Yes, you can — and should — make your own marinades
The art of transforming meats, vegetables and fish is as age-old as food itself. Marinating is the use of acids, salts, enzymatic liquids, spices, oils and herbs to not only tenderize meats and kill any harmful bacteria lingering on the surface of foods but also it’s the art making a new flavor profile that sets the craftsman apart from the robotic corporations. Like pickling, the choice for any restaurant owner is ever changing and exciting. The days of just throwing chicken in a vat of Italian dressing have changed to both new and age-old marinades that will look fabulous on your menu and indicate to your customers that you are the true artisan going the extra mile for their business.
Here are some marinades I just love. They are all tried and true, psycho and traditional — but all can turn the regular into the spectacular.
Anchovy Rehab Marinade
Let’s face it, anchovies straight from the can taste like crap on a pizza! These salted rocks sit in sunflower or canola oil for years and need a little rehab. This is a simple way to get rid of the awful salt and add some garlic-herby-citrus finesse to your anchovies. I usually work in batches of 20 but you can do more.
Lemon Ginger Shrimp
Shrimp have a natural ability to taste spectacular with Asian flavors. This lemon ginger marinade can be used to infuse the shrimp as well as added to the sauté pan during cooking. You can sauté, grill with skewers or slice in half and top on a pizza with sesame, teriyaki, cashews, Mandarin oranges or with provolone cheese and kimchi for an ultra Asian flair!
“The Chickeroni” Pepperoni-Marinated Chicken Pizza
This small pizza is the crème de la crème of two great meats and an awesome appetizer! It sounds completely insane but it is phenomenal, especially on pasta. You can incorporate this marinated chicken for a pizza topping also. Either way, your customers will be in Chickeroni heaven.
Believe it or not, there is a huge market for über-spicy toppings. We use this topping at my pizzeria to placate those fire-breathers and even make them sign a release form when we use the ghost chili. The habañero’s true flavor signature is similar to the pineapple and makes this topping sing. (A painful melody indeed!)
This is the fabulous dry-cured specialty of the Lombardy region of Italy. It is a lean cut that is marinated with herbs and hung in the mountain air of the region. This is spectacular as an after-oven dressing for any pizza. It pairs best with Parmigiano-Reggiano, fresh arugula, apples, a spritz of lemon and most of all, some very good olive oil.
Carne all’ Albese
In Alba Italy, the celebration of the truffle is a beautifully intense affair. This marinade is perfect for a grilled steak and presents the magnificent flavor of garlic, the nuanced tang of anchovy followed by a long luscious truffle finish.
Milk Marinated Garlic
This milk marinade leaches out the unwanted spicy “tang” of garlic and was made famous by my friend Chef Giovanni di Negris at the iconic La Primavera Restaurant in Chicago’s Fairmont Hotel where we used roasted garlic bulbs instead of butter. There is nothing better than seeing the happy faces of customers as they squeeze creamy garlic nuggets out of an open bulb to spread on bread. The secret is in the milk.
Cover whole garlic bulbs with cold milk and store in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Drain and cut the bulb at the top of the clove off to expose all the small garlic cloves. Splash with extra virgin olive oil and cook at 400 F for 35 minutes. Check for doneness with a small knife. These can be served right away or held in the refrigerator for up to a week and heated up at 300 F.
John Gutekanst owns Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio and has a pizza blog called Pizza Goon. He is an award-winning pizzaiolo, baker, teacher, speaker and author and has been featured in Gastronomica, Food Arts, National Geographic, Alimentum Food Journal, Food Network and Best Food Writing, 2012.