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Marinade  
Recipe Number: 1302
Contributor: charm
Rating: 10.00 based on 1 votes
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Difficulty: Easy
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The Magic Behind the Marinade
The idea of marinating is not a new one. For hundreds of years cooks have been making marinades , using natural ingredients, to fulfill three important functions for the meat that they cook: to flavor, to moisturize and to tenderize. The fun thing about marinades is that the formula is so flexible -- you can use just about any ingredient you fancy! Each ingredient in a marinade serves a specific purpose, and once you understand what goes on in that fragrant concoction your meat is submerged in, you can start inventing your own amazing marinades

Fabulously Fragrant and Flavorful
The main role of marinades is to add flavor to food. A plain grilled chicken breast tastes pretty good, but a grilled chicken breast that's been bathed in an orange, ginger and sesame marinade for a few hours tastes absolutely spectacular! The kinds of flavors you can add to your marinade are only as limited as your imagination and the contents of your pantry. Choose some flavorful, spicy, fragrant, or aromatic ingredients that taste good together. These can include any fresh or dried herb or spice, but don't forget about other tasty things like fresh and dried chile peppers, onions, shallots, garlic, ginger and citrus zest , as well as prepared condiments like mustard, ketchup, or plum sauce. One word of caution: don't add salt to the meat until right before you cook it. Salt can leech out the moisture, turning your meal dry and tough. Blech.

Sweet Meat
Many marinades contain sweet ingredients. Not only does a note of sweetness taste delicious in most meats, but sugars on the surface of a piece of meat will become caramelized when exposed to heat, lending an appealing brown color and a deep, rich flavor. Some good sweet ingredients for marinades include sugar, corn syrup, honey, fruit juice or even soda pop.

Moist 'n' Juicy
Marinades also add moisture to foods, particularly when the marinade contains some sort of fat. Generally, oils are better to use than butter or margarine, because oils will remain liquid when refrigerated. In the oil category, try olive, peanut, sesame, walnut or chile. You can also use milk, coconut milk, buttermilk, or yogurt.

Love Me Tender
Additionally, marinades are widely believed to tenderize meats. This is a controversial topic, though. It's true that the acidic ingredients in a marinade have a tenderizing effect on proteins, but since the marinade only touches the surface of the meat, not the inside, the added tenderness is usually somewhat minimal. Powdered store-bought meat tenderizers usually contain natural enzymes derived from papayas. These enzymes serve to break down the tissue of the meat, but when this kind of tenderizer is left on the meat too long, it can make the meat mushy, so use caution. Interestingly, dairy products are the only ingredients that have been proven to tenderize meat all the way through while at the same time preserving the texture. Buttermilk and yogurt are especially popular for this purpose. Other acidic ingredients, whether or not they will significantly tenderize a piece of meat, will do a great job of balancing out the sweet, spicy and aromatic flavors of a marinade and can be just the right finishing touch you're looking for. Some of the tastiest acidic notes to add to a marinade include lemon juice and lime juice, as well as all kinds of vinegar, from cider vinegar to red or white wine vinegar, to sherry vinegar or balsamic vinegar. Also try your favorite wine, beer or liquor for a flavor that's both tangy and rich.

Mixing and Matching
Today we have a staggering array of ingredients and ethnic flavors available to us, and the possibilities for concocting delicious marinades are more exciting than ever. Remember that you don't necessarily need to empty your entire spice rack into your marinade mixture in order to create something delectable. Decide what you want the predominant flavors to be, and stick with that idea. This doesn't mean you can't create complex flavors when you want to, and it certainly doesn't mean you should be hesitant about experimenting! However, it helps to understand which ingredients complement each other most beautifully. For a good starting point, refer to our Cooking Basics feature, A Peek into the Worldwide Pantry.

Soak it In
Wondering how long you should let the marinade work its magic? Most seafood shouldn't stay in for longer than an hour; boneless chicken breast only needs about two hours. Pork loin can soak for four hours, lamb can go from four to eight hours, and you can leave beef for 24 hours or more. More delicate meats like seafood and skinless chicken will become mushy from the acid in the marinade if they soak too long, so keep an eye on the clock.

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