Short answer: yes!
Like chicken, pork, beef and other meats, marinating can help seafood stay tender and enhance flavor. This can be especially helpful for high-heat cooking methods — like grilling or pan frying — where you run the risk of drying out your seafood.
However, when it comes to seafood, not all marinades are created equal. There are certain best practices you should follow to ensure your fish or shrimp cooks properly and retains the benefits of its natural flavor. Here are our best tips:
Use an oil-based marinade
Creamy marinades and seafood don’t tend to go well together, and water-based marinades will keep you from getting that crisp outside and tender inside that makes seafood so delicious. By using an oil-based marinade, you can choose the most complementary flavors and ensure your marinade doesn’t hinder the cooking process by accidentally steaming your fish or shrimp.
Not only does the acid of citrus go well with an oil base, but citrus is a great, complementary flavor on most seafood. Once you add in the right herbs or seasoning, you can be on your way to a flavor-packed meal. Think citrus-lime shrimp or lemon-dill salmon, for inspiration.
Don’t marinate for too long
However, since many seafood marinades do include acids like citrus, it’s important to avoid marinating for too long. Just like when making ceviche, acid can actually cure or “cook” seafood over time, which can inhibit your actual cooking process. To avoid this, aim to marinade large shrimp for no longer than 45 minutes and fish for no longer than 30 minutes to an hour, depending on firmness.
Baste while you cook
Depending on your cooking method, continuing to baste the seafood with your marinade while it cooks can help increase the flavor. Just remember to never pour uncooked marinade over your cooked seafood, since it was already contaminated by the raw fish or shrimp. Any marinade you have leftover should be discarded for safety.
Embrace fresh herbs
While dried herbs can still pack a big flavor punch, it’s hard to beat the depth and brightness of fresh herbs. That’s why it’s best to always use fresh in your recipes, when possible. In fact, even novice gardeners can often manage an herb garden, so you could even consider growing your own if you see a lot of seafood marinades in your future!
Now, for the final conclusion: is marinating your seafood necessary?
While marinating adds flavor and can help retain moisture, it isn’t necessary to create delicious seafood. So, if you don’t have time to put together a proper marinade, don’t worry — some simple seasonings will work wonders and allow the natural flavor of your seafood to shine through.