Marinating is a technique thats been around at least since the Renaissance, when acidic mixtures were commonly used to help preserve foods, however it a great way to intensify the flavour of food with just a few basic ingredients.

A marinade can be a paste, a liquid or a dry rub (such as a simple herb and spice mix). Marinades vary from recipe to recipe but they generally contain three basic components - oils, acids and seasonings.

What can be marinated

Different marinades are used in different cuisines, including a teriyaki marinade for Asian dishes, marinades for steak or a yogurt-based marinade for Middle-Eastern dishes. In Indian cuisine the marinade is usually prepared with a mixture of spices. Marinating works on all kinds of meat, as well as fish, tofu and vegetables. You may marinade vegetables for a longer time of period, these aren’t as acidic as standard pickling solutions, and certainly not as salty, they’re a great way to keep your vegetables in good condition for weeks. In this marinating technics possible to cook (3-5 minutes) the vegetable in the marinade first, and sometimes can steam it separately. When its fruit that is being marinated, the technique is called "macerating." Fresh or dried fruit is splashed with or left to sit in a flavored liquid such as liquor, vinegar, or syrup for a few hours or overnight. In time, the fruit absorbs the liquids and seasonings around it, which causes a slight softening (or plumping, in the case of dried fruit) of texture and a shift in flavors.

marinating, vegetables, veggies

Types of marinades

  • Enzymatic marinade: Enzymatic made with ingredients such as pineapple, papaya or kiwifruit. Papaya contains an enzyme called papain that breaks down proteins and allows flavour to penetrate deeper. Leave it on meat for too long and itll turn mushy.
  • Dairy marinade: Yoghurt and buttermilk tend to keep foods moist, the calcium in yoghurt activates enzymes which break down the proteins in meat. It is also mildy acidic and helps tenderise rather than toughen meat.
  • Acidic marinade: Acids include vinegar, wine, sherry, citrus juice, help to flavour meat. The acidic ingredient softens the food, allowing it to absorb the flavors of the sauce. But leave them on for too long and theyll tighten protein bonds on the surface of the meat, creating a tough texture.
  • Dry marinade: Salt, sugar and spices - dry marinades - disrupt meat tissue, allowing water-soluble aromas to penetrate into the skin more easily. Salt’s molecular structure allows it to flow into meat and increase the liquid retained in its cells, making meat juicier, so do use salt or a salty ingredient in your marinades.
  • Flavoring: In addition to these ingredients, a marinade often contains oils, herbs, and spices to further flavor the food items. The oil content in a marinade locks in the natural flavour of the food and prevents it drying out. Some oils can also add flavour. