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Thursday, May 23

Gapers Block

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I'm not quite ready to say that summer is here, but spring is definitely sticking around. I've lived here for almost eight years now and this is the best spring since I've been here and it's making me quite happy.

I'm also afraid that it isn't going to last, so I've got the urge to spend as much time outside as possible. This means that even though my awesome kitchen is ready, I'm in the mood to fire up the grill and make dinner outside.

For many people this means taking meat out of it's Styrofoam and plastic-wrapped package and slapping it on a grill and then drowning it in either barbecue sauce or in steak sauce straight out of a jar. If that makes you happy, then there's no reason to keep reading. If you're not happy with that, then you've come to the right place.

I'm going to break down the mystery behind marinades so you can start experimenting with the things you already have in your kitchen. I'll be giving you a couple of marinade recipes using things I almost always have in my kitchen but if you don't have an ingredient, just substitute something you do have.

When I first started cooking, I thought that marinades were supposed to tenderize meat. I assumed the acids in the marinade broke down the tough fibers in the meat so I thought that if I added even more acid, the meat would tenderize faster. I've since learned how wrong I was.

Marinades don't actually tenderize more than the outer layer of the meat. But the salty, sweet, tart and spicy flavors that work their way through the meat help us tenderize the meat when we chew. One of the best tenderizers known to man is saliva and when we tasty highly flavored things we can't help but salivate which makes it easier to chew and makes meat seem more tender.

Another important thing I learned, is the more acid that exists in your marinade, the longer it takes the flavors to work their way through the meat. In biological terms, we're hoping to get the flavoring into the capillary system of the meat in the hopes that it will draw flavor through the meat. Acid makes this process slow down. If you're trying to get around adding a lot of oils to the marinade (which act like a base) then add a pinch of baking soda to the marinade. It will counteract the acidity, but not the flavor.

There are four main flavors in a marinade: salty, sweet, acid and spicy. A combination of these four items will most strongly flavor the meat. I'll give you examples of each of these items so you can mix and match as you see fit. I recommend adding about 1 tablespoon of oil per pound of meat. Olive oil is my favorite, but corn oil, peanut oil, sesame oil or even something like pumpkin seed oil can make an amazing marinade. These also add flavor to the marinade and they help flavors move and they keep the meat from instantly sticking to the grill.

Salt, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup any other prepared sauce that has sodium or salt high in its ingredient list

Sugar, honey, molasses, ginger, mustard, garlic, onion, ketchup, fruit paste, dried fruit, soda and fruit juice that isn't citrus

Citrus juice, wine, vinegar, mustard, beer, any liquor or liqueur and yogurt

Pepper, fresh, dried, or ground peppers, mustard, paprika, cumin or almost anything else on your spice rack

This is a basic list which should give you an idea about where your preferred ingredients would fit in the list. Some things are in more than one category because they have qualities which let them cross boundaries. Mustard can be in any or all of these categories depending on how it is made.

My favorite device for marinating food is a zippered plastic bag. It lets you get almost all of the extra air out of the bag so the flavor comes in contact with every square inch of the meat. It's easier to flip a plastic bag once or twice than get out utensils to flip meat in a bowl of sauce. You can use less marinade to get the same amount of flavor. And you don't have to worry about the scents from your bowl of marinade getting into your refrigerator and messing with other ingredients.

I always marinate meat in the refrigerator. The meat actually soaks up more flavor when it is cold than when it is warm and it means that nasty germs can't do any damage to your meal, or to you.

Now that you've got some basics, here are a few recipes which I like quite a bit.

Marinade #1: great for beef or lamb
1 cup of chopped yellow onion
4 cloves of minced garlic
1/3 cup of wine
1/4 cup of soy sauce
1 tablespoon of honey
1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon of fresh minced ginger (1/4 teaspoon of ground)
1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper

Combine all of the ingredients in a plastic zipper bag. Add your beef, squeeze out the air and let it sit for 12-24 hours. Let the meat come to room temperature before tossing onto the grill or placing on your broiling rack. If you want to baste the meat with the leftover marinade, make sure to bring it to a boil first so you don't experience the joys of salmonella.

Marinade #2: great for chicken or fish
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
1/2 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
1 shallot, sliced in rings
1 small clove of minced garlic
8 sprigs of chives
1 sprig of fresh tarragon,
1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper
1 teaspoon of salt

Follow the directions for Marinade #1 but reduce the marinade time to four hours or fewer.

Marinade #3: great for "chimp"
I've snagged this recipe from the Friends of cookbook. It was submitted by Shawn Smith of Shawnimals and is most excellent. He suggests combining chicken and shrimp (hence the chimp) in this marinade.

2 cloves of minced garlic
1/2 lemon squeezed for juice (seeds removed)
4 tablespoons of soy sauce
1/8 teaspoon of Asian chili sauce
1/2 teaspoon of red curry powder
1/3 cup of olive oil
2 tablespoons of honey
1 large pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper

Shawn suggests marinating for at least an hour or overnight. I marinated some chicken wings for about two hours in this and was delighted by the results. But I added more chili sauce to get it spicier.

Marinade #4: great for fish
1 lime squeezed for juice
1 1-inch piece of ginger peeled and minced
1/4 cup of olive oil
1 large handful of chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons of fish sauce
1 scallion sliced very thin

Fish soaks up marinade much faster than just about any other meat. This means that you don't have to soak it very long to get the flavor through. Because high acid levels have a tendency to cook fish and seafood, you won't want to let this sit for more than two hours.

The really good thing about all of these marinades, is that they are also excellent on vegetables. If you cut zucchini, carrots, squash, peppers, etc. in long strips you can marinate them and grill them right on the grill rack. Or if you marinate the veggies and seal them in a foil pack you can cook a wonderful side dish. Or you can impress your veggie friends by adding some tofu to these packets. It's easier--and tastier--than you think.

Cut a block of extra-firm tofu lengthwise into four steaks. Place them on top of several paper towels inside of a baking sheet. Put a few more paper towels on top of the tofu, followed by another baking sheet, and then a couple of cans of soup. Let this sit for at least an hour to squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible. Cut it into square cubes, add it with some cut veggies of choice in a plastic zipper bag full of marinade and let it soak for a couple of hours, or overnight. The tofu will soak up most of the marinade so it will be very flavorful.

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