by Michael Vyskocil, photography by Tara Hope Cofiell

To marinate or not to marinate … that may be the question facing home cooks. Marinating helps bring flavor and aids in tenderizing meat, fish or poultry, or enhancing the flavors of vegetables and cheeses. Marinades can also borrow flavors from traditional cuisines — such as chiles and spices for Indian fare.

Marinades can lead to creative cooking in the kitchen, but you should be aware of a few basics:

  • Choose your acids: Citrus juices, vinegars and wines contain acids that tenderize foods, such as tough cuts of meat.
  • Moisturize: Oils and emulsions prevent foods from sticking to hot cooking surfaces.
  • Season to taste: Seasonings give marinades their signature flavor, a part you can customize to your tastes. Use fragrant herbs to add subtle flavors or layer on more complex tones with whole spices, such as fresh ginger, whole cloves or dried chiles.
  • Know your marinating times: Stick to 30 minutes to one hour for seafood, fish and vegetables, and a few hours for meat and poultry.
  • Discover the marvels of marinating with the following recipes: a tangy Tequila-Marinated Skirt Steak; Pan-Roasted, Marinated Shrimp with Orange, Rosemary, and Arugula; and Marinated Julienned Vegetables in Endive Boats.


Tequila-Marinated Skirt Steak
If you want more heat to this marinade, don’t remove the ribs and seeds of the jalapeño pepper.

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, ribs and seeds removed, chopped
1/4 cup tequila
1 1/2 pounds skirt steak, cut to fit grill pan
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 lime, cut into wedges, for garnish (optional)

  1. In a blender, combine lime juice, garlic, jalapeño pepper and tequila; purée until smooth.
  2. Place skirt steak in a nonreactive glass or ceramic baking dish. Pour marinade over steak and toss steak lightly to coat with the marinade. Cover dish with plastic wrap; refrigerate and allow meat to marinate for at least 30 minutes up to 1 1/2 hours.
  3. Heat a cast-iron grill pan or a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until pan is very hot. Before grilling, season steak to taste with salt and pepper. Cook steak in batches, if necessary, for 2 to 3 minutes per side for medium-rare doneness.
  4. Remove steak from pan or skillet and let rest on a cutting board for 10 minutes. Slice thinly; serve steak slices garnished with fresh lime wedges, if desired.


Pan-Roasted, Marinated Shrimp with Orange, Rosemary and Arugula

12 to 14 jumbo fresh shrimp in shells (about 1 pound)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 large Valencia oranges, peeled and sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
6 cups arugula, washed well, dried, and torn into pieces

  1. Peel and devein shrimp. Rinse shrimp under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine shrimp with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; refrigerate and allow shrimp to marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp and marinade mixture; cook shrimp for 1 minute, turning shrimp once. Arrange shrimp in a single layer. Transfer to oven and bake shrimp for 2 minutes.
  4.  In a small mixing bowl, combine orange zest and orange juice. Remove skillet from oven; turn shrimp and pour orange juice mixture over the shrimp. Return skillet to oven; bake 2 minutes more or until shrimp turn opaque. Remove shrimp from skillet with a slotted spoon; transfer shrimp to a plate, reserving juices.
  5. Arrange the orange and red onion slices on 4 dinner plates. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the vinegar, remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and the shrimp juices from the skillet. Place arugula in a large mixing bowl; pour dressing over arugula and toss until leaves are coated.
  6. Arrange the arugula underneath the orange and onion slices. Divide the shrimp evenly on top of the arugula, orange and onion slices. Sprinkle with remaining tablespoon rosemary and serve immediately.


Marinated Julienned Vegetables in Endive Boats
Julienned vegetables are those that are cut into thin matchsticks. Using a sharp chef’s knife is essential to thinly slicing the vegetables.

1 1/2 cups peeled and julienned carrot slices
1 cup peeled and julienned zucchini slices
3/4 cup julienned red bell pepper slices
1/4 bulb (about 4 ounces) fennel, julienned
1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch of coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small head red-and-white Belgian endive
2 teaspoons chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley leaves

  1. In a medium mixing bowl, combine carrot, zucchini, red bell pepper and fennel slices.
  2. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper. Toss vegetables with vinegar-and-oil mixture. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; refrigerate and allow vegetables to marinate for at least 1 hour.
  3. Trim endive, separating leaves; wash endive well. Reserve large leaves for another use. Fill lower half of smaller leaves with about 2 teaspoons of marinated vegetables. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.