Nov 21, 2014

Basic Components of A Marinade

marinated meat
Still in keeping with my current fascination with spices, and as a sequel to this post on 10 Tips on Marinating Meat, I'm posting here my research on how to put together a marinade recipe. I'm a newbie here, obviously, and so let's go foray together into the world of marinades.

A myriad of marinade recipes can be found online but in general, the ingredients in a marinade can be classified into 3 broad groups -- aromatics, acids and fats. A good grasp of these basic marinade components is essential to learning an array of marinade recipes from different regions and ethnicities.

Acids in the marinade serve to partially break down the proteins on the meat surface so that the rest of the marinade ingredients can penetrate deep down into the inner layers of the meat. The following are the acidifying ingredients that are typically used in marinades:

Vinegars. Italian dishes make use of flavored vinegars such as balsamic vinegar. Europeans use wine and wine vinegar in their marinades while in Asia, rice vinegar and coconut wine vinegar are common marinade acidifiers.

Fruit juices. Lemons are universal marinade fruit juices. Other less common fruit juices used in marinades are pomegranates in the Middle East, and limes, grapefruits and oranges in America. Here in the Philippines, lemons are the mainstay.

Soured or cultured milk products. Yogurt and soured milk are being used in many parts of the world not only to acidify marinades but also to impart a creamy flavor.

The aromatic component of marinades refers to the blend of herbs and spices used. Aromatics serve to impart the dominant and distinctive taste of the marinade. Herbs also as rich sources of nutrients and antioxidants. Here are the common aromatics used in different parts of the world:

  • Asian marinades typically use much of soy sauce, ginger, garlic and lemograss.
  • Chinese marinades commonly use garlic, ginger and green onions.
  • French marinades make use of what is known as mirepoix which is a combination of minced onions, celery and carrots.
  • Latin marinades have an abundance of chilies, cumin, garlic and lime juice.
  • Other aromatic herbs and spices that can be sneaked into marinades include oregano, parsley, bay leaf, allspice, peppercorns and juniper berries. Hints of sweetness can be imparted by nutmeg, cinnamon and brown sugar.
  • Intensely-flavored aromatics that are good for marinades include Tabasco sauce, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce and fish sauces (such as the Filipino patis).

Fats do more than just lend a rich mouth-feel to cooked meats. Fats serve to seal off the surface of the meat so as to minimize moisture loss during grilling. Fats also trap moisture within the meat to make it tender and juicy.

  • Olive oil is commonly used in Mediterranean marinades as it penetrates deeper and faster into the meat.
  • Flavored nut oils are especially good oils to use and include sesame oil and hazelnut oil.
  • Yogurt is both an acidifying and fatty component as it has dairy fat.

To wrap it all up, a marinade recipe should have all three components present to make your meaty dishes sing. There should be acids to facilitate penetration of the marinade into the meat, aromatics to lend flavor and fats to make the meat tender and oozing with yummy juices.

Nov 18, 2014

10 Tips on Marinating Meat


grilled fish
In my previous blog post I told of my intention to stock up on some common and uncommon spices. I have done that already -- bought a dozen spices -- a few of which I have tried cooking with. I'll be blogging about that soon. I’m still learning the ropes of using herbs though, and part of the learning process entails knowing how to marinate meat using seasonings and spices.

Marinating meat before cooking enhances the flavor, tenderizes the texture, improves the aroma and most important of all, neutralizes the hazardous substances that are released when meat is grilled. However, marinating can either make or break your dish.

Here are some tips from the pros on how to marinate different types of meats:

  1. Chop first. Before marinating, cut or chop the meat into desired sizes. There should be no more slicing after marinating.
  2. Follow your marinade recipe. Remember the Filipino homemaker’s aversion from following recipes? Marinades are an exception as these recipes should be strictly followed if you want to avoid spoiling of the meat. Check to see if the three components of a marinade are all present -- seasoning, herbs/spices and acidifying agent such as lemons and vinegar.
  3. Rub. Take time to rub the marinade mixture thoroughly on all surfaces of the meat so as to maximize contact of the marinade ingredients with the meat.
  4. Choose the right container. Your marinating container should be non-reactive. Aluminum and other metallic ware are not recommended as metals react with acids in the marinade, ruining the flavor and releasing potentially toxic substances from the metal container. Ideal marinating containers are glass and ceramic. For some, a resealable plastic bag is convenient in that one can easily turn the mixture over several times and thus coat all surfaces of the meat with the marinade.
  5. Refrigerate marinated meat. Never marinate meat at room temperature. As soon as you’re done immersing the meat in the marinade, transfer to the refrigerator.
  6. Observe the correct marinating times. How long you marinate meat depends on the type and size of the meat. Generally, these are the marinating time durations:
  • Fish and seafood must be marinated no less than 15 minutes and no more than 1 hour.
  • Chicken, turkey or any bird must be marinated from 30 minutes to 3 hours.
  • All kinds of red meat -- pork, beef, lamb or veal -- should be marinated overnight, or for 12 to 14 hours.
  1. Treat marinated meat as raw meat. When it’s time to cook, handle marinated meat the way you would raw meat. Marinated meat is not pre-cooked meat and thus may harbor bacteria.
  2. Do not poke meat while grilling. Do not fork or make holes in the meat prior to cooking as holes will allow marinade juices to ooze out during grilling, leaving your grilled dish dry.
  3. Be careful with the marinade mixture. A common mistake often committed during grilling is the use of the leftover marinade as a basting material. Leftover marinade contains bacteria from raw meat and using it to baste the meat during grilling will result in contamination.
  4. Use marinade correctly. In general, leftover marinade should just be discarded. However, some recipes do call for the use of the marinade mixture, but always it involves cooking the marinade thoroughly. Some recipes, for example, require pan-frying the meat in the marinade mixture or else simmering the marinade for at least 10 minutes so as to be used as an accompanying sauce.

Nov 14, 2014

Advices on Spices

different herbs and spices

"What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice and all things nice."
Spices are nice and they do add a dimension to food, transforming ordinary, homemade meals into culinary masterpieces. They are also dense storehouses of many nutrients and protective antioxidants. Why, spices and herbs beat fruits and vegetables in terms of antioxidant density. It does make perfect sense to learn the proper usage of spices. Let the following tips help you.

12 Essential spices you should have in your kitchen cupboard:

Having many kinds of spices holds the promise of a rainbow of flavors and aroma on our foods. There are spices which are generally considered as having a classic, universal appeal. Call these the essential dozen if you may.

  1. Garlic powder
  2. Onion powder
  3. Black pepper
  4. Chili powder
  5. Cinnamon powder
  6. Basil
  7. Curry powder
  8. Cumin
  9. Oregano
  10. Paprika
  11. Rosemary
  12. Thyme

Optional spices

On top of the 12 basic spices, there are others which you might want to add to your pantry spice rack if you are particularly fond of "traveling in your kitchen" (read: trying other regional dishes and international cuisines).

  • For Italian cooking, you need Italian seasoning, fennel and crushed red pepper.
  • Asian cooking requires sesame seed and crushed red pepper.
  • Mexican cooking requires other kinds of chili.
  • For baked products, you may need cardamom, allspice, cloves and nutmeg.

Some rules in adding spices to foods:

I am planning on diversifying my recipe repertoire which entails the use of different spices and herbs. To educate myself and you, here are some rules in adding in spices to foods.

  1. Use spices to complement and enhance -- not mask -- the flavors of food. Do not use too much of a spice or too many spices at one time as this will not allow the natural tastes of the food to shine through.
  2. Do not sprinkle the spice bottle directly over a steaming pot. The steam rising from the pot will create moisture on the spice jar and cause spoilage.
  3. For spices which do not come in dispenser bottles, use a dry spoon to remove just the amount you need.
  4. Herbs which come in dried leaf form should first be crushed between the palms of your hands before sprinkling them into your food. Crushed dried leaves allow the full release of flavors.
  5. Some herbs are best added to the start of the cooking in order to blend with the other flavors. Other herbs are best added during the last stages of the cooking as their flavors quickly dissipate with heat. In general, ground spices and herbs have to be added in last.
  6. For uncooked foods such as salad dressings, allow the herbs to stand in vinegar for some time before adding in the oil. Alternatively, you can also heat the liquid and the seasonings briefly to marry the flavors.
  7. How much spice to add depends on many things -- the types of foods, amounts of foods, individual tastes. As a rule, it is quite safe for most palates to use 1/4 teaspoon per 4 servings, per pound of meat and per 2 cups of sauce.
  8. Red pepper has the uncanny characteristic of intensifying its flavor with time. As such, you may have to add red pepper in small increments only.

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