Most marinades are a mix of oil, herbs and spices and an acidic ingredient such as citrus juice, vinegar or wine. Go for the convenience of store-bought, or improvise and make your own, using ingredients you already have on-hand.
A marinade is a seasoned liquid mixture used to impart flavor and tenderize meats, fish and vegetables through soaking (marinating). Most marinades contain oil, herbs and spices and an acidic ingredient such as vinegar, citrus juice or wine. The oil carries the flavor of the herbs and spices, creating a natural seal on the food. The acid imparts bright flavor and also breaks down tough flesh fibers.
When fruits are similarly soaked (usually in a spirit or liqueur), the term used is "macerate."
The term "marinate" originally only applied to fish. The word originates from the Latin mare, meaning "the sea." Today marinades are still used with fish, but more frequently with meats.
At the supermarket you'll find a wide variety of marinades pre-made for convenience. Some come in dry seasoning packets that you mix with your own vinegar and oil. Ready-to-use liquid marinades are also available in plastic squeeze bottles or glass jars. The flavors range from basic "teriyaki" or "garlic and herb" to more gourmet offerings like "Thai ginger" or "roasted pineapple and habanero." Look for them in your supermarket's condiment aisle.
It's also quite simple to make your own marinade at home (usually with ingredients that you already have on-hand). You can always use the salad dressing in your fridge, too. Italian dressing makes a great, versatile marinade for poultry, shrimp, vegetables and just about everything.
• Because most marinades contain acidic ingredients, they should be prepared and used in nonreactive containers made of glass, ceramic or stainless steel. Aluminum containers may react with the acid, causing your food to take on an unpleasant, metallic taste.
• The easiest way to marinate is to seal the food and the marinade in a large, plastic, zipper bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible and turn the bag several times to coat.
• Always keep marinating foods covered and refrigerated. Letting them stand at room temperature invites bacteria.
• Larger cuts of meat benefit from longer marinating. A whole chicken can take up to 12 hours, and large roasts up to 24 hours or two days. Smaller fish fillets and steaks require the least amount of marinating time–usually 30 to 60 minutes.
• Before adding food, reserve some of your marinade to use as a basting sauce while cooking.
• Instead of discarding your used marinade, make it into a delicious sauce.