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Marinating Guide, Your Key to Flavor Enhancers

Marinating Guide, Your Key to Flavor EnhancersSavor the Flavor

What paint is to a blank canvas, a marinade is to a plain piece of chicken, fish, beef or other food. Marinades add dimension, excitement, personality and interest; they are a perfect prelude to most anything cooked on a barbecue.

A marinade is a soaking liquid for raw foods, which typically contains an acidic ingredient, like vinegar, wine or citrus juice, as well as oil, herbs and spices. Marinating serves three purposes: to add flavor, to add moisture and to help tenderize food.

"Marinades are marvelous. We like them strong and sassy so that the strength of the marinade imparts maximum flavor to whatever you are cooking," says Karen Adler, self-proclaimed Barbecue Queen and co-author with Judith Fertig of numerous barbecue cookbooks, including The BBQ Queens' Big Book of Barbecue.

Marinades belong to a family of several methods used to enhance the flavor of grilled foods. Relatives include:

• Barbecue sauces, which often have a sweet ingredient, such as sugar, honey or molasses, should be applied only toward the end of the grilling process; otherwise they will burn. Sauces are also tasty when served at the table as a condiment for grilled foods.

• Spice rubs are mixtures of dried herbs, spices and seasonings. Cumin, chili powder, brown sugar, salt and oregano can be rubbed into the meat before cooking.

• Spice pastes, essentially wet spice rubs, might incorporate chopped garlic, fresh herbs and a little oil. Rubs and pastes add incredible flavor, but usually offer little tenderizing ability.

• Brines, often used with foods (like turkey) that can be dry, contain salt, sugar, water and other seasonings. Similar to marinating, brining is a pre-soaking process, but uses osmosis to draw the flavorful and moisturizing brine into the meat.

There is no doubt that creating delicious marinades is an art, but there is a science to it, too. The acids or enzymes in citrus juice, wine, beer, vinegar, buttermilk, pineapple, tomato, yogurt, papaya and ginger actually unwind the protein strings in the meat, breaking down the fibers and tenderizing it. The oil helps the marinade penetrate faster and deeper into the meat.

Steven Raichlen, host of the PBS television cooking series, Barbecue University, and author of best-selling barbecue cookbooks, including Barbecue! Bible: Sauces, Rubs and Marinades, is a huge fan of marinades. He says, "Marinades are ideal for keeping inherently dry foods moist, for adding an extra layer of flavor and for giving food an ethnic identity.

"You can take the same plain chicken breast and by changing the marinade ingredients, you have entirely different ethnic flavors," he explains. "For instance, if you marinate in yogurt, lemon, saffron and spices, you have Tandoori-style chicken. In soy, garlic and ginger, it becomes Japanese-style, and in a marinade with chili, lime juice and cilantro, you add Mexican flavors to the chicken."

The following recipes spotlight marinades, showing how versatile, flavorful and ethnically diverse they can be.

Lemongrass Marinade

A little bit of this flavorful and aromatic Thai-inspired marinade goes a long way. Use it to flavor fish, chicken or vegetables about 30 minutes before grilling. This contemporary recipe is a cross between a traditional marinade and a paste.

1 tablespoon thinly-sliced fresh lemongrass (available at Asian markets)

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 small red Thai chile, trimmed, seeded and finely chopped

1 teaspoon Asian fish sauce

1 teaspoon rice vinegar

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon peanut oil or other vegetable oil

1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth

1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Kosher or sea salt and freshly-ground white pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Keep marinade covered in the refrigerator up to 3 days. Makes about 2/3 cup.

Grilled Turkey, Portabella Mushroom and Vegetable Kabobs

11/2 to 2 pounds turkey thighs skinned, boned and cut into 1-inch cubes

2 whole portabella mushrooms, stemmed and quartered

1/2 medium red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 small yellow squash, cut into 1/2-inch rounds

1 small zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch rounds

1/2 cup green onions, chopped

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 teaspoon dried tarragon

Vegetable oil cooking spray

Place turkey, mushrooms and vegetables in a large, self-closing plastic bag. In a small bowl, combine green onions, oil, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, rosemary and tarragon. Pour over turkey and vegetables, seal bag and refrigerate two hours. Spray cooking rack with vegetable oil and prepare grill for direct-heat cooking. Drain turkey and vegetables and discard marinade. Alternate turkey and vegetables on 10- or 12-inch skewers (if wood, presoak in water 30 minutes prior to use, so they will not burn). Grill over medium heat 10 to 12 minutes, turning once, until turkey is no longer pink in center and registers 180 degrees on an internal thermometer. Serves 4. M

Marinating Dos and Don'ts

Before you get started, check out these tried-and-true tips, guaranteed to ensure magnificent marinades every time you grill.

Do not marinate in an aluminum pan. The reaction between the acidic ingredients in the marinade and the aluminum will discolor the food and can darken and pit the pan.

Do marinate in a glass, ceramic or stainless steel pan. Better yet, a plastic, sealable bag makes a great container for marinating foods, and clean-up is a breeze. Tip the bag occasionally to be sure the marinade makes contact with all surfaces of the food.

Always marinate in the refrigerator, not at room temperature, to keep harmful bacteria from growing.

Never reuse leftover marinade that has held raw food as a sauce for cooked meat. Instead, reserve some of the marinade before adding raw food, or boil leftover marinade for at least three minutes before using as a sauce on cooked food.

Be careful not to over-marinate. While some large cuts benefit from as much as 24 hours in the marinade, fish and seafood can actually cook or turn mushy if left in an acidic mixture for longer than 30 minutes. Follow the instructions in the recipe.

For a quick and easy marinade, use bottled Italian salad dressing. You can jazz it up with any of your favorite herbs or spices.

Article originally written by Claire Bailey for Pool & Spa Living magazine.

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