Four Perfect Marinade Recipes From Chef Rick Martinez

Whether you’re prepping pork, steak or shrimp, these Mexican marinades will up your cooking game this season

July 20, 2023 6:18 am
Tacos Arabes
For tacos árabes, the marinade that hails from Puebla is inspired by both shawarma and tacos
Clarkson Potter

If you’re ready to level-up your marinade game, Rick Martinez has the juice. The chef, writer and host of podcast Borderline Salty and Pruebalo — his travel show with Babish Culinary Universe — is a third-generation Mexican-American chef who recently won a James Beard Award for his debut cookbook, Mi Cocina. The pages are filled with delicious marinade recipes, built not just on a time-tested approach deeply rooted in Mexican culture and cuisine, but also on his time as a recipe developer where he’s cultivated a keen sense of what makes a marinade sing.

When choosing a marinade, the first thing to consider is how a good it will complement the protein you want to season. The more assertive the protein, the more assertive you can go. “If it’s something delicate, like fish, I might skew a little bit more delicate but give it one ingredient that’s going to punch through, Martinez says. “So it might be lemon or lemon zest or a combination of the two.”

Dark meat chicken can take on more robust flavors than the breast, and pork can definitely take a kick. “I have a recipe for maple-glazed habanero pork chops,” he says. “You probably could not get more aggressive than eight habaneros, and that pork stood up to it.”

In addition to the natural flavors of the protein, Martinez pays attention to the flavors imparted by the cooking method itself. Something relatively neutral, like braising or boiling, won’t convey the same flavor as summer’s favorite heat source: the grill. “Any time you add charring, you’re going to add bitterness,” Martinez says. “So you need something to counter that.” A bright marinade made with citrus can add that balance. “You’ve got a nice bitter, charry component on the outside, but you still have something that’s very flavorful, tender, juicy and bright and acidic on the inside,” he adds.

With that in mind, these are four of Martinez’s favorite marinades for summer. While we include the full recipes that go along with each marinade, feel free to simply play with your favorite proteins and cooking methods to make the marinades your own.

This first marinade for tacos árabes, a dish from Puebla, is inspired by both shawarma and tacos. Brought to Puebla by the Tabe and Galeana families in the 1920s, it gathers influences not just from Iraqi and Mexican cuisines, but even from Europe, thanks to its use of parsley and oregano, introduced by the Spaniards. It also relies heavily on fresh lime juice. “I think that people are scared of acids in marinades, and they shouldn’t be,” Martinez says.

Tacos Árabes

Servings: 4

  • ½ cup fresh lime juice (about 4 limes)
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp. Morton kosher salt
  • ½ tsp. coriander seeds, lightly crushed
  • ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 boneless pork shoulder steaks, ½ inch thick
  • ½ large white onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 medium scallions, root ends trimmed
  • 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 8 pan árabe or pita bread, lightly toasted
  • Salsa chipotle, for serving
  • Sliced radish, for serving
  • Sliced cucumber, for serving
  • Sliced onion, for serving
  • Lime wedges, for serving
    1. In a large bowl, stir together the lime juice, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, cumin, salt, coriander and pepper until combined. Toss the pork and onion in the lime marinade until completely coated. Cover the bowl with plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.

    2. Heat a large skillet, preferably cast-iron, over high heat for about 2 minutes, or until very hot. Cook the scallions in the dry pan until charred on both sides, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

    3. Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in the hot skillet and cook half of the pork and onion mixture (no need to drain, the pork will soak up all of the marinade) over high heat until the pork is charred on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the cooked pork and onion to a large plate and repeat with the remaining 1 Tbsp. oil and pork and onion mixture. Let rest for 10 minutes.

    4. Just before serving, toss the pork and onion with the parsley. Serve the pork and onions wrapped in pan árabe topped with salsa chipotle, radish, cucumber, onion and lime wedges for squeezing.

Ceviche de Camarón y Leche de Coco
Ceviche de Camarón y Leche de Coco
Clarkson Potter

Martinez was nearly eight weeks into the research trip for his new book before he decided he needed a break. He rented a palapa on a secluded beach just outside Tulum and feasted on a ceviche he loved so much that he had to include it in Mi Cocina. Made by marinating shrimp in a lemongrass-spiked combo of lime and coconut milk, it marries the sweet shrimp with chunks of fresh watermelon and cucumber, all topped with a burnt habanero chile oil to lend heat and bitterness.

Ceviche de Camarón y Leche de Coco

Servings: 4

  • 3 Tbsp. virgin coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium white onion, sliced into thin rings
  • Morton kosher salt
  • 2 lbs. large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 cups watermelon, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 medium cucumber, halved and thinly sliced
  • ⅓ cup coconut milk
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
  • 3 Tbsp. finely chopped lemongrass (inner reed only), lemon balm or mint
  • Aceite de habanero quemado (charred habanero oil), for serving
  • Totopos or baked or fried tostadas de maíz, for serving
    1. In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the onion and ¼ tsp. salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft, caramelized and golden brown, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside to cool completely.

    2. In a medium bowl, toss the shrimp, watermelon, cucumber, coconut milk, lime juice, lemongrass and ¾ tsp. salt until all are well coated. Let sit for 5 minutes, then gently stir in the cooled caramelized onions. Divide the shrimp mixture among four plates. Drizzle aciete de habanero quemado over top and serve with totopos or tostades.

