Do More with Marinades

Get the most out of marinades for the grill and also salads—Dos, Don’ts, and recipes from Twin Cities culinary instructor Jason Ross
Chicken Thighs Grilled with Spicy Citrus Soy Marinade

Photography Terry Brennan, Food Styling Lara Miklasevics

Marinades are the best way to flavor grilled meats and fish, and they do much more, serving as sauces and salad dressings, too. But, asks Twin Cities chef and Saint Paul College Culinary Arts instructor Jason Ross, who created this recipe for Real Food: Did you know they can also buffer against the harsh and dry heat of the grill, serve as a garnish, and even work as a preservative? Here are some guidelines for using marinades as well as a couple of his favorite marinade recipes to try to make your grilled and other dishes delicious throughout the summer and beyond.

Spicy Citrus Soy and Chermoula Marinades

Photography Terry Brennan, Food Styling Lara Miklasevics

Marinade Tips

GET DOWN THE GENERAL RATIO. Most dressings (including store bought) can be used interchangeably as salad dressing or marinade. For classic vinaigrette, one part acid to two to three parts oil is a general rule to follow. The same ratio works for oil-based marinades.

FLAVOR BIG. In addition to acid and fat, a marinade needs seasoning such as herbs, spices, salt and pepper. Why not make the flavors big? Remember, the seasoning needs to be strong enough to both flavor the grilled food and to withstand the intensity of the grill’s heat, char marks and drying.

DO NOT OVERUSE MARINADE. You only need enough to coat. Not only is it wasteful to drown foods in marinade, but you want to save some for basting and finishing. Also, very little marinade will penetrate deeply into the meat; it’s mostly for the surface. In general, ½ cup of marinade will flavor 1 to 1½ pounds of beef, lamb, pork, chicken, or fish. Make sure all surfaces are coated with marinade by flipping them over on all sides until you get good full coverage.

BE CAREFUL ABOUT TOO MUCH TIME IN THE MARINADE. There is a tendency to think that more time equals more flavor, but more time means mostly more textural changes. The acid in the marinade breaks down or untangles the protein fibers, and meat can get mushy and dry, or even crumbly in the case of fish. The tougher the meat, the more time it can handle: Marinate fish for 15 to 20 minutes and chicken 30 minutes to 1 hour. Tougher cuts of beef or pork can handle up to 2 hours.

PRESERVE YOUR MEATS WITH LESS ACIDIC MARINADES. While over marinating toughens meats and fish, you can use adjusted marinade formulas as short-term preservative, which adds a couple extra days in the cooler to meats and fish. To do this, weaken the acid in the marinade by doubling the oil or make a small batch of marinade with acid completely omitted. The dilution of the acid will slow the breakdown of fiber, while the marinade coating will help prevent oxidation and discoloration.

ALWAYS RESERVE SOME OF THE MARINADE. Keep in mind that as soon as marinade touches raw meat or fish it is contaminated and cannot be used as a sauce. You will want to use extra marinade to baste grilled items as they cook and after they come off the grill to add shine and bump up flavor that was lost to cooking.

STORE MARINATED FOODS IN NON-REACTIVE CONTAINERS. Use glass, stainless steel or ceramic—never aluminum. The aluminum will react with the acid, leach and discolor the food as well as add an acrid metallic flavor.

Spicy Soy Marinade

Photography Terry Brennan, Food Styling Lara Miklasevics

Spicy Citrus Soy Marinade

Makes about 1 Cup, 4 to 6 Servings

Soy is a great addition to so many marinades. Here it is used with spicy serrano chilies and juiced oranges and limes. I particularly like this marinade with flank steak, but try it with almost any cut of beef as well as chicken, lamb, pork, or fish. Shrimp would be great, too! —J.R.

2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 serrano chili, diced
¼ cup lime juice
¼ cup orange juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup olive oil
½ cup thinly sliced green onion (about 3 to 4 onions)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

  1. In a medium sized mixing bowl combine garlic, salt, ginger and chili with lime juice and orange juice.
  2. Add remaining ingredients to the bowl and stir to combine.
  3. Use immediately or transfer to a jar or lidded container and refrigerate for up to 7 days.
Chermoula Marinade

Photography Terry Brennan, Food Styling Lara Miklasevics

Chermoula Marinade

Makes about 1 Cup, 4 to 6 Servings

Chermoula is a punchy sauce used in North African cuisines. Often paired with fish, it also works well with beef, lamb, pork, or chicken.

3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons salt
½ cup lemon juice
1 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon paprika
½ tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 pinch cayenne
1 cup minced parsley (flat leaf or curly)

  1. In a medium sized mixing bowl combine garlic with salt and lemon juice.
  2. Add remaining ingredients to the bowl and stir to combine.
  3. Use immediately or transfer to a jar or lidded container and refrigerate for up to 7 days.

Facebook Comments

Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.