A mixture that is used to make meat tender and flavorful is a tenderizing marinade or just marinade for short, and with a little luck, a Good Meat Marinade. The meat is soaked in the marinade for a period of time prior to cooking. Arguably the most important component/ingredient is an acidic liquid, for example a marinade with wine or a marinade with beer, or vinegar, lemon or lime juice.
Ingredients containing organic enzymes are often used as well for their tenderizing ability. Ingredients like papaya, ginger, pineapple, figs and tamarind are commonly used to affect expert results in barbecue competitions.
Marinades almost always consist of three elements: acid, oil, and spices. The acidity causes the meat’s proteins to break down, opening “channels” into the meat fibers where flavor can then penetrate. However marinades typically penetrate barely below the surface.
In fact marinades work best on meats such as poultry and fish, since the muscle composition isn’t as dense as in beef for instance.
In dense meats, marinades work best when the meat is sliced into smaller sized sections to ensure the marinade is able to penetrate over a greater surface area. On the other hand, if marinades are left on for too much time, the acids can potentially “cook” the surface of the meat, causing it to dry out and become tough. A few meats, for example, pork and beef, can marinate for hours and some, not so dense types of meat, for example chicken and the majority of fishes, should only remain in a marinade for a little while.
Marinades must come into direct contact with the meat; otherwise the marinade will have no effect at all.
Meat is usually placed in a bowl or baking dish then bathed with marinade. Use glass, ceramic or stainless-steel dishes exclusively for this. Never use copper or aluminum containers for marinating. The ingredients of the marinade will most certainly react with the copper or aluminum and discolor and ruin the meat and also tarnish the dish. You can also place the meat in a self-sealing (Ziploc) food storage bag with the marinade poured in and over it. Before sealing the bag, squeeze out as much air as you can.
Regardless of the method you use the meat must be placed in the refrigerator during marinating to keep bacteria from forming on the meat as it would do if left out at room temperature.
As a rule of thumb you should allow 1/4 to 1/2 cup marinade for 1 to 2 lbs of meat and use the following chart as a reference marinating times.
- Fish: 30-60 minutes
- Chicken: 1-2 hours
- Pork: 4-8 hrs
- Lamb: 4-8 hrs
- Beef: 24 hours or even longer
When trying out a new recipe and a new marinade, it’s best to opt for shorter times.
The purpose of the waiting period is to allow the marinade to penetrate as deeply into the meat as is possible. Some foods won’t allow for a marinade to penetrate significantly at all. However, allowing food to remain in the marinade for too long can cause undesirable toughness in the meat. A lot depends on what you are marinating as well as the formula of the marinade you use. Meat cut into thinner strips, as in jerky preparation, for instance or even small cubes will marinate more effectively compared to thick portions, in addition it will require a shorter marinating time.
Whenever marinating larger cuts, remember that the marinade cannot saturate into the interior of the meat. Even “perforating” the meat does very little good in delivering the marinade deep inside the meat. The technique of injecting the marinade with a hypodermic needle is often used to solve the problem of marinating a full roast or brisket. Otherwise you can expect a full flavored outside and a bland interior with no flavor, if you try to marinating a whole roast by just soaking.
If you want to baste with your marinade, set some aside in a separate container before you begin marinating the meat so it isn’t diluted with uncooked meat juices. A marinade which has come into contact with the meat while cooking is not suitable for re-use and must be brought to a full boil for a few minutes if it is to be used as a serving sauce or dip. Otherwise simply dispose of it after cooking is completed.