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You’ve got that perfect cut of meat or fish just sitting in front of you, waiting to be cooked. But before cracking out the grill or skillet, you need to whip up some kind of marinade to get your food dripping with flavour. And making a marinade can be a scary thing. Especially when there are so many sauces, fruits and spices to choose from. So how can you possibly know which ingredients will make or break your dish?

Well, thanks to Chef Spencer Watts from Fish the Dish (Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. ET on Gusto starting September 1), we’ve got all the intel you need to make your impromptu marinade shine.

1. Add something sweet, salty, spicy and sour.

The perfect marinade is able to strike a balance between every flavour. In other words, no ingredient should overpower the other ingredients.

“Just stick to the favour profile that’s on your tongue,” said Watts. That means you need one ingredient from each of the four ‘s’s: sweet, salty, spicy and sour.

To get your brain moving, you can use maple syrup or brown sugar for the sweet element, soy sauce or sesame oil to add saltiness, pepper or garlic for the spice and any citrusy fruit for the sour element. Add one ingredient from each of the four ‘s’s, and we guarantee that your marinade will be worth every drop.

Flavour balance
Thinkstock

2. Taste as you go.

A five-star marinade recipe isn’t written in stone–it’s all about trial and error. According to Watts, if one of the four ‘s’s are too overpowering when you taste it, just add more of the others to balance it out. You want each ingredient to work in perfect harmony with one another, and you won’t know how balanced anything is without tasting it.

Adjust flavour
Thinkstock

3. Sometimes, simplicity is best.

A lot of us are guilty of ruining a great cut of meat or fish by overcomplicating what goes onto its marinade. But instead of making an insane concoction of sauces and spice rubs, just marinate your fish or meat with salt. Sea salt will bring out the natural flavours of your food without taking away from its fresh flavour (as long as you don’t add too much at once).

Thinkstock
Thinkstock

If you’re still a little nervous to try freestyling your own marinade, this one’s perfect for every occasion:

SUPER-VERSATILE MARINADE

What you need

    • Honey or maple syrup, to taste
    • Lemon juice, to taste
    • Oil, to taste
    • Soy sauce, to taste
    • Pepper, to taste

What you do

  1. Mix equal parts honey, oil and soy sauce in bowl.
  2. Add in a few squirts of lemon juice and a few sprinkles of pepper.
  3. Taste your creation. If one element’s too strong for your liking, balance out by adding more of existing ingredients.
  4. Coat meat or fish with marinade and let rest overnight for maximum flavour absorption.

Fish the Dish premiers September 1st at 10:30 p.m. ET on Gusto.