What is a marinade or marinade, how to use them in the kitchen and seven tricks to improve our recipes

What is a marinade or marinade, how to use them in the kitchen and seven tricks to improve our recipes

Marinades and marinades are basic preparations in any domestic or professional kitchen whose main objective is give food more flavor, before or after cooking. It is a technique that is usually used with meats but it is also very useful to flavor fish, vegetables, eggs, tofu or cheeses, among other foods.


The origin of marinades seems more linked to a practical function that is purely gustatory, as it is an ancient method of preserving food, mainly meats. In the absence of refrigeration or vacuum technology, a piece of meat completely covered by a liquid isolated the piece from the air, delaying its oxidation.

Although it is also believed that spicy marinades were also used to hide food that was already in poor condition, again mainly meats, it is a myth banished by historians. The spices were very expensive and who could afford them was not going to waste them in masking the bad taste of supposedly bad meat. It seems more plausible to use mixtures that are very vinegary or with abundant onion and garlic for this purpose.

Marinade and marinade: are they the same?

This common doubt was tried to answer by Ferrán Adrià in his series of videos between menus that he launched into nets during confinement. In popular and professional language these are two terms that are often used interchangeably, such as synonyms, and so the dictionaries of the language collect it. In fact, in English the Castilian adobo is translated by marinade.

Although there are slight nuances more linked to specific and regional recipes or preparations, such as marinated salmon gravlax or the dogfish the marinade, they are essentially the same. Adrià points out that a marinade can be given dry, while the marinade needs liquid, although it is not a rule that is always followed.

For practical and common purposes, we can affirm that marinate and marinate They are the same.

What is a marinade

The marinade is the mixture of ingredients in which dips or covers a food to let it rest for a certain time in order to give it more flavor, aroma and, occasionally, partially modify its texture. Raw, partially cooked or fully cooked food can be marinated or marinated before tasting.

Herb Marinade

We could use any aromatic ingredient, but a standard marinade has a few basic components:

  • Oil. As a fat component, it absorbs a large amount of flavor since most of the aromatics we use are fat-soluble. In this way, the transfer of these aromatic components to the marinated food is accelerated.

  • Aromatic ingredients. Spices, fresh or dried herbs, fragrant vegetables -garlic, onion, fennel-, chili peppers, fruit, etc.

  • Acid components. Usually a vinegar or lemon, or a mixture of both. In the past it had a more useful function by killing some microbes, drying the proteins and slightly lengthening the conservation, but today it is used more for its touch of freshness and extra flavor that stimulates the taste buds.

  • Salt. Contrary to what we usually say, it does not “enhance” the flavors, rather it changes them, softening the bitter and acidic ones, and stimulates salivation. In meat and fish, in addition, it denatures the proteins and allows to obtain juicier and smoother textures, and they lose less of their own juices when cooked. Of course, it also adds a salty flavor.

Liquid marinade
  • Other liquids. From plain water to other juices, wine, beer or other alcoholic beverages, milk, whey or broth. Some of these liquids add aromatic components, while others, such as dairy products, help to denature proteins. You can also use water or a mild alcohol to lower the intensity of the other ingredients and increase the volume of the marinade, allowing the food to be completely covered.

  • Additional features. Yogurt, mustard, chili or chili in concentrated paste, tomato concentrate, miso, mayonnaise, various sauces, sugar, honey or syrups, jam, nut or seed creams (peanut butter, tahini …), patés, etc. .

How they are used in the kitchen

The first step is to find the formula, although you do not have to obsess over the precise amounts, as it also depends a bit on taste. You just have to bear in mind that fish and lean and small cuts of the most tender meats will be more sensitive to the effect of the marinade, so it is not advisable to use too intense recipes.

Tofu marinade

The classic ratio for a basic marinade is based on mixing three parts of oil for every part of acid used, adding 2% salt to the total weight in the case of meats. From there we can add other aromatic components to taste, for example a handful of chopped fresh herbs, some crushed peppercorns and / or garlic.

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The marinade must be homogeneous and cover all parts of the food, for which it is advisable to use clean hands or with gloves to be able to smear them well. It is advisable to cover the container with film to reduce exposure to air, or use a container with a vacuum mechanism -there are special ones for marinades-, even bags of type sous vide, and always keep refrigerated.

Salmon marinade

Time will vary depending on the food. Larger, harder pieces have a hard time absorbing flavors and ingredients, and will take many hours or even more than a day so that the marinade penetrates the fibers. For chicken, rabbit and other birds, a minimum of three hours and a maximum of 12 hours is recommended; beef and pork should not be left for more than one day, while beef and large game can – and should, or would be useless – left longer.

It is not advisable to marinate the fish for more than a couple of hours or its taste could be overly masked original, except in specific preparations such as marinated salmon, pickled anchovies or bienmesabe. In the case of vegetables, a minimum of 30 minutes will suffice, while tofu will need at least three or four hours. Marinated cheeses and pickles take several days to taste good.

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Tricks to improve marinade recipes

  • Marinate with yogurt. This dairy can be used to marinate any food, but it works especially well with poultry and lamb, as we explain here. As an acidic ingredient, it denatures the proteins of these meats in a gentler way than other more aggressive products.
Chicken marinade
  • Marinate after cooking. With other tougher or more fibrous meats, such as veal or beef, it is difficult to achieve some flavor through a previous marinade unless we have several days. In these cases it is more effective to apply a marinade after cooking, a technique that is also used with other proteins and vegetables. Thus, in addition, it does not interfere with the texture of the food and there is no risk of spoiling the cooking.

  • Infuse the oil first. If we add flavor to the marinade oil we will achieve more intense results and new nuances. You just have to heat a good extra virgin olive oil with the desired aromatics over a very low heat, such as garlic cloves, fresh herbs, truffle, chili or dried chilli or spices, for between 30 and 60 minutes. The garlic must be removed, but other aromatics can be left in the oil to pack it once cold, or they can also be used in the marinade.

Sousvide marinade
  • Vacuum packing. Cooking sous vide or at a low temperature so used in haute cuisine starts with introducing the food in a vacuum bag. Even if we do not have a roner or circulator at home, if we have a packaging machine we can take advantage of it to marinate the food with the marinade in it, as we will enhance the effects by eliminating the oxygen inside.

  • Add umami. Just as monosodium glutamate is used to enhance the flavors of many products, at home we can add ingredients rich in umami to obtain much more intense flavors and aromas. For example, anchovy paste (or crushed anchovies), soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, kombu seaweed, katsuobushi, roasted and ground ham, dried mushroom powder or its broth to hydrate them, oyster sauce or Asian fish sauce, etc.

Garlic marinade
  • Crush the pepper. Traditionally there are many recipes in which we add whole peppercorns, but, unfortunately, we are wasting a bit of time. Only if we break their structure will we be able to release their organoleptic potential, so it is best to crush or break them.

  • The garlic and onion cut. The way these two ingredients, powerful aromatics, are cut, causes different enzymatic reactions. A clean cut into large pieces with a sharp knife hardly releases aromas; the more they are crushed, the more powerful the effect will be. If we want very intense flavors we can crush the garlic with a press or mortar, and chop the onions very finely.

Photos | iStock – Unsplash – Marco Verch – Aimee Plesa – Pete Jelliffe – Denna Jones – Edsel L
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