Strategize how you treat your meat before (and after) you cook it.
As tough as this may be for the mealtime procrastinators among us to accept, the tactical use of a marinade is often enough to make or break a meal. A leisurely soak in some lemon juice and olive oil has the power to tenderize and flavor skirt steak, and even a brief bath in vinegar can reinvigorate a fillet of cod with a sweetness, firming up the fish just enough to get that perfect fry. It can be the tipping point between relentlessly tough and perfectly tender.
But better yet, the marinade is a way to start layering flavor into your chicken thighs or rack of lamb before you even start the grill or light your stovetop burner. It’s a chance to infuse your chicken with the salty, burnt-sugar sweetness of a fish sauce caramel, or to add the fruity tang of tamarind pulp. You can sneak in a bit of MSG, or a spoonful of your fanciest French mustard for some extra umami, or use your food processor to make a gloriously stinky garlic paste whisked with lime juice and chiles.
Even after the meat has had an overnight sit with these ingredients, you don’t have to pour the marinade (or the $20 worth of olive oil you used to make it) down the drain. As my colleague Talia Baiocchi recently pointed out to me, “A lot of marinades are basically just warm vinaigrettes or sauces in waiting.” Recently, this has meant repurposing a cumin, garlic, and orange peel marinade as a sauce for lamb, and a soy sauce marinade to serve with grilled chicken.
Obviously, once a marinade has come into contact with raw meat, it needs to be cooked in order to safely use it as a vinaigrette or a finishing sauce, but this can be as simple as pouring it into a saucepan and heating it just until the mixture boils. Once you’ve cooked the liquid, simply taste and adjust the seasoning. Brighten it with a bit of rice wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, or red wine vinegar, and it’s ready to use as a sauce for whatever you’ve marinated. —Anna Hezel
What Makes a Great Meat Marinade?
Meat bought with the best intentions can be, well, boring. Marinades fix that, sometimes in a hurry.
My Two Marinades
Cornell sauce and soy sauce play similar roles in infusing chicken with flavor. But combine the two and something special will happen.
Fish Sauce Caramel Is the New Salted Caramel
Get to know the sweeter side of fish sauce.
Go On, Get the MSG
Padded with plenty of kosher salt, the seasoning can be the wind beneath your dinner’s wings.
Flame On, Flamer
A simple Japanese marinade shatters preconceived grilling, and gender, norms.
Tamarind’s Sweet and Sour Two-Step
Tamarind is highly versatile and used throughout the world. But seriously, how do you cook with it?
Adobo Seasoning and the Art of Puerto Rican Dry Marinade
Why are plastic canisters of Goya adobo seasoning so ubiquitous in Puerto Rican kitchens? Because the spice blend goes well with pretty much everything.
Reinvigorate Your Fish
A quick dip in vinegar before cooking can bring a layer of flavor you never expected.