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Most marinades serve two purposes. They break down the connective tissue that can make meat tough and infuse it with a bouquet of flavors. Fish marinades, however, primarily enhance flavor as most fish flesh is already tender. The best fish marinade is one that offers a pleasing combination of tastes without overwhelming the delicate flavor of the fish.
Even a terrific fish marinade won’t taste like much unless the cook understands how to use it. Leaving shellfish, a fish steak, or fillet in the swim for too long will cause the flesh to break down to the point of mushiness. If vinegar or another acidic base is used, the fish will actually begin to cook. For most fish, marinating for about a half hour works best.
Fish have been eaten around the world since time immemorial. This means there are as many types of fish marinade as there are cuisines. Marinade combinations that impart an Asian flavor or suggestion of curry are easy to put together. Marinades that offer East Indian and Scandinavian influences are equally simple. They can be sweet, savory, or even a little on the hot side.
Blending the juice of a lemon with a little soy sauce, garlic, and ginger makes a great start to an Asian-style marinade. A few drops of sesame oil impart a unique flavor. Some cooks like to mix in a little fermented black bean sauce as well. Five-spice powder works well with this marinade, and a little oil will keep the fish from sticking to the grill or pan.
Moist fish that showcases herbs is easy with a balsamic vinegar marinade. A single herb such as basil, marjoram, or cilantro can be used, or a combination of fresh or dried herbs is also fine. This marinade is easy to fire up with a few drops of hot sauce or a chili pepper. Olive oil is nice in this marinade as the only other flavors are the herbs.
Just as white wine pairs well with fish, it also contributes a nice presence to a fish marinade. A splash of orange juice and slivers of ginger offer layers of taste. This marinade is especially nice with butter rather than oil.
For a slightly sweet white wine fish marinade, you can add a little maple syrup, honey, or brown sugar. This combination needs some minced onion to balance the sweetness. A little hot sauce adds zip, and the oil should be light and relatively flavorless, like canola.
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