Remember when everyone thought marinades tenderized meat? Ah well, they don’t (just like browning meat doesn’t “seal in the juices” – but I digress…). Marinades do however add tons of flavor – to meat and vegetables – and are therefore my current obsession. Just last week I marinated shrimp and fish for a citrus-y kick to kebabs; seitan for a non-meat barbecue sandwich; chicken for spicy fajitas; steak for Korean bulgogi; and last night, cubes of pork tenderloin for zesty Greek souvlaki. Tonight I’m back to something citrus-y for salmon steaks.
Since I get bored very easily, I just make up marinades, depending on what I’m hungry for – I follow a basic formula of 1 Tbsp. olive oil to 1-2 Tbsp. of citrus juice, vinegar, or wine. Add garlic, onions, soy sauce, sugar, herbs, or salt to taste. (As far as I can tell, it’s pretty impossible to mess up a marinade.) I pour the mixture into a large Ziploc bag, add a pound or so of protein or vegetables, and marinate for anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours (depends on how much time I have). Drain, toss the marinade, and grill away. You can get more depth of flavor with the addition of spice rubs and glazes, and I sometimes do, but for day-to-day fast flavor, it’s hard to beat the tasty punch of an easy marinade.
Some quick, broad combos below. All the suggestions are great for chicken, steak, fish, vegetables, tofu, or seitan. Sometimes I marinate whole pieces, sometimes cubed and threaded on skewers for kebabs. I always start with olive oil, as well as generous salt and pepper (unless using soy sauce), then add the following simple combinations – see what jumps out at you:
Greek flavors: red wine or lemon juice, dried oregano, minced garlic (also olive paste, minced fresh mint or dill)
Asian flavors: rice vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, minced garlic, chopped scallions (also bean paste, fish sauce, curry paste)
Italian flavors: balsamic vinegar, fresh rosemary, dried oregano, minced garlic
Indian flavors: yogurt, curry powder or garam masala, minced garlic, minced mint (also chutney, grated lime peel, minced ginger)
Mexican flavors: lemon or lime juice, cumin, oregano, minced jalapenos, minced garlic (also splash of enchilada sauce or salsa)
Caribbean flavors: pineapple or citrus juice, honey, minced ginger, minced garlic, minced jalapenos
French flavors: white wine, Dijon mustard, minced fresh tarragon or dill, minced shallots or garlic
You get the idea. Exp-marinate away!