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There are two reasons for marinating food: to impart flavor and to aid in tenderizing. Marinades lend a distinctive ethnic or regional character to meat, poultry, and fish. A classic French marinade might have herbs and garlic; a savory Thai version might include coconut milk, cilantro, and fresh ginger. You can use marinades to enhance the flavors of cheeses, tofu, and fresh vegetables. In this cooking lesson, Martha discusses reasons for marinating food and tells you how to make delicious dishes using creative marinades.

Acids

Acid is a basic ingredient found in marinades; it usually helps tenderize the food you are marinating. Acids commonly used in marinades include: balsamic vinegar, rice-wine vinegar, red wine and white wine, citrus (lemon, lime and orange juice).

Oil and Moistening Agents

Oil or another moistening agent will help prevent sticking. Useful oil and moistening agents include: olive oil, vegetable oil, yogurt, coconut milk, hoisin sauce.

Seasonings

Seasonings impart flavors to the food you are marinating. Light, fresh seasonings include: fresh herbs, parsley, cilantro, rosemary, bay leaves, tarragon, and more garlic. For heartier, more intense flavors, use whole spices, such as peppercorns, juniper berries, coriander, dried and fresh chiles or fresh ginger.

What to Marinate and for How Long

Never marinate food at room temperature for more than one hour.

Suggested marinating times for various foods include:

Steak: 6 to 24 hours

Chicken, lamb and pork: 6 to 24 hours

Thick and fatty fish fillets: 1 hour

Thin and flaky fish fillets: 30 minutes

Shellfish: 20 minutes

Cheese, tofu, and vegetables: 30 minutes

Additional Marinating Tips

Do not use the marinade as a sauce unless you cook it first. Marinades are well-suited to the grill, but be careful of possible flare-ups. Use a resealable bag or shallow baking dish to contain the marinade for easy clean up.

Recipes for Marinades

Test your skill with the lessons you learned in Martha's Cooking Class on how to marinate; try these four delicious recipes. Each uses a different marinade, but all are based on the essentials: an acid component, distinctive herbs, and a specific length of time. Plus, experiment with other herbs and spices to give added excitement to your marinades; you'll be surprised at the flavor sensations that different combinations yield.

Lemon-Herb Marinated Chicken

Citrus-Soy Marinated Swordfish

Red Wine-Rosemary Marinated Flank Steaks

Curry-Yogurt Marinated Lamb Kebabs

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