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Marinades bring flavor to the grill

June 10, 2010


I am moving to Texas in a few days, and so it seems appropriate that the Town Crier would ask me to write a piece on grilling for the June issue. They of course had Fathers Day in mind, but it was the perfect chance for me to begin my apprenticeship in the art of sauces, smoking, etc. Here’s the piece that appeared June 9:

Grilling bears the marks of summer’s best cooking. Simple and versatile, grilling draws our focus to essentials: a cast of fresh ingredients and the pleasures of being outdoors as days lengthen and the weather warms. In keeping with this spirit, adding marinades to the grilling repertoire can introduce a creative flair without much fuss.

The simplicity of setting food over an open flame means grilling dates to prehistoric times. No need for earthenware or skillets; just a fire, and sometimes a skewer (swords and daggers work well too, as early diners discovered).  

Our culinary habits have evolved: the delicacy of grilled lobster only faintly resembles haphazardly hacked hunks of meat eaten to conquer hunger. But the simplicity of grilling still makes it an appealing cooking technique, particularly in the summer, when we want to be outdoors, enjoying the late-lingering light.

This simplicity is also exacting. Because grilling is so pared down, ingredients and technique matter. Start with the best ingredients. Showcase the flavors of high quality meats and vegetables that are at their seasonal peak—tender asparagus spears and summer squash—or that make an assertive flavor statement, like fennel bulb or mushrooms.

Great grilling requires mastery of time and temperature. The food’s proximity to the flame shortens the distance between raw and utterly charred. Still, there is room for nuance. An understanding of how to effectively leverage direct heat, indirect heat, or a combination of the two (searing over the flame, then finishing over indirect heat), can yield perfectly pearl-fleshed whole trout, or Vidalia onions caramelized into sweet, smoky rings.

Timing is a hard master, but marinating allows you to turn it to your advantage. Bathing ingredients in a marinade ahead of time imbues them with the flavor nuances that might emerge in a slow-cooked dish. Matched in their purpose, marinades differ from sauces or glazes that are brushed or swabbed over food as it ends it brief encounter with the flame.

The basic marinade is composed of an acid that penetrates the food and adds piquancy; a base that seals in flavor and moisture; and an accent flavor that determines the marinade’s flavor signature. Vinegar and citrus are common acids, with variations including wine or the juice of sour oranges particular to the Cuban mojo. The base is usually oil, though yogurt figures in Indian marinades; buttermilk in those of the Southern United States. Chipotle peppers, ginger, garlic, rosemary (or other herbs), soy sauce, Worchester, Tabasco or other hot sauce turn a dish spicy, smoky, woodsy, grassy or pungent at will.

For a marinade that runs the grilling gamut, try this recipe, in which fire-roasted peppers and caramelized onions are a prelude to grilled meat.

*     *     *     *

Fire-Roasted Poblano, Peach, and Onion Marinade

(adapted from Elizabeth Karmel’s Soaked, Slathered, and Seasoned: A Complete Guide to Flavoring Food for the Grill)

Yield: about 2 cups

3 or 4 poblano peppers

2 sweet onions, such as Vidalia

1 or 2 ripe peaches, pitted

½ cup peach or apricot nectar

2 Tblsp. balsamic vinegar

½ cup cup fresh basil

1 tsp. kosher salt

½ cup olive oil

¼ tsp. pepper sauce (optional)

Roast the peppers directly over a flame, until skins are blackened and blistered, then allow to cool in a plastic bag before peeling and seeding.

Coat the onions, unpeeled, in olive oil and salt, and then slow-roast them, covered and over indirect heat, for 60-90 minutes until deeply caramelized. Remove the skins.

Puree all ingredients and use as a marinade for chicken, fish, or pork. May be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 11, 2010 10:35 am

    You’re moving to Texas? Have fun, Eve!

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