This year my Irishman has started cooking dinner once a week. That’s above and beyond his usual fire lighting and BBQing duties.
Anyway, recently he was making his current favourite, Kung Pao Chicken and was a little worried. His recipe (not one of mine… can you believe it?) said to ‘marinate the chicken overnight’. We wanted to eat ASAP.
Should he bother with the marinade, or just skip it?
I advised to try it with the marinade because even a few minutes sitting in a marinade can make a difference to the flavour of your food. The chicken tasted delicious, of course (my Irishman is a great cook when he gets into the kitchen).
The thing that surprised us both was how the marinade had also improved the texture, it seemed more succulent and juicy than regular chicken thigh fillets. Win. Win.
Do you need hours to marinate food?
You probably guessed where this was going but I’ll say it anyway… No! Definitely not!
There are 2 major reasons to consider marinades.
1. The add flavour.
2. They can tenderize.
5 tips for delicious & safe marinating…
1. Use ‘non reactive’ containers.
I tend to mix up my marinade in a glass or ceramic bowl and toss the meat in. Metal or plastic containers are best avoided.
Although to be honest, I do occasionally use a zip lock bag because it’s a great way to get lots of contact between the marinade and the surface of the food. But I do worry about leaching of plastics.
2. Know when to refrigerate.
If I’m cooking straight away I just leave it to sit while I get ready to cook. But if I’m not going to be cooking for a few hours or longer I cover and refrigerate.
3. Discard or cook any used marinade.
If a marinade has been used for raw food, I either discard it or boil vigorously for at least 5 minutes before using as a sauce.
4. Consider a ‘post cooking’ marinade.
Especially good if you’re short on time because you can get the food onto cook and mix up your ‘marinade’ or sauce while it cooks.
Brilliant for meat because as it ‘rests’ in the marinade, the juices combine with the marinade to make a super delicious sauce. Try cooking a steak then drizzling over lemon juice and olive oil while it rests.
Also a wonderful way to add flavour to grilled or BBQ veg. I love to toss grilled zucchini, capsicum (bell peppers) and eggplant in a ‘post cooking marinade’ of 1 part balsamic vinegar and 3 parts oil spiked with a clove of garlic and some chopped rosemary. Just remember to remove the raw garlic before serving.
5. Remember it doesn’t have to be complicated.
The best marinades tend to be simple, some oil and vinegar or lemon juice will do. Herbs, spices or garlic can add interest but aren’t essential.
Harissa Steaks with Yoghurt Sauce
If you have time, by all means marinate the steaks for longer, but you’ll get 90% of the results from just applying the harissa to the meat before it goes into the pan.
Harissa is a super hot spice paste from Morocco and Tunisia. You can buy it in tubes from a good deli. Or have a crack at making your own using the recipe below. Both options work well in this dish.
I normally cook my steaks on a super high heat, but I find it’s better to use a more gentle heat here to avoid the harissa burning.
Enough for 2
2 steaks, trimmed
2-4 tablespoons harissa (see note above)
6-8 tablespoons natural yoghurt
3-4 handfuls baby spinach
1. Heat a frying pan or BBQ on a medium high heat.
2. Combine harissa with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil. Taste and if it’s not hot enough add more harissa. Toss steaks in the harissa mixture.
3. Sear steaks for 2-3 minutes each side or until well browned and cooked to your liking.
4. Season yoghurt with salt and pepper and divide between 2 serving plates. Top with steaks and baby spinach leaves.
pescatarian – replace steaks with fish fillets. Tuna or salmon steaks are brilliant, but most robust fish will work.
different meat – try it with chicken breasts or thighs.
vegetarian – serve 2 fried eggs per person topped with some harissa, yoghurt and baby spinach.
vegan – slice firm tofu or seitan into ‘steaks’ and cook as above.
less hot – either use less harissa or make your own using the recipe below without the chillies.
Video version of the recipe.
Home Made Harissa
This recipe gives a medium hot harissa, depending on your chillies. Feel free to increase or decrease the chilli content to suit your heat sensitivity.
Will keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Leftovers can be used as a sauce or accompaniment anywhere you’d normally serve something with a little spice.
Makes about 1/2 cup
250g (9oz) grilled red bell peppers (capsicum)
5 small red chillies
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1. Whizz all ingredients in your food processor until you have a chunky paste.
2. Stir in 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. Taste, season and add more chilli if you like.
home grilled peppers – I usually get them from the deli but feel free to grill and peel your own. The smokier the better.
no smoked paprika – just skip it.
less hot - remove the seeds from the chillies or use less.
no food processor? – just finely chop the peppers and combine with the remaining ingredients. Your harissa will be more chunky but still good.
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