Tlayuda con Tasajo
Tlayuda con Tasajo
Clarkson Potter

One of the most intriguing marinades in Martinez’s book almost didn’t make it in, mainly because it’s actually a kitchen hack meant to imitate a unique preparation known as tasajo. This technique, which he notes is pervasive throughout Mexico but particularly beloved in Oaxaca, sees thin slices of beef cured in the sun for 24 hours. “There are basically screen cages that are made specifically for this type of curing to keep insects out,” Martinez says. After a day, the beef almost takes on the flavor of a dry-aged steak. “Imagine the top quarter-inch of a beautifully dry-aged rib roast or a thick ribeye,” he adds. “It’s concentrated. It’s got a little bit of funk. It’s got some strong beefy notes. And that is what happens in this process.”

He knew from the get-go he wasn’t going to encourage home cooks to put beef in the sun or even dry age it in the fridge. But in taking a few liberties, he was able to create a marinade that imparts some of the funk required to emulate the original. His secret ingredient is miso paste for “that meaty, umami flavor.”

Tlayuda con Tasajo

Servings: 4

  • ¼ cup white miso
  • 1 canned chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, smashed, plus 2 Tbsp. adobo sauce
  • 1 garlic clove, finely grated
  • ½ tsp. Morton kosher salt
  • 1½ lbs. flank steak
  • 2 tlayudas oaxaqueñas or 6 baked tostadas de maíz, warm
  • 2 Tbsp. rendered lard, warmed
  • 1½ cups frijoles refritos
  • 12 oz. quesillo or fresh mozzarella cheese, pulled into thin strands or shredded
  • Thinly sliced cabbage, for serving
  • Chopped white onion, for serving
  • Sliced avocado, for serving
  • Sliced tomato, for serving
  • Sliced cucumber, for serving
  • Salsa de chipotle y chile de árbol, for serving
    1. In a small bowl, stir together the miso, chipotle pepper, adobo sauce, garlic and salt until combined. Rub the miso mixture on both sides of the steak, working to get into the grain of the meat. Place the meat in a zip-top freezer bag and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.

    2. Prepare a gas grill or charcoal grill for high heat.

    3. Brush off any excess marinade and cut the steak crosswise into 4 equal pieces. Use a meat mallet or heavy skillet to pound the steaks between two layers of plastic wrap to a ¼-inch thickness. Grill the steak, turning occasionally, for 1 to 2 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer the steaks to a cutting board and let them rest for 10 minutes. Cut or tear into 2-inch pieces.

    4. Brush the tlayuda with lard. Spread a thin layer of frijoles on each. Top with the steak, quesillo, cabbage, onion, avocado, tomato, cucumber and salsa.

Arrachera y Tacos Norteños
Arrachera y Tacos Norteños
Clarkson Potter

Miso paste isn’t the only Asian ingredient to find its way into Martinez’s repertoire when he’s looking to add a bit of funk. He also frequently relies on fish sauce, and in this recipe, it’s a true reflection of the fusion flavors common in Northern Mexico. Following the Chinese Expulsion Act, many Chinese immigrants found their way from the United States to Mexico to find work building the railroads. “Like any immigrants, they brought their traditional cooking techniques, dishes and condiments,” he says. “So soy sauce, fish sauce, fermented bean paste and even fermented plums were probably the basis for what is now chamoy, a very popular sauce in Mexico.”

Arrachera y Tacos Norteños

Servings: 4

  • 4 canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, smashed
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely grated
  • 1 cup Mexican-style pale lager
  • ½ cup fresh lime juice
  • ¼ cup fish sauce
  • ¼ cup fresh orange juice
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • 1 tsp. crushed cumin seeds
  • ¾ tsp. Morton kosher salt
  • 1½ lbs. skirt or flank steak
  • ¼ cup lard or extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ medium white onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium chile poblano, stemmed and seeded, thinly sliced
  • 3 jalapeños, stemmed and chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • ¾ tsp. Morton kosher salt
  • 8 medium Roma tomatoes, cored and chopped
  • 12 oz. queso asadero, queso Chihuahua, quesillo or Monterey Jack, shredded
  • Tortillas de harina con mantequilla
  • Your favorite salsa, for serving
  • Guacamole, for serving
  • Lime wedges, for serving
    1. In a medium bowl, whisk the chipotle peppers, garlic, beer, lime juice, fish sauce, orange juice, soy sauce, oregano, cumin and salt. Add the steak, turn to coat and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 12 hours.

    2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the lard. Cook the onion, poblano, jalapeños, garlic and salt until the onion and chiles are tender and beginning to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring, until they release their juices and start to break down, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat and sprinkle with the queso. Cover to keep warm.

    3. Meanwhile, prepare a gas or charcoal grill for high heat. Grill the steak, turning occasionally until charred, for 2 to 3 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice against the grain into ½-inch-thick strips.

    4. Grill the tortillas until lightly charred, about 1 minute per side. Top the tortillas with the steak, cheese, vegetables, salsa and guacamole. Serve lime wedges on the side.

Reprinted with permission from Mi Cocina: Recipes and Rapture from My Kitchen in Mexico by Rick Martinez copyright © 2022. Photographs copyright © 2022 by Ren Fuller. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House


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