Marinating-At one time or another, I’m sure you’ve either purchased a prepared marinade or constructed your own to use with some type of animal protein. Likely, your goal was to either add flavor or to tenderize or both. But, let me ask you: do you really know what marinades do for specific foods and do you know how to use them?
My intention is to debunk the myths, get at the truth of what marinades can do and provide a guide on marinade amounts and ideal marinating times for specific foods.
Let’s get started!
PART I: Myth to Truth
How Deep Do Marinades Go?
One of my favorite myths is that of the depth that marinades penetrate in meat. The tale is that once a meat is exposed to a marinade, it will get completely thru but this is far from the truth.
Marinades are a surface to few millimeters below surface benefit no matter what the content of the soaking liquid. The oil, herbs, seasonings and spices only add flavor to the exterior of the food with no ingredient ever penetrating to the center of the meat.
Are Bottled Dressings a Marinade?
We all look for ways to cut corners and one of the myths out there is that bottled dressings work just fine as a substitute marinade. The truth, however, is bottled dressings have high levels of acidity which when exposed to meat protein tend to break down the meat molecules too far resulting in a mushy texture. Additionally, bottled dressings are loaded with unwanted ingredients like sweeteners (sugar), gums, and stabilizers and lack ingredients that give any real flavor.
How Long Should You Marinate Meat?
As mentioned above, since marinades don’t penetrate deeply into meat, a longer marinating time doesn’t mean more tender or flavorful meat. In fact, the opposite becomes true. Marinating too long will allow the protein bonds in the meat to weaken resulting in a mushy exterior which can prevent the meat from holding on to moisture. That means you end up with a dry piece of meat.
Doesn’t the Acid in a Marinade Tenderize Meat?
When you’re looking to tenderize meat what you are really doing is breaking down connective tissue in the meat which is what produces tough cuts. Connective tissue is made up of collagen and fiber which can be weakened by an acidic ingredient like vinegar, wine, citrus juice, etc. The problem again is this affect is surface only and cannot penetrate to the core of the meat. Best advise is to use these ingredients sparingly and for shorter marinating times.
Can You Use a Marinade on Any Meat?
Since you’ve learned that marinades benefit the surface of the meat only, it is best for them to be used with thinner cuts of meat, like chicken breasts, cutlets, chunked meats, steak, and chops. Larger cuts of meat do best with a wet rub or spice paste.
PART II: Marinating Tips for High Flavor and Juiciness
Tip #1 Flavorings and Seasonings: Use a lot of these ingredients in marinades and be sure to watch the salt or it will inhibit the absorption of other herbs, spices, and seasonings.
Tip #2 Score the Meat: To achieve as much penetration as possible, score the meat’s surface with a knife or prick the surface with a fork.
Tip #3 Reactivating the Marinade: I personally like to marinate in a storage bag but you can use chaffing dishes or other similar large baking dishes covered with plastic wrap. When using a storage bag, ensure that all the air is out of the bag before sealing. Halfway through the marinating time, flip the storage bag or stir the meat in a dish to ensure everything is getting even soaking time.
Tip #4 Refrigeration: One risk with marinating is the development of microorganisms since you are dealing with raw meat. You can reduce this risk but getting your marinated meat in the refrigerator as quickly as possible to avoid the temperature danger zone of 40–140°F when bacteria can spread rapidly.
Tip #5 Wipe Off Excess and Discard Leftover: Remember, you’ve just marinated raw meat so never keep used marinade. It needs to be discarded immediately. If you feel you want to offer some of the marinade to go on the cooked food, simply keep a small amount separate from the marinating meat. Also, so you don’t get excessive flare-up on the grill, wipe off excess marinade from the meat before grilling.
PART III: Can you Marinate too long?
Guide to Marinating Foods
This guide is intended to provide a starting point for specific foods on the quantity of marinade needed and the timing of the marinating process.
By following these tips and guidelines, you’ll be sure to keep your foods moist, flavorful and promote a great mouth-food experience texture-wise.
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