The Power of a Good Marinade
Recently I went out with a friend for dinner to ‘The Hut’ restaurant located in Kimihurura here in Kigali, and on their menu there was something that caught my attention: Rosemary chicken, soaked in a brine infused with rosemary, was what the description said.
So of course I had to try that and WOW is all I could say as I took small bites into the piece of chicken that was before me, wishing that the moment would never end. It was so juicy, tender with obvious hint of rosemary that didn’t overpower the king of the dish (chicken). This was without any doubt the most luscious meal I have ever had in Kigali, and I strongly recommend you trying it out – it’s worth every penny!
In the olden days before the refrigerators were a thing, cooks soaked their meat and vegetables in a salted water solution for days to preserve, add flavor and tenderize. This process was called brining, and the solution in which they soaked was a brine.
Years later, when refrigerators were invented and modern cooking techniques were discovered along with modern spices and oils, this brining method was transformed in what we now know as marinating.
The word marinating originated from a Latin word marinus meaning a “sea of salt”, which has a direct connection with the brining, as I said before.
Chefs and home cooks from different parts of the globe have adapted the method and made it part of their indigenous cooking, the beauty being that each home is able to personalize it to fit their needs and their taste buds, as long as some essential formula is followed .
If you have been buying your meat from any of the farmers’ markets or supermarkets around Kigali ,you do know that meat requires more than 2 -3 hours to get tender – short of that, and you are stuck with the tough meat similar to one we often find on the buffets ( I’m not kidding I always feel like I’m having a fight with that meat instead of eating it). By marinating, you can replicate a (tender) restaurant-quality meal in your own home.
Basics of a home-made marinade
Here are some of the things to consider to make your own marinade at home:
Acid: This can come from vinegar, lemon juice, wine and buttermilk (milk infused with acid for 5 minutes). It helps in breaking down the tissues in the meat or vegetable, which results in tenderness.
Salt: You have probably tasted a piece of meat with the surface nicely seasoned but the inner-part bland – when salt is added to a marinade mixture, it penetrates deeper in the flesh and seasons it thoroughly.
Sugar: honey, sugar or maple syrup should be added to add some subtle sweetness to the dish and balance out the acid and salt, but also adds on the caramelization which is that appetizing golden-brown color you see on meat.
Herb & spices: This is your time to exercise your creativity in the kitchen, the list is endless of the things you could add; rosemary, thyme, paprika, garlic, etc. There is no rule to this, just add whatever you love keeping in mind that some herbs and spices are very strong so they may shine over your meal which is not what we are looking for.
Oil: These not only add moisture, but they also help sealing in all the spices and maintain the overall taste of the dish. I would recommend using neutral oils like canola or vegetable oil.
On top of these mixture blends, at times I like using what we call enzymatic foods to achieve similar results: these include pineapples, papaya, and ginger, responsible for tearing down the muscle fiber and collagen that is found in most protein. Just blend the fruit and add your spices, soak the food for approximately 3 hours, then cook as you usually would!
Tips for marinades
- If not used in the proper way or handled correctly, marinades can produce a contrary result, so these tips can help to avoid that:
- Due to the presence of acid in the mixture, avoid using metallic containers to marinate for it may react with it causing some health issues.
- Always maintain cool temperatures during the process, the recommendation being -5 degree (refrigerator) at all times, to avoid the danger-zone which causes food-borne diseases like a running stomach.
Never use the solution that you soaked in the food as a direct sauce, for it is already has been cross-contaminated by the uncooked item. If the marinade is needed, remove some before soaking or make sure to cook thoroughly.
For soft foods like vegetables, fish or seafood, marinate for a shorter time, preferably not more than an hour and for tougher cuts, 3 hours to overnight would give better results. If overdone, the food becomes mushy.
Lemon & rosemary beef marinade(photo courtesy Superior Culinary Center)