With Grilling Season officially under way, it’s time to look at some Grilling-specific food prep issues. One of the most used, yet most misunderstood meat prep techniques in the Grilling Universe is Marination, but it’s not really such a difficult concept to get your head around…
Marination is, basically, the soaking of Meat in a liquid to add flavour. The notion that simple Marinating tenderizes Meat is erroneous but widespread.
There are two kinds of Marinades: acidic and enzymatic. The first, acidic, relies on the action of the acid to break down the tissues of the Meat enough for the accompanying flavour components to soak into the food. Enzymatic marination does the same thing using enzymes found in fruits such as Pineapple and Papaya to break down the Meat proteins.
NOTE: So-called ‘Meat Tenderizer’ usually contains a relatively high concentration of Papayin, the enzyme naturally found in fruit that helps break down Meat tissues. I recommend that you buy good quality cuts of meat and marinate for flavour, rather than economizing on the Meat and trying to tenderize it artificially.
Dressing it up…
Acidic Marinades all start with an acid of some kind: Dry Wine, Lemon Juice or Vinegar. To that, each cook adds his or her own preferred blend of Herbs, Spices and other flavours. Once you are comfortable with Marinades and begin to experiment, you’ll doubtless evolve your own personal recipes for the types of Meat you Grill.
When designing a Marinade, take into account what the ingredients you are considering will taste like, individually and together, after they are cooked. Even if they go together great before the Meat goes on the heat, they may taste different, and perhaps not so great, after cooking. This is where the experimentation comes in…
How do I set up for marination?
In a flat glass, food grade plastic or stainless steel vessel (I often use Lasagne dishes), lay the Meat in a single layer and pour the Marinade over it. I like to turn the Meat to ensure that Marinade coats both sides. For some denser Meats, I give the Marinade a hand getting into the tissues by poking both sides of the cut all over with a fork. Cover your marinating container with foil or plastic wrap and place it in the fridge to soak.
There’s another method that’s gaining traction in the marinating word: The freezer bag technique. The Meat and the Marinade go, together, into a heavy-duty zipper bag and as much air as possible is squeezed out. The bag is sealed tightly, and goes into the fridge just like any other marinating vessel.
How long should you marinate?
Different foods and different Marinades take different lengths of time to complete the flavouring process properly. You can over- and under-marinate if you fail to take into account the density of the Meat, the thickness of the cut and the acidity of the Marinade.
For delicate foods such as Fish and Seafood, a few moments may be enough for the flavours to soak in. For a thick cut of Beef, it may take hours. Many recipes recommend marinating Beef for at least 4-6 hours or, better, over night. Some insist that you leave the Meat soaking in the bottom of your fridge for several days to a week. Whenever you try somebody else’s Marinade recipe, be sure to use their timing, too. They’ve worked hard to perfect their technique.
Enjoy Grilling Season!
And make the most of it by marinating thoughtfully…
~ Maggie J.