Nothing says summer like a hot, smoky grill. The ritual of lighting the charcoal, waiting patiently for it to be just hot enough while sipping on a light and breezy cocktail, whipping up a quick side dish and sitting outside in your bare feet. And of course, the marinating. Everything, and I mean everything, that you will ever make on a grill will be 20 times better with a good marinade. Although I am a steak purist (no A1, no sauce, only a bit of sea salt and maybe some fresh rosemary), letting that piece of red meat absorb a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper is an essential part of it becoming flavorful and tender. Ground beef should also get fancified before being cook on the barby: I tend to mix it with soy sauce and horseradish at least, making for moist and delicious burgers.
While I prefer my red meat simple, letting the intense flavors shine through, my chicken must be bombarded with spices and herbs and citrus if I am to enjoy it. There are just so many possibilities! I think the very first grilled chicken I made when winter finally turned to spring last year, our first time ever as homeowners, a new BBQ and a green backyard, was a take on teriyaki. I remember randomly mixing up honey, soy sauce, sugar and a bit of cayenne pepper, slathering it on my chicken and placing it in the fridge, hoping for the best. What resulted was the beginning of my love affair with marinades. I was incredibly proud of the sweet and spicy, tender and moist chicken that I’d just thrown together, and vowed to never not marinate my chicken again!
A little over a year and dozens of BBQs later, I’ve learned to make several fail-proof variations of marinade, ranging from simple citrus, oil and basil (pictured above) to more flavorful and exotic version of tandoori or shawarma. Here’s what I’ve learned: whether you want to eat healthy or not, a good marinade definitely should involve some kind of fat. Usually it’s olive oil. I often use yogurt in marinades and find that it helps keep the chicken incredibly moist. But yogurt on its own just doesn’t seem to cut it. I tend to mix yogurt with spices and herbs in a food processor, then add a small amount of olive oil right at the end.
Also, don’t be afraid of turning up the heat! Adding tons of herbs or garlic or an insane amount of espelette pepper is OK: your meat will only absorb part of all of that flavor. I usually try to marinate my meat for at least two hours. Overnight is better. But regardless, the point of a marinade is to add super concentrated tastes to your chicken in the hope that a tiny bit of that flavor will actually penetrate into the final product. Plus, don’t forget that most of that marinade will fall off during cooking, or will turn into charred perfection, thus losing most of its flavor. Be bold!
My last piece of advice: Make LOTS of marinade, especially if you’re using a yogurt base. A) there’s nothing worse than peeling and chopping garlic, washing fresh herbs, puréeing and washing your food processor only to find that there’s too little sauce, B) a tasty marinade can also serve as an even better salad dressing or sauce to accompany the final product (like in the case of these shawarma chicken kebabs). Just make sure that in the case of chicken, you reserve some of the marinade in advance, because once it’s in contact with the meat it’ll be too late… Your only option at this point will be to cook it down and incorporate it into a home-made BBQ sauce, for example…