To marinate is to soak meat, chicken or fish in a flavoured liquid mixture called a marinade to intensify the flavour of food, usually meat or vegetables.
Marinades are sauces or pastes comprising a mixture of spices or herbs.
It is a common misconception that marinating meat will make it more tender.
This might be true for the very outside surface of the meat.
But a marinade is really only absorbed into the outer 6-6½mm of the meat, so the inside of the meat really doesn’t benefit from the “tenderizing” effect of the marinade.
How to make a Marinade
All the ingredients used in a marinade have their own job to do and they are all used for a reason.
Let’s start with the ingredients and their purpose.
Oil ➥ Or Other Fat
Oil coats meat and becomes infused with all of the flavours in your marinade.
A fat component will also help the meat retain moisture as it is cooked.
Fats helps prevent sharp or acidic flavours from overwhelming the other ingredients.
Common fat components in a marinade are –
- olive oil
- canola oil
- coconut milk
- full fat yoghurt
- vegetable oils
Acid ➥ Like Vinegar or Lemon Juice
Acid helps tenderise the meat and balance its natural richness.
Acids work in multiple ways to help flavour, slightly tenderize the meat and allow deeper penetration.
Acid ingredients will help add zing and freshness to otherwise flat flavours.
Acid components can include –
- citrus juices
Seasoning ➥ such as salt
Salt is an important part of the seasoning process. Salt helps bring out the other flavours added to the marinade.
Other ingredients used as the salt component in a marinade –
- Soy sauce is a popular ingredient
- Fish sauce
Sugars ➥ like sugar
Sugar is added to marinades to balance the acidic component.
Other ingredients used instead of sugar –
- fruit juice
- brown sugar
- agave nectar
Aromatics ➥ like herbs
The traditional aromatics will add freshness and depth of flavour to your food.
Use either dried or fresh
Traditional aromatics –
Chillies ➥ as an option
Chillies are a popular ingredient in marinades because they add a spicy kick that can enhance many flavours.
Chilli, either dried or fresh, can be added to marinades.
- Aromatics and chillies should be minced or cut into very small pieces when used in a marinade to increase the surface area and contact with the meat.
How long to Marinate
As a general rule, the longer food is left to marinate, the more flavoursome it will become.
However, the ideal marinating time usually depends on what you’re marinating, the size of the ingredients and the type of marinade you are using.
Be careful when using acidic marinades.
Foods left too long in these blends can change colour and texture. Fish fillets, for example, can change in a matter of minutes.