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Thursday, Aug. 23, 2007 01:02 am

The secret is in the sauce

Know the components of a good marinade

Untitled Document Question: When does a host boast? With any luck it’s not very often, but I’d argue that the superego emerges whenever a marinade is involved. We’ve all been here before: “Yeah, that’s right, that pork shoulder has been marinatin’ for 16 hours, I reckon. It’s an ancient family recipe, from the South Pacific, before Hawaii was even a state. I’d have to toss you into a volcano if I shared the recipe, heh-heh.”
What is it about the marinade that turns the nicest cook on Earth into a chest-beating, information-withholding gorilla? My theory? The secret is in the sauce, and the keeper of said sauce is like a sorcerer. In turn, that sauce is the key to the universe.
Holding the key, however, does not a true genius make. Most so-called marinade masters are simply doing what they’re told, following the recipe of their ancestors without deviating from the rules. The real secret is in knowing the components of a marinade — as a chemist would — and then recipes become moot, you become a true inventor, and the world is truly your marinating oyster. The building blocks are: • Acid, such as citrus fruit, tomatoes, vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt. • Fat — think oil rather than solids such as butter or shortening. • Flavor, which consists of heat (chiles, paprika, hot sauce), sweet (sugar, honey, molasses), salt (about 1 teaspoon per 1 1/2 pounds of meat; alternatively, use soy sauce) and savory (spices, herbs, aromatics).
Use this crib sheet and you’ll truly have the secret to the sauce. Below, a marinade model of success that incorporates all elements and works equally well on chicken, shrimp, and zucchini.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.
Amazing All-Purpose Viet Marinade From Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, by Andrea Nguyen
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper 1 tablespoon fish sauce 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (about one lime) 2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil 2 3/4 pounds chicken thighs (Note: I kept bones in    but removed skin and trimmed fat)
In a bowl large enough to accommodate the chicken, combine all ingredients except the chicken and mix well. Add chicken and use your fingers to massage marinade into the meat, distributing the seasonings as evenly as possible. Marinate at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours. Prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill to medium. Place chicken on grill rack and cook, turning every five minutes, until browned on both sides, with clear juices. If necessary, transfer meat to a 400-degree oven to finish cooking. You are looking for an internal temperature of about 165 degrees. The amounts above also make enough marinade for 1 pound of peeled jumbo shrimp or two or three medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and then quartered. Marinate shrimp no longer than 20 minutes; marinate zucchini for as little as 10 minutes or as long as one hour.
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