Originally a method of preserving food in a salty pickle (the word ‘marinade’ comes from the Latin ‘marina’, meaning ‘of the sea’), marinating is now primarily used to add flavour, though it can also tenderise and add moisture.
Seafood can be:
- Marinated raw and then cooked (this is most common).
- Steeped in a high-acid marinade for a relatively long time, so that the acid denatures the protein in a similar way to heat, then eaten without further cooking.
- Cooked first, then steeped in a marinade for added flavour, and eaten cold.
The ingredients of a marinade are limited only by your imagination, but they typically include acid, oil and flavourings. Some popular marinade ingredients are:
- Acid: wine, brandy, vinegar, lemon or lime juice, verjuice, yoghurt.
- Oil: olive oil, grapeseed oil, ricebran oil or other neutral vegetable oil.
- Flavourings: herbs (bay leaves, dill, parsley, oregano, thyme), spices (chilli, pepper, star anise, cumin), onion and garlic.
Marinated seafood eaten without further cooking is popular in Central and South America (see ceviche recipe at right). A similar dish, often with the addition of coconut cream, is known by various names throughout the Pacific Islands, including Hawaiian poke, Fijian kokoda and Tahitian poisson cru. Filipino kinilaw is raw fish marinated briefly in vinegar or lime juice, so that it keeps some translucence, then mixed with onion, garlic and ginger and sometimes chilli, sour fruit such as green mango, and/or coconut milk.
Marinating cooked fish is an ancient technique dating back to Roman times. Across Europe, often small, oily fish are flour-coated, fried, then steeped in a hot, flavoured vinegar, left for several days (or longer) and typically eaten cold as an entrée or snack. In Spain, Portugal and southern France it’s called escabeche, in Venice caramelised onions add sweetness to sardines en soar, and versions also exist in Turkey, Eastern Europe and North Africa.
Tips for marinating seafood:
- Use a non-reactive container such as glass, porcelain, glazed or enamelled dishes.
- Only marinate seafood for about 20 minutes unless you want the acid to start to ‘cook’ the fish.
- If seafood isn’t completely immersed in the marinade, turn it occasionally to ensure even flavouring.
- Drain seafood well before cooking, if pan-frying or barbecuing, pat dry to ensure it browns well.
- To avoid cross-contamination, don’t add raw marinade back onto cooked seafood.
- Boil leftover marinade to make a sauce for cooked seafood.
- Firmer seafood, such as octopus, squid and abalone, can be braised in their marinade.
- If serving marinated seafood without any further cooking (as in ceviche) always use sashimi-grade seafood.