Saturday, May 5, 2012

The art of whipping up a good marinade

I've noticed that I'm actually getting more and more pageviews on this blog. God only knows why, but hey, I'll take it. I feel obliged to actually write a little something, and I guess I will touch on something that's actually a little topical as we head into the summer months: marinade for grilling stuff.

The first thing you need to know about making a marinade, or pretty much anything else food related that isn't baking: this shit ain't science. I've posted a marinade recipe before, but sometimes I think that by focusing so much on recipes that we forget that just winging it sometimes can work. I made a marinade today with my friend Karla to use for portabellas and brussel sprouts, and it was a lot similar to the one I made before, but with a few differences. I decided I would try apple cider vinegar instead of white, since she had some, and I added some cayenne pepper. I didn't measure anything and my friend told me it was some of the best I'd ever made. I know everyone doesn't feel comfortable just "eyeballing" stuff, but I think a lot of cooking is about confidence and trusting your instincts. If you make something that's not so good, well that's fine -- we've all done it. I think it's good though to not be afraid of screwing up a bit. Also, it's hard to really screw up a marinade to the point where you make bad food. That's because you can (and should!) give it a taste before you actually use it. If it's good, you know to use it. If it's not, throw it out and try again.

Some thoughts on making good marinade:

1) Keep the ingredients list small. I subscribe to the idea that we should be as simple as possible in cooking. Never use seven ingredients when three will get the job done. Don't add stuff just for the sake of adding stuff. I think of this kind of like mixing paint. If you want to get a good color, keep it simple: yellow and blue will make green, for example. If you want a lighter green, carefully add some white. But you have to exercise some caution. If you insist on mixing in more and more colors you will just end up with an ugly grayish-brown.

2) Think of complimentary flavors. Brown sugar and cumin go very well together. Vinegars and fats work well together (especially balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil). Think of your favorite complimentary/contrasting flavors. There, you already have an inspiration for a really good marinade. Also keep in mind that not everything goes well together (which I why I discussed above that you shouldn't keep adding stuff, because if you do eventually you find two ingredients that don't like each other, or more likely, add an ingredient that conflicts with several of the ingredients you already added).

3) Don't go for subtlety. Marinades aren't about nuance. They are about hitting you over the head with "holy shit, that's really good" flavor.

4) Don't be afraid to experiment. This is how I found out that beer works really well in a marinade. You can always whip up small batches and give it a quick taste to see how it works. I'm doing to try doing something with red wine soon. (Suggestions always welcome.)

5) Soy sauce be salty, yo. It's great, don't get me wrong, and is a nice starting point for lots of marinades. But it's potent shit, so don't go nuts with it. I find it's good to cut soy sauce with broth or beer. (I don't think wine would work though. I have not tried it, but I feel pretty confident in that.)

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