"Marinades: Dry Rubs, Pastes and Marinades for Poultry, Meat, Seafood, Cheese and Vegetables," by Jim Tarantino

Pros: Lots of recipes; decent flavors
Cons: “Missing” information; few great flavors
Rating: 3 out of 5

First published 8/27/2000

We should have loved this cookbook. There’s little we love better than a flavorful cut of beef, a succulent tenderized chicken, a sweetened steak of salmon, or a tingly mouthful of marinated mushrooms. With those kinds of preferences, this cookbook should have been a shoo-in for Most Popular Cookbook. Instead we almost never open it any more. Why is that?

(Oops, I should have said “a succulent denatured chicken,” but that sounds unappetizing doesn’t it? The author rants at length on the difference between tenderizing and what a marinade does to meat.)

What It Leaves Out

It seems like a feature: at the bottom of many recipes you’ll find a list of “recommended cuts,” with marinating times. There seems little reason, however, for the omissions. Why shouldn’t Oriental Plum Sauce Marinade be used with a cut of beef? Why not include a time for beef steaks? Is there a single good reason for leaving it out?

If you’re a beef fanatic like we are, you’ll swiftly note that Mr. Tarantino apparently isn’t a beef fanatic. So instead of providing for those of us who are, he just leaves the time out. A small thing, but frustrating when you’re looking for something new to put on steak. Learn to estimate your own times.

What It Has

There’s a short chapter about marinades – some science, tips, tricks, equipment. This is followed by a chapter on stocking your pantry: types of acid to have around (citrus juices, vinegars…), wines, oils, aromatics, condiments, sweeteners. Then there’s a chapter on making your own flavored vinegars and oils, spice & herb mixtures.

This is followed by the good stuff: marinades, dry rubs, vegetables, fish & shellfish, poultry & rabbit, beef (etc.), and dipping sauces.

I will never get used to the organization. If you want to make beef, do you look in the “Beef, Lamb, Pork, and Venison” chapter… OR the Marinades chapter… OR the “Dry Marinades, Rubs, and Pastes” chapter? I wish he’d either divided the book up by type of marinade or by type of meat. Or maybe by type of meat within chapters divided up by type of marinade. As it is, the order doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

The Recipes

So you’re probably saying to yourself, what’s the problem? Those are small quibbles. The recipe layout is clear. Recipes are nicely contained on their own pages. Okay, so some of them call for tough-to-find ingredients (fresh lime leaves, anyone? Not where I live!), and you’ll definitely want access to Indian and Oriental grocers (online or in your town), but those aren’t deal-breakers. There are no food photos, but it isn’t like there’s lots to see when it comes to marinaded cuts of meat. So what’s with the three stars?

It’s the recipes. You see, we’ve made lots of them – after all, they sound so wonderful: Indonesian Honey Chili Marinade, Spicy Garlic Oriental Marinade, Honey Ancho Marinade… my mouth is watering even now! And out of all of the ones we’ve made, only one was “wow” and one was “very good.” Everything else ranged from “awful” to “good, but we wouldn’t make it again.”

Let’s be honest here. There are so many absolutely fantastic cookbooks in the world. With that many great recipes to choose from, why would anyone make a so-so recipe twice?

So we have Tahini Marinade, which sounds wonderful – Jeffrey and I are huge tahini fiends. But it just couldn’t inspire a reaction better than, “well, I guess that was good.” What about the Pineapple-Chili Marinade? I adore the sweet fruit, particularly in conjunction with meat and spiciness. But this just didn’t do it for me. Again – good, but the blend of flavors was just off somehow.

Raspberry Marinade, again, should have been perfect. Raspberry is my husband’s favorite fruit, and it has maple syrup in it for goodness’ sake! But it just didn’t complement the recommended poultry particularly well.

The Maple Bourbon Marinade was the one “very good” recipe, and one of only two that we’d make again: a wonderful caramel-like glaze, tempered by orange zest, dark brown sugar, cider vinegar, and soy sauce. Unfortunately this is followed not long after by the Cumin Spice Rub. Cumin is one of our household’s favorite spices (between that and the tahini, you can see why we’re such hummus fiends!), but this was… unbalanced. I guess I would describe the flavor as dark, heavy.

The Mozarella with Sun-Dried Tomato Marinade was frankly terrible – inedible. The herbs were too much, and the sun-dried tomato flavor was totally overwhelmed. By all rights the Smoked Salmon with Tangerine-Pink Peppercorn Marinade should have been perfect – I mean, how could smoked salmon not be perfect? – but it was just good. Not even make-again-good.

In fact, the only outstanding recipe we tried was the Tandoori Chicken Breasts. They were tender, succulent, and perfectly spiced.

If I were forced to pinpoint the problem, I’d say that Mr. Tarantino doesn’t have a good sense for the balance of acid vs. sweet flavors. Recipes are always not sweet enough, or not acidic enough, or something similar.

Do I recommend this cookbook? Only if your standards aren’t very high. Only if you don’t already have a lot of very good cookbooks. Only if you aren’t as jaded and picky as we are. Maybe without any good competition it’ll seem a lot better, but next to the rest of our library it’s a pale entry into the world of cookbooks.

Posted in Cooking, Reviews

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