Foodie Fix

The Art Of The Marinade

The Power of a Good Marinade

Recently I went out with a friend for dinner to ‘The Hut’ restaurant located in Kimihurura here in Kigali, and on their menu there was something that caught my attention: Rosemary chicken, soaked in a brine infused with rosemary, was what the description said.

So of course I had to try that and WOW is all I could say as I took small bites into the piece of chicken that was before me, wishing that the moment would never end. It was so juicy, tender with obvious hint of rosemary that didn’t overpower the king of the dish (chicken). This was without any doubt the most luscious meal I have ever had in Kigali, and I strongly recommend you trying it out – it’s worth every penny!

In the olden days before the refrigerators were a thing, cooks soaked their meat and vegetables in a salted water solution for days to preserve, add flavor and tenderize. This process was called brining, and the solution in which they soaked was a brine

Years later, when refrigerators were invented and modern cooking techniques were discovered along with modern spices and oils, this brining method was transformed in what we now know as marinating.

The word marinating originated from a Latin word marinus meaning a “sea of salt”, which has a direct connection with the brining, as I said before.

Chefs and home cooks from different parts of the globe have adapted the method and made it part of their indigenous cooking, the beauty being that each home is able to personalize it to fit their needs and their taste buds, as long as some essential formula is followed .

If you have been buying your meat from any of the farmers’ markets or supermarkets around Kigali ,you do know that meat requires more than 2 -3 hours to get tender – short of that, and you are stuck with the tough meat similar to one we often find on the buffets ( I’m not kidding I always feel like I’m having a fight with that meat instead of eating it). By marinating, you can replicate a (tender) restaurant-quality meal in your own home.

Basics of a home-made marinade

Here are some of the things to consider to make you own marinade at home:

Acid: This can come from vinegar, lemon juice, wine and buttermilk (milk infused with an acid for 5 minutes). Helps in breaking down the tissues in the meat or vegetable, which results to tenderness.

Salt: You have probably tasted a piece of meat with the surface nicely seasoned but the inner-part bland – when salt is added to a marinade mixture, it penetrates deeper in the flesh and seasons it thoroughly.

Sugar: Honey, sugar or maple syrup should be added to add some subtle sweetness to the dish and balance out the acid and salt, but also adds on the caramelization which is that appetizing golden-brown color you see on meat.

Herb & spices: This is your time to exercise your creativity in the kitchen, the list is endless of the things you could add; rosemary, thyme, paprika, garlic etc.  There is no rule to this, just add whatever you love keeping in mind that some herbs and spices are very strong so they may shine over your meal which is not what we are looking for.

Oil: These not only add moisture, they also help sealing in all the spices and maintain the overall taste of the dish. I would recommend using neutral oils like canola or vegetable oil.

On top of these mixture blends, at times I like using what we call enzymatic foods to achieve similar results: these include pineapples, papaya and ginger, responsible for tearing down the muscle fiber and collagen that is found in most protein. Just blend the fruit and add your spices, soak the food for approximately 3 hours, then cook as you usually would!

Tips for marinades

If not used in the proper way or handled correctly, marinades can produce contrary result, so these tips can help to avoid that:

  • Due to the presence of acid in the mixture, avoid using metallic containers to marinate for it may react with it causing some health issues.
  • Always maintain cool temperatures during the process, recommendation being -5 degree (refrigerator) at all times, to avoid the danger-zone which causes food-borne diseases like a running stomach. 
  • Never use the solution that you soaked in the food as a direct sauce, for it is already has been cross-contaminated by the uncooked item. If the marinade is needed, remove some before soaking or make sure to cook thoroughly.
  • For soft foods like vegetables, fish or seafood, marinate for a shorter time, preferably not more than an hour and for tougher cuts, 3 hours to overnight would give better results. If overdone, the food becomes mushy.
Lemon & rosemary beef marinade
(photo courtesy Superior Culinary Center)


Lemon and Rosemary

3 large lemons

60 ml fresh rosemary, or 2 tablespoons dried 

2 cloves garlic (minced)

2 teaspoons salt 

½ teaspoon black pepper

Great for: Ideal for poultry, pork and lamb

Pineapple Marinade 

1 cup crushed pineapple 

1/3 cup or 80ml soy sauce 

1/3 cup honey

¼ cup cider vinegar (Available in many supermarkets)

2 cloves minced garlic

1 teaspoon crushed ginger 

Cloves (a few)

Great for: This is ideal for beef dishes

Soy & Olive oil

½ cup olive oil

½ cup soy sauce

½ cup lemon juice

1 clove garlic (minced)

½ teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon salt

Great for: I recommend this for vegetable dishes

Note: For all these suggested recipes and any other you have just invented, mix all the ingredients and soak the food (meat or vegetable) following the time mentioned above in the tips, then follow whichever cooking technique you have chosen!

{Featured image: Oven-baked Rosemary Chicken thighs with mushrooms in wine sauce, courtesy}


  1. Great tips. I have never thought of all these components of a marinade as I always just put spices and no other stuff to tenderize the meat/ vegetables! This is so helpful. Thanks !

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