How Do I Choose the Best Italian Marinade?

Cynde Gregory
Cynde Gregory
Red wine vinegar, which can be used to make an Italian marinade.
Red wine vinegar, which can be used to make an Italian marinade.

Nobody cooks with the passion of an Italian, and Italian marinades attest to this truth. Some marinades work well with all kinds of meat, poultry, fish, and even nonmeat main meal ingredients, such as tofu and tempeh. An Italian marinade is likely to include herbs, such as thyme, basil, and oregano, as well as allium family members, such as onions and garlic. A good marinade will also contain some kind of liquid, such as red wine vinegar, lemon, or wine, that will help break down tougher cuts of meat and vegetable fibers as well and infuse taste deep into the marinating foods.

Basil is a common ingredient in Italian marinades.
Basil is a common ingredient in Italian marinades.

Making a great Italian marinade is simple enough for most home cooks, but for those strapped by time, there are some good, premixed marinades available. This is one case where the expression, "You get what you pay for," is especially apt. Bottled marinades that are full of preservatives, use unhealthy, cholesterol-laden fats, or don’t pay much attention to the quality of their herbs are best left on the grocery store shelf. A quick trip through the produce department is likely to yield an Italian marinade or two that contain fresh herbs, no preservatives, and healthier oils. They’ll almost certainly taste better to boot, although they’ll be a bit more on the costly side.

Olive oil is a key ingredient in most Italian marinades.
Olive oil is a key ingredient in most Italian marinades.

For insecure cooks or those with little time to spare, a good grocery store Italian marinade can become even better with the addition of a few minced cloves of garlic and a blob or two of Dijon mustard. Other additions might include finely chopped parsley, rosemary, or sage. Wine deepens the flavor of a marinade meant for meat or poultry, and beer works well for red meat and a pork Italian marinade.

A white wine-based marinade compliments raw chicken.
A white wine-based marinade compliments raw chicken.

The wise cook knows to mix the marinade in a ceramic or glass dish rather than in a metal one. The soak time, too, must take place in a nonmetallic basin to prevent oxidization. Novice cooks may not realize that, while red meat revels in an overnight marinated bath in the fridge, that’s too much time for chicken, turkey, or other poultry and way too much time for fish. The acidity in marinade breaks down the collagen in meaty foods; the more delicate the food, the mushier it will become from too much marinating. Fish will actually begin the cooking process if left to marinate in a vinegar bath for more than 30 minutes to an hour!

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Discussion Comments

ZsaZsa56

I have an amazing Italian marinade recipe from my grandmother who was actually born and raised in Italy. It is great for meat, especially chicken which benefits from marinades because it has such a mild flavor.

I will not write out the whole recipe here but it has lots of garlic, basil and red pepper flakes. It is delicious and so flavorful. Sometimes I also serve it as a dip for bread.

tigers88
Italian salad dressing makes a delicious and simple marinade for just about anything. Chicken, beef, just about any kind of veggies, it works for them all.

And you do not need to make your own or anything. Just get a bottle of Italian salad dressing, the oily kind, not the creamy kind, and pour it over whatever you want to marinade. The flavor of the dressing is so sharp and spicy that it compliments just about anything.

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    • Red wine vinegar, which can be used to make an Italian marinade.
      By: Roman Ivaschenko
      Red wine vinegar, which can be used to make an Italian marinade.
    • Basil is a common ingredient in Italian marinades.
      By: Barbara Pheby
      Basil is a common ingredient in Italian marinades.
    • Olive oil is a key ingredient in most Italian marinades.
      By: margo555
      Olive oil is a key ingredient in most Italian marinades.
    • A white wine-based marinade compliments raw chicken.
      By: Bill
      A white wine-based marinade compliments raw chicken.
    • Most recipes for Italian marinade call for aromatic fresh onions and garlic.
      By: MSPhotographic
      Most recipes for Italian marinade call for aromatic fresh onions and garlic.