A good marinade for meat, fish, or vegetables includes an acidic base that helps break down connective tissue to make the food more tender along with one or more flavoring agents. While many cooks regularly tenderize cuts of meat using vinegar or wine, not everyone knows that yogurt-based marinades are a wonderful way to prepare foods for outdoor or indoor grilling. Yogurt’s sassy zing combines well with any number of flavor enhancers from garlic and ginger to lime and curry. The ingredients added to make the best yogurt marinade largely depend on the type of food and cooking style.
The length of time a food should marinate is generally determined by what it is. While beef can handle an overnight soak, chicken and fish are more delicate, and a strong, acid-based marinade can turn them to mush if they remain in the bath too long. Yogurt marinade, however, is gentle enough to allow poultry to soak up its flavors for eight hours or more. Not only does yogurt break down connective tissue, but it also suffuses meat so that, when it is grilled, it doesn’t dry out so easily.
Lamb and yogurt have been paired in Mediterranean cooks’ kitchens for eons. Lamb chops or chunks cut for shish kabob can take a nice long swim in a yogurt-based marinade to which mint, garlic, and lemon have been added. Instead of lemon, wine vinegar or white wine can stand in.
A favorite quick meal for cooks around the globe is tandoori chicken. This Indian dish features yogurt marinade that includes garlic and ginger, a splash of vinegar, and seasonings such as garam masala powder or paste as well as ground cumin. The marinade protects the roasting chicken, which means it can be cooked in a very hot oven or grill without drying out.
Fish steaks such as tuna or swordfish benefit from a deep sea dive into a fragrant herbal yogurt marinade. This one adds equal parts mayonnaise, a splash of milk, and tarragon to the mix. For extra pizzazz, lime zest kicks in a nice high note, or a drop or two of hot sauce can be used instead.
Coconut milk added in a 2:1 mix to yogurt marinade is another way to go. This marinade lends a Thai sensibility to chicken, fish, or meat. Ginger, curry paste, or powder and garlic deepen the flavors, and some fresh cilantro sparkles it up a notch. A little peanut butter adds an amazing richness, particularly to chicken, without overwhelming it.