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A marinade

"Once you’re familiar with the fundamentals of marinating, you can ditch the store-bought stuff and make your own with ingredients that are already in your pantry." Jessica Gavin

I have returned to the 'special meal for David' routine and yesterday was the day. Initially he asked for something French but then changed it to balsamic vinegar which he adores. I tried to find something both French and inclusive of balsamic vinegar, but in the end gave up and went for the balsamic vinegar option - of which there were many. I actually made him decide between my short list of three options, an upside down beetroot tart, a caramelised onion tart with goat's cheese and the one that was finally chosen Super simple sticky balsamic orange chicken drumsticks. That's them above. And I have to say my breasts - yes I used breasts instead - looked even better.

I had searched all my favourite cooks, but only Delia got to the final cut with her Caramelised balsamic and red onion tartlets with goat's cheese and I will have a go at that some time, although perhaps with a smaller piece of goat's cheese on top. But the final choice came from Coles Magazine and a nameless creator. I'm quite pleased that David chose that because the onion tart in particular would have been a whole lot more work. I've never been that successful with caramelising onions.

The other option Caramelised beetroot tarte tartin was also a nameless Coles Magazine offering, which I was considering because I know that David also loves beetroot. However, the other advantage of the chicken option was that I did not need to go to the supermarket to purchase extra ingredients such as beetroot and goat's cheese.

I wonder whether the Coles Magazine has a whole team of people busily creating recipes or whether it's just the Food Editor who does it? I know that delicious Magazine's Food Editor was Valli Little when I was reading it and that she managed to make a name for herself in that role, so one sort of wonders whether Coles Magazine is a breeding ground for Master Chefs of the future. Not that the recipes in there are particularly ground-breaking I guess, but they are definitely examples of trends in home cooking, as well as being an effective advertising medium and money maker for the company of course - the money coming from the adverts from their various suppliers.

Anyway the point of all this is to share the marinade, which was dead simple and took just a couple of minutes to make and also to share a few thoughts about marinading. I'm sharing the marinade because the final result was utterly delicious and David loved it, saying that he would have it again some time. I did not vary the marinade but I did use chicken breasts rather than drumsticks because he is not a fan of drumsticks. Silly David. I also made too much marinade for my two breasts because I wanted to use the excess in my accompanying potato gratin. As it turns out there was just a very small amount of syrupy juices left at the end to pour over the meat.

So what was in the marinade? Here's the list for 8 drumsticks:

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/3 cup orange marmalade

1/3 cup orange juice

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

I guess the orange marmalade and juice were the dominant flavours, but the vinegar, honey and garlic were definitely there. I was supposed to sprinkle oregano leaves over at the end but I forgot to do this.

The thing I really wanted to say though, is that it's a pretty typical kind of modern marinade - with some of those Middle-eastern touches too - orange and honey. But mixed with Italian - the vinegar and oil, and the generally Mediterranean garlic. The sort of think that many of us could probably make up these days. Honestly it took just a couple of minutes to mix up without having to buy anything extra. It was all in my pantry. Why do people waste so much money on ready-made marinades, that contain all sorts of additives as well?

When I first started cooking I followed instructions for marinades to the letter. My mother had never done such a thing as marinading. Unless you call pickling onions marinading. I cannot even remember her smearing some mustard over anything before cooking for example. I actually do not even remember any of my French mentors doing it either. No - it was Elizabeth David and Robert Carrier who introduced me to the concept - and they usually included wine as the main ingredient. I also believed that the longer you marinaded it the stronger the flavour - and indeed I think it's Elizabeth David who has a recipe in which you marinade your meat for days to make it taste like game. Which I made, and it sort of did. Which does make me wonder about the modern philosophy which says that length of time marinading makes no difference to the flavour.

"Soaking a piece of meat in a marinade will only penetrate so far into the surface of the meat, millimeters at best." Jessica Gavin

and if you leave the meat soaking too long it will actually toughen and dry out rather than tenderise. In some cases - fish for example it will 'cook' the fish - a technique used to make ceviche.

On her eponymous website Jessica Gavin explains the whole process in pretty clear terms. She includes this rather illuminating photograph to show the difference that time makes. And I have to say that this sort of goes against the idea that length of marinade has no effect on flavour - though I am prepared to go along with the idea that it might dry the meat out. I always pierce the meat with a knife here and there too, so that the flavour goes in. Well that's what I'm telling myself anyway. If you want to understand the whole process I do recommend you read her article. My chicken, by the way marinaded for about three hours I think.

There is also a list of the components of a good marinade - fat, salt, acid, enzymes (things like pineapple, papaya, kiwi fruit she suggests), seasonings, herbs and sugar. Obviously they don't all have to be there, but I think the fat, the acid and the salt are probably necessary. Salt doesn't have to be salt of course, it could be soy sauce, anchovies, capers .., The enzymes apparently break down the connective tissue on the surface of the meat. So go to your pantry and get creating!

And of course, it could be a dry rub rather than a marinade, in which case the fat would need to be something like butter - or else it's just the cooking medium and not actually in the marinade.

Other rules - don't marinade in aluminium, (I have noticed that lots of modern-day cooks use plastic zip-lock pockets, but this seems wasteful to me); marinate in the fridge if you are doing it for any length of time. Don't marinate vegetables for more than 10 minutes.

I guess I have been cooking so long now that I unconsciously know all of this, and am perfectly capable of making up a marinade from things lurking in the fridge and at the back of the pantry, but it's good to do a sort of check-up on the whole thing.

The chicken was truly yummy.


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