Cooking at home is not just cheaper and safer than eating out or ordering in, it’s also definitely a healthier lifestyle choice. Preparing food needn’t be an elaborate affair. Just a few of our simple strategies can help you crack the toughest recipes. We bring you a series of articles with tips and tricks for the kitchen, so you can learn how to cook like a pro, and avoid the mistakes that haunt rookies and seasoned chefs, alike.

A good marinade can mean the difference between succulent, melt-in-the-mouth fare and a dry, bland and tasteless affair. Food can be greatly enhanced in terms of appearance, texture and flavour just by using the right marinade. Knowing what to use, and when and how to use it can elevate a simple meal to memorable status. But it’s not as simple as just drowning your protein or vegetables in a bath of various ingredients and letting it soak it all in.

In this article, we give you suggestions for the techniques and ingredients needed to whip up marinades that will create restaurant-worthy results at home.


  • Less Is More: A lot of cooks tend to overdo it when it comes to marinades; they toss whatever ingredients they can lay their hands on, into a bowl without considering how it is going to affect the taste of the dish. Don’t be that cook. First decide a theme or a defining ingredient and stick with the plan. Add only that which will enhance the protein or vegetables and leave the rest out.
  • Maintain A Balance: Too much salt or acid is not just avoidable, it’s anathema. Ideally, a marinade takes a while to permeate the protein/veg, so that all the ingredients can infuse it with their flavors. If you add too much salt, this will extract all the moisture and leave you with a dry result. Too much acid such as citrus (citric acid), vinegar (acetic acid), and wine or tamarind (tartaric acid) cause a similar drying out, so exercise restraint.
  • Add Liquid Gold: Instead of shying away from fat, befriend it, since it is not only a great vehicle for flavour but it helps to dispense all the marinade components into every pore and crevice of your protein or veg. It doesn’t always have to be butter, since you can choose from light, healthy and cheap oil like the neutral-flavored canola. Stay away from expensive oils because that lovely delicate taste you’re trying to capture is going to vanish once you start cooking.


  • Be A Little Violent: Don’t be afraid of your ingredients; since marinades operate in slow motion, you need to choose big, bold flavours and allow them to work their magic in their own time. To build up the flavor, here’s how you can get the best of your ingredients: bruise fresh herbs and crush the dried ones, smash the garlic, dice onions super fine, and toast spices. This releases their oils, juices and fumes so that they bleed their goodness into the food.
  • Give It Time: The best marinade is useless if it doesn’t get time to do its job. While overnight is ideal, or a few hours (both times in the fridge) is the minimum requirement for a good soaking. If you are truly rushed, then you can try these simple tricks:
  1. If you have only 3 hours: Pour the marinade and massage it gently every 30-60 minutes.
  2. If you have only 2 hours: Immerse the food in the marinade, and flip it over every 30 minutes.
  3. If you have only 1 hour: Marinate and leave the dish covered at room temperature.
  • Never Cross-Contaminate: The most common and perhaps dangerous mistake people make is using the leftover marinade to baste the protein while cooking. Never glaze with the marinade in which your raw protein was sitting for hours. If you want to baste your meat while cooking it, do this: Divide your marinade into two parts—use one for marinating (and then discard it), and use the other one only for basting. This will prevent any possibility of salmonella poisoning.

Image: Shutterstock

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Simona is a journalist who has worked with several leading publications in India over the last 17 years, writing on lifestyle topics and the arts, besides interviewing celebrities. She made the switch to public relations and headed the division as PR Manager at ITC Hotels’ flagship property, the ITC Grand Chola, but has since returned to her first love, journalism. Now she writes on food, which she is sincerely passionate about and wellness, which she finds fascinating and full of surprises. When she isn’t writing, she is busy playing the role of co-founder and communications director of The Bicycle Project, a six-year-old charity initiative that empowers tribal children in rural areas, while addressing the issue of urban waste.