Marinating meat, as I mentioned in a recent blog post, enables you to buy much cheaper cuts of meat with fantastic results. This is a frugal cooks’ go-to strategy for bringing flavor bombs to tough cuts of meat with melt in your mouth results.
My parent used to be a fanatic for marinades of all sorts. You name it, he bought it until one day, he didn’t. I convinced him to let me make my own and he’s been hooked ever since. This is where having a herb garden pays off big time. You simply go into your garden, pick a mess of herbs, blend with some garlic, citrus and oil, splash of vinegar and there you have it, instant flavor.
The recipe below is infinitely adaptable to any type of meat or poultry and can be used with whatever herbs and flavorings you happen to have on hand. For red meat, I prefer to push the garlic, lemon and rosemary. For pork roasts, I tend to emphasize mint, sage and thyme. With chicken, I lean toward lime, onion and basil (in the winter when I don’t have fresh basil readily available, I simply substitute a generous spoonful of pesto from my freezer stash). I prepare all marinades in the blender although you could just as easily whip them up in your food processor.
Multitudes of Marinade
3 cups fresh herbs (mint, parsley, thyme, oregano, sage, rosemary, etc.)
2 to 8 cloves of fresh garlic, lightly smashed
Zest from either 1 to 2 lemon, 2 limes or one large orange and the juice
1/4 cup onion, whatever you have on hand
1/4 cup vinegar, whatever you happen to have on hand
Generous tablespoon of mustard, whatever you have on hand (brown or deli mustard holds up well)
Tablespoon of pepper, generous amount of salt to taste
Method: Place all the ingredients except the olive oil in a blender or food processor and start your motor. Drizzle in olive oil until you have a smooth paste, roughly the consistency of heavy cream. Marinade your meat in the mixture for at least 12 hours in the fridge, 24 is better. Discard the marinade after use, you can’t use it again.
Variations on a theme: Add in a tablespoon of soy and a small knob of ginger for Asian flair. A ice cube sized measure of pesto works in the winter when fresh basil is hard to come by. You can substitute shallots for the onion or even spring onions for a more delicate flavor. A splash of leftover wine works great to round out the flavors, as does balsamic vinegar if you are using up the last of a bottle. When going spicy, I’ve often tossed in a hot pepper, whatever I had on hand that needed using up. In fact, a marinade is a great frugal way to use up bits of condiments and leftovers from your vegetable crisper.