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Whole Gourmet Natural Cooking

Alison Anton's Natural Cooking Blog offers healthy recipes, inspirational food articles and culinary advice for the natural chef, and features dessert recipes from her upcoming cookbook, Desserts for Every Body.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Merries of Marinades

Marinating is an exciting way to transform meats and veggies from an everyday so-and-so into an exotic and inspirational dish. And it couldn’t be easier to do because the marinade does the tenderizing and the flavoring for you.

The acid (lemon juice, wine, ginger, etc.) is the potent substance within the marinade that acts to chemically soften the connective tissue in meats. Most meat marinades, then, will call for some type of acid ingredient to produce a nice, tender piece of meat as the end result. The vibrant acid base will also bring alive certain flavors in the foods, so even if you are marinating tofu or veggies, it’s still a good idea to include some kind of acidic component.

The effectiveness of tenderizing meats with a liquid marinade is also due in part to the amount of time allotted for marinating and by how much the meat is covered by the liquid. If you have a large piece of meat, this would normally require a large amount of liquid to cover it completely. An economical way to marinate large cuts is to place the meat in a tightly sealed plastic bag. This reduces the amount of marinade needed, and, as a bonus, can easily be turned upside down every once in a while to coat the meat with the juices. Your hands stay clean too!

Some cooks prefer rubs to marinades. A rub is a mixture of flavorful ingredients such as garlic, spices, herbs and salts. Since, thanks to the acid, a liquid marinade is superior for tenderizing meats, a rub will generally not give meats that extra-tender result in the end. It will, however, tend to leach out fewer meat juices while cooking. On average, the juice that is lost from the liquid marinated meats is made up for by the significant gain in tenderness and flavor.

Marinating isn't one of those high gourmet art forms. You don't have to know a lot to create a satisfying dish that everyone will like. You don't have to do a lot either... just sit back and let the marinade do the work for you.

Satay Peanut Chicken Skewers
Yield: 6-8 servings

This favorite Thai sauce makes both a marinade and dipping sauce. Try it as a dip for Thai summer rolls or even as a dressing for a grated carrot and raisin salad.

Marinade
1/2 cup peanut or almond butter
1 cup coconut milk
1/8 cup toasted sesame oil (see note)
1/8 cup minced shallots
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon tamari soy sauce
2-4 tablespoons unrefined sugar or honey
1/8 cup fresh lime or lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Pinch cayenne pepper or red chili flakes

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Pineapple cubes, optional
14 6-inch skewers

Mix all of the marinade ingredients in a large bowl, mashing the peanut butter with a fork until there are no large chunks remaining. If you’d like more of a creamy texture, you can blend the ingredients in a food processor, adding a little more coconut milk if the sauce becomes too thick.

Cut the chicken into 1-inch wide strips that are 2-3 inches long. Toss the chicken into the bowl with the marinade and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (preferably overnight) to allow the flavors to develop and the acid to soften the meat.

Heat the grill. Skewer the meat onto the sticks, spreading the strips out along the sticks, allowing as much meat as possible to be open to the heat. Add a chunk of optional pineapple between each strip, if desired. Grill 3-4 minutes each side.

To use the left-over marinade as a dipping sauce, you'll need to cook out any bacteria that is left behind from the raw chicken juice: Bring the sauce to a boil over medium heat for 30 seconds, reduce the heat and simmer for another 3-5 minutes. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

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