Summer is the time most of us roll out the grill or smoker and get busy with some great cuts of meat! One thing any wannabe Grill Master needs to know is – what the Heck is Marinade and how does it work? Once you get Marinades down, you’ll be able to work grillside magic on any food you choose to fire up!
Pork Chops soaking up some lovely flavours. Note the coarsely-chopped Fresh Garlic
and whole fresh Rosemary leaves. The liquid looks like a mixture of Olive Oil
and Balsamic Vinegar, if my Mediterranean notions are correct!
The first, and most significant myth, or misunderstanding, about marinades is that they tenderize Meat. Sorry. They don’t. What they do is help to enhance the flavours of Meats by infusing them with flavours complementary to the Meat in question. Some Meats you’ll want to marinate (soak) your neat for just an hour or two. Others, you’ll want to leave at least overnight or even for a full day or two.
The foregoing is not to say that you can’t help your meat to tender perfection with pre-cooking treatments. to do that, you’ll need an enzyme called Papain, found principally in fresh (not frozen, or pasteurized or otherwise processed) Papaya or Pineapple Juice. Papain specifically breaks down the connective tissues in Meats making them more toothsome. However, it doesn’t do anything for the flavour. Papain is the principle ingredient in retail and commercial meat tenderizer preparations.
Note: You may get some benefits, tenderization-wise, from any notable acids you include in a marinade mixture. Acid, too can help break down connective tissues, but it’s not included in Marinades for that purpose. Now Ceviche – a South American style that uses strong acid like Lime Juice to ‘cook’ (denature) delicate proteins such as Fish and Seafoods without applying heat – is a completely separate issue; more like Pickling.
Your classic marinade contains one each of the following components:
- Something sour (acidic)
- Some sort of oil and…
- Some blend of Herbs and spices.
Always use very Dry White or Red wines to marinate, unless you want to have a sweet outcome. Dry wines also contain more acid and tend to produce a ‘cleaner’ flavour during marination than sweet ones. On the other hand, some folks want their meat to taste sweet – anything you’d put a sweet BBQ Sauce on!
Always use whole or coarsely chopped Fresh Herbs in your marinades for best results. Crush whole Black or White Pepercorns for your marinade rather than just throwing in the pre-ground stuff from the jar. Use whole, not ground, spices where possible. Crush them using the ‘coarse’ setting on a pepper grinder or just bash them with a heavy skillet or sauce pan on your cutting board. You’ll be surprised at how much more flavourful freshly-crushed Cumin, Coriander, Cardamon, Fennel or Caraway Seeds (to name just a few) smell and taste! And that’s what marination is about, isn’t it?
How long to marinate? Depends on the type and cut of meat. There are as many opions out there as there are cooks who marinate.
Generally, though, Fish and Seafood will absorb the desired delicate flavours from their Marinades 15 or 20 minutes.
Chicken and other poultry items should be marinated at least an hour or two. Some marinades, notably those involving Buttermilk and other creamy substances such as Sour Cream, Yoghurt and Mayonnaise, may benefit from soaking for anywhere from 8 hours to overnight.
Red meats, depending on their thickness and innate toughness, may want anywhere from half an hour (for Ground Meats and very thin cuts) to all night, or even 24 hours or more to achieve optimal flavourization.
Consult the Internet for opinions on the treatment of specific cuts of Meat as well as flavouring recommendations. Then go and experiment until you find a time-ingredient combination that suits your tastes.
And… Try marinating Root Veggies and other non-Meat items prior to roasting or grilling. they’ve been doing it in Greece, with Roasted Potatoes, for generations!
As with so many other aspects of cooking, you can have a lot of fun making your marinades your very own!
~ Maggie J.