Kitchen Witch - Amazing All-Purpose Viet Marinade

The secret is in the sauce

Question: When does a host boast?

Hopefully not very often, but I'd argue that the superego emerges whenever a marinade is involved. We've all been here before:

"Yeah, that's right, that pork shoulder has been marinatin' for 16 hours, I reckon. It's an ancient family recipe, from the South Pacific, before Hawaii was even a state. I'd have to toss you into a volcano if I shared the recipe, heh heh."

What is it about the marinade that turns the nicest cook on Earth into a chest-beating, information-withholding gorilla?

My theory? The secret is in the sauce, and the keeper of said sauce is like a sorcerer. In turn, that sauce is the key to the universe.

Holding the key, however, does not a true genius make. Most so-called marinade masters are simply doing what they're told, following the recipe of their ancestors without deviating from the rules.

The real secret is in knowing the components of a marinade – like a chemist would – and then recipes become moot, you become a true inventor and the world is truly your marinating oyster.

The building blocks are:

Acid – such as citrus fruit, tomatoes, vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt.

Fat – think oil rather than solids such as butter or shortening.

Flavor – which consists of heat (chilies, paprika, hot sauce), sweet (sugar, honey, molasses), salt (about 1 teaspoon per 1 1/2 pounds of meat; alternatively, use soy sauce), and savory (spices, herbs, aromatics).

Use this crib sheet and you'll truly have the secret to the sauce. Below, a marinade model of success, which incorporates all elements and works equally well on chicken, shrimp and zucchini.

Amazing All-Purpose Viet Marinade

From Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen

1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (about 1 lime)

2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil

2 3/4 pounds chicken thighs (note: I kept bones in, but removed skin and trimmed fat)

In a bowl large enough to accommodate the chicken, combine all ingredients except the chicken and mix well. Add chicken, and use your fingers to massage marinade into the meat, distributing the seasonings as evenly as possible. Marinate at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill to medium.

Place chicken on grill rack and cook, turning every 5 minutes, until browned on both sides, with clear juices. If necessary, transfer meat to a 400-degree oven to finish cooking. You are looking for an internal temperature of about 165 degrees.

The amounts above also make enough marinade for 1 pound peeled jumbo shrimp or 2-3 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and then quartered. For shrimp, marinate no longer than 20 minutes; for zucchini, marinate for as little as 10 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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