The best garlic marinade is one in which the garlic is present but does not overwhelm other, subtler flavors. A good garlic marinade serves several functions. It brings out the flavor of the meat or vegetable and enhances it with its own rich twists. It also tenderizes the meat.
Cooks who have a little marinade experience or a really good cut of meat can begin with a simple garlic marinade. Minced or crushed garlic, olive oil and a little freshly ground pepper keeps grilled, baked or pan fried meats moist and suffuses them with just the right shot of flavor. Adding chopped herbs makes the marinade more complex. Pork is especially good with rosemary, and chicken is better with tarragon.
Adding some white wine or flavored vinegar, citrus or other marinade liquids with an acidic quality helps break down connective tissues in the meat, making it easier to chew and more flavorful. In the past, garlic marinades might have kept unrefrigerated meats from spoiling quite as quickly, because garlic has antibacterial properties, and vinegar is an antimicrobial. Even the simplest garlic marinade responds well to a couple of lime or lemon squeezes to brighten them up a tad.
Some marinades might incorporate a high citrus note, and others enhance the soy’s deep, almost melancholy flavor with steak sauce, vinegar or even a splash of beer. Ginger, sesame oil and five spice powder lends an Asian taste. Mustard, tomato paste or an herbal combination can put spins on other garlic-soy marinades.
Sometimes it just seems right to sweeten up the savory. Brown sugar or honey can be added to any kind of garlic marinade to smooth it out. Adding sweet wine, such as sherry, Madeira or even port wine, is another option. These flavor additions not only make the meat taste better, they also help it brown nicely on the grill.