  1. Flavor – marinades are a great way to add flavor to food. Just be aware that meats (especially beef and chicken) can be fairly dense so the flavor stays concentrated on the surface of the meat. If you are making a marinade for veggies (like mushrooms and eggplant) those will absorb more flavor. Seafood will do a nice job of absorbing flavor too. So you want to make sure your marinade tastes good and has a nice strong flavor. Tip: score your meat before marinating with a fork to ensure maximum penetration of the marinade.
  2. Tenderizing – one of the things I like best about balsamic vinegar in a marinade is that it tends to make the meat more tender due to its acidic nature. Other acids like citrus or yogurt are nice alternatives as well.  The thinner the piece of meat, the more of the flavor will absorb and the more tender it will be. Careful though, seafood can start to “cook” when in an acidic marinade for too long — think ceviche.
  3. Juiciness – marinades that contain oil help seal in the natural juiciness of the meat as does salt. Salt is actually one of the best ways to make sure your steak stays nice and juicy because its molecular structure allows it to flow into the meat and help retain liquid. So don’t be afraid of the salt shaker!
  4. Crust – one thing to keep in mind when using balsamic vinegar especially in your meat marinade is that it will caramelize quickly on the grill and form a crust on the meat. Just avoid adding too much to prevent flare ups or burning.
  5. Time – I get asked this question all the time: How long do I marinate my beef / pork / chicken for? You will find different answers depending on where you look. When I watch food shows on tv, most chefs like the shorter is better philosophy. Not me (I am also not a chef). In my experience, the longer I marinate a piece of meat, the better it turns out. In fact, I have even kept a marinade going over night. The flavor is more intense and the meat is much more tender.

A few tips before grilling:

  1. Always refrigerate your meat while marinating to avoid any spread of bacteria from raw meat
  2. Flip the meat a few times so that the marinade coats and absorbs evenly
  3. When in doubt, go heavy on the seasoning. The more seasoning, the more flavor. So add 3-4 cloves of garlic, be generous with the pepper, etc.  In addition to increasing the juiciness, salt will also prevent other flavors from absorbing so be generous!
  4. Bring your meat up to room temperature for an hour or so putting it on the grill to ensure even cooking.
  5. Don’t recycle your used marinade – it has been in contact with raw meat. Just make a little extra at the beginning if you want a good sauce for dipping or finishing.

That’s it! Simple! Next time we will address all the other fun stuff you can grill like salad!

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