Traditional Texas Food
Articles about Texas' most famous foods
by John Raven, Ph.B.
Marinades You Should Know
Basic Chicken Marinadeby John Raven, Ph. B.
Just about anything you prepare on the grill or pit can benefit from the use of a good marinade. Marinades do two things: (1) they season the food, and (2) they tenderize the food.
Different meats have different qualities, therefore, you need a couple of different marinades. A marinade suitable for a tough cut of beef, for instance, would not be suitable for a trout filet.
Let us begin with beef, everyone's favorite.
BASIC BEEF MARINADE
This marinade is suitable for steaks and the more tender cuts of beef. If you are doing a brisket or a large chuck roast, you might try this heavy-duty version.
HEAVY-DUTY BEEF MARINADE
Tradition calls for marinating in a shallow, covered bowl, turning the meat to evenly distribute the marinade. Better is to seal the meat and marinate in a large zip-lock plastic bag. Then you can just squish it around from time to time.
Most marinades can be strained and used for your basting or mop sauce while cooking. If the recipe does not call for cooking the marinade, you should bring it to a boil before using it as a mop sauce. (Can't be too careful with them little germs.)
If you are using a very lean cut of beef, you should put a small amount of oil in your marinade to keep the meat from getting too dry. Olive oil is good, if you can afford it, or any vegetable oil, if you can't.
Chicken and other domestic fowl need a more subtle marinade -- more flavor than tenderizing.
BASIC CHICKEN MARINADE
Fish and other seafood also benefit from a good marinade. I don't think you would want to marinate shellfish in the shell.
BASIC FISH MARINADE
Now, none of these recipes was chiseled in stone and hauled down the mountain by Charlton Heston. If you don't like some particular herb, leave it out or substitute one you do like. I'm not a big fan of thyme, so I would omit the thyme from the fish marinade and substitute rosemary.
There is not room to list all the possible combinations of marinades and meats. Use your good judgment in working it out. Let's say you have a nice shoulder of venison to barbecue. Use the heavy-duty beef marinade, since venison tends to be a little tougher than beef.
Beef marinade is not just right for pork. Pork needs a little lighter treatment. Substitute a white wine for the Burgundy in the basic beef marinade and try that. Also, pork is very agreeable to mustard. Try adding some honey mustard to the recipe. If you like things really spicy, add chili powder and/or cayenne to your marinade.
For a while there, the favorite family marinade/baste for grilled chicken was Sprite. Chicken and other poultry go well with fruit flavoring. Pineapple chicken is on everyone's list of favorite things. Add a cup of pineapple juice to your basic chicken marinade. Or you could try orange juice or cranberry juice. If you are going to use juice, use frozen concentrate, thawed. It's three times as strong as the fresh squoze stuff and just as good. I haven't tried it, but I bet fish marinated in non-alcoholic Margarita mix would be very good. If you try this, let me know what you think. Adding a little citrus zest to any marinade is a plus.
For a while there, the favorite family marinade/baste for grilled chicken was Sprite. And a ham basted with Coca-Cola has a unique flavor.
Milk can be used for a marinade. While it won't add any flavor, it will tender up the meat. Works well on wild game and fish. I wouldn't use milk for a baste.
In a lot of places, beer is considered the universal marinade. If you buy more than you need for the marinade, you can cool it and drink it right from the can.
Use your good common sense with your marinade. I've sampled brisket that was seasoned with chocolate, and that is not a good combination. Nor is a vanilla flavor. A brisket that tastes like a Twinky is a loser in my book. Experiment and enjoy.
HOT TIP FOR CAST-IRON LOVERSA while back I told you that you could clean crusty cast iron pots and pans with commercial oven cleaner. You can, but I've a way that is a lot less labor intensive. You bury the pot or pan in the embers of your campfire and leave it overnight.
I had an old cast-iron fry pan that had acquired about a quarter-inch crust over the years. I worked on it a couple of hours with the oven cleaner and brush, and had cleaned a spot about as big as a fifty-cent piece down to bare metal. We had a big campfire going for our New Year's Eve party, and I stuck the pan in the embers and left it overnight. Next morning when it had cooled, I brushed all the crust off with a piece of crumpled foil. Of course, the pan had to be reseasoned, but it's just like new now.
Only thing is, it takes a pretty big fire to get enough coals to do the cleaning. If you have a big fireplace, you might be able to do it there. The pan will smell real bad while the crust is burning off. You don't want a fast change in temperature; it might prove fatal to your pot or pan. Best would be to bury it in the embers and leave it there until the ashes have cooled, then employ a wire brush to clean the pan.
I have been wondering if you could put some crusty cast iron in your self-cleaning oven and run it through the clean cycle with good results? Someone try it, and let me know what happens. Better your oven than mine.
More Recipes You can also read-up of John Raven's classic course on basic barbecue: Traditional Texas Food for a complete listing of John Raven's articles.
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