There are two common views on marinades. One camp says creating a good marinade is a mysterious process, mastered by a select few. The other insists you can throw together whatever spices and liquids are in your kitchen and get good results. The truth about how to marinate for bold, flavorful results lies somewhere in the middle. Creating a good marinade doesn’t have to be complicated, but a little planning and understanding of how marinades work will bring excellent results.
Choosing the right ingredients
One myth is that marinades can’t create strong flavors, so spicier dishes require dry rubs.
While there’s no doubt a dry rub is a great way to add flavor to many dishes, the right marinade combined with the appropriate cut of meat or chicken can pack just as much of a spicy punch as a rub.
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Those who’ve had bland results from marinades may have used a too-thick cut of meat.
For a spicy marinade to turn out well, the ingredients need to be able to fully penetrate the meat, so a thinner cut, like chuck or skirt, is a good choice. Chicken is also marinade friendly, but you may want to divide the breast to ensure full saturation.
Choosing the right base liquids is key.
An acidic base, like vinegar, lemon juice, or even tomato juice ensures a tender end result. Cut the stronger bases, such as lemon juice, with a little water to avoid overpowering the spices, then add a near-equal amount oil. Olive oil is the go-to for marinades, but feel free to experiment.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to spices.
Salt and garlic to start, but a marinade can take the strongest flavors you can throw at it, so don’t hesitate to experiment with Scotch bonnet chilies or ghost peppers. Just remember to balance your spice with a little sweetness. A bit of brown sugar or honey keeps the spice from becoming overwhelming and aids the browning process.
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One reason some marinades don’t result in full-bodied, spicy flavor is that cooks are sometimes afraid to add too much spice. If your liquid base is well prepared, throw caution to the wind and add generous amounts of all seasonings (though do take care not to over salt; let the other spices do the heavy lifting).
In addition, allow enough time for the flavors to penetrate. Two hours is the bare minimum, but six to 24 hours will yield the best results. Safety note: always discard leftover marinade, don’t use it to cook or make sauces.
Learning how to marinate doesn’t have to be a lot of work. Once you have the basics down, you can let your creativity shine and invent your very own legendary hot and spicy marinades for every occasion.