Marinade Basics

March 7, 2010

I am very lazy when it comes to going to the grocery store. This is what caused me to become good at improvising. When I’m missing an ingredient from a recipe, I am much more likely to change the recipe slightly and make a substitution from something in my pantry then I am to go to the grocery store next to my apartment. Literally, next to my apartment. It’s actually a little embarrassing, but it did make me develop mad improvising skillz! After a few mishaps, I became good at improvising by doing a little research. A lot of cooking runs on general principles. One such principle, that will make your kitchen life exponentially easier and more exciting, is the Marinade Principle. All marinades are comprised of three components: A fat (almost always olive oil), an acid (usually vinegar or citrus), and an aromatic (herbs and/or garlic). 

Last night, Will and I had a swordfish filet we’d bought on super sale at Sunflower Farmer’s Market. We wanted to marinate it but let me tell you, our cupboard was BARE. I looked up a few recipes for swordfish marinades on I saw a few recurring themes among various swordfish marinades: lemon for the acid, thyme and garlic for the aromatic. So I made up a marinade using olive oil, lemon juice and zest, minced garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper. I dumped it over my swordfish, sealed it in a plastic bag, let it sit in the fridge for an hour, flipping it on the opposite side at the 30 minute mark. I took it out of the bag, placed in on a cookie sheet, and broiled it on each side until they became golden brown (about 7 minutes per side). I boiled the remaining marinade and served it over the fish as a sauce. This swordfish was delicious, and I never had to leave my apartment. 

I really encourage you to marinate your meats and fishes. Even just a little time in a marinade (30 minutes) can bring the protein to a whole new level of flavor. Marinades are cheap and easy to make once you get the hang of them. After you take out your protein, boil the marinade and serve it over the protein as a sauce. 

So, a summary of how I improvise: Google general principles of what you are trying to make. Look up some recipes with good ratings. See what you have in your pantry and fridge, and where those ingredients overlap with what you’ve read on the internet. Then, experiment! Even if you mess up and have to go out to the store, it’s no worse than the fact that you would have had to go to the store if you’d followed a recipe in the first place.



1 lemon

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt


Zest and juice the lemon. Place all ingredients in a bowl, mix together, pour over 3/4-1lb fish. Let sit in refrigerator for 1-2 hours.


3 Responses to “Marinade Basics”

  1. Patti Howe Says:


    After all my years of cooking, I never look at preparing a marinade from a technical perspective. Brilliant! You’ve broken down the barriers to a simple preparation.

    Love, Mom

  2. […] a handful of recipes. But, since a marinade is composed of a fat, an acid, and an aromatic (see my Marinade Basics) and since we had lamb in our fridge, Will and I used it to marinate and then sprinkle over the […]

  3. Meg Says:

    Whoa, don’t know what’s cooler: the fact that this advice/recipe was so spot and delicious (I subbed rosemary in for thyme since I have not yet totally killed my little rosemary tree), or that I made it exactly one year after it was posted….?!?!

    I come here all the time for fresh ideas, and to figure out how to cook something I already have in mind. This was my first fish, and first marinade – so THANKS so much for the helpful post!

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