Marinades add a lot of flavor to any type of meat, fish included. The difference lies in the delicacy of your fish. While a beef steak can hold up to many hours of soaking in a tasty marinade, fish is more likely to start chemically cooking if there are any acidic ingredients in the marinade. This can make the fish mushy.
First of all, you need to know the pH of your marinade. Citrus juice, vinegar, wine and many other typical ingredients in marinades are acidic. Due to the delicate nature of fish, the acids in a marinade can actually start cooking your fish. This is how they make ceviche; they just marinate the chopped seafood in an acidic marinade.
Type of Fish
The fat content of the fish will make a difference. Fish with a lot of fat tend to fare worse than fish without a lot of fat when it comes to marinating. Halibut, tilapia, and many other fish will do fine, while toro, the tuna belly used in authentic Japanese sushi, has more fat and would not marinate well.
How Was the Fish Treated Before You Brought It Home?
In an ideal world, you would be able to ask how the fish you just bought was caught and stored before you decide to marinate it. Since you cannot do that, do the next best thing; pick out a fresh fish from your local fish market. Never buy fish that smells fishy. It should smell like the ocean. The flesh should be firm and if you press into the meat with your finger, you should not leave an imprint. If it does, run, do not walk, away from that fish. If the fishmonger will not let you smell the fish or touch it while wearing a glove, do not buy from them.
If you have a fresh fish, a good refrigeration unit, a marinade that is acidic and a little salty, then you should be able to have a great fish. Less acid will allow you to let the fish soak longer than one with more acid. Thirty minutes to an hour is the most you should leave most marinades on fish. Of course, acid ingredients also keep the bacteria at bay, as does salt.
Of course, it all depends on your taste, too. If you do not mind trading a little mushy texture for more time in the marinade, go for it. If you are aiming for ceviche, which is fish and other seafood cooked entirely by marinating in an acidic liquid, you can keep it covered in a cold refrigerator for up to 3 days. Longer marinating times are not going to help; in fact, it would be better for you to eat it before the 3 days are up if possible.
Do not be afraid to experiment with your marinades. You will find which ones you like best and which ones work best with which fish. Each experiment you try will make you into a better seafood cook as you learn more about the fish you are working with.
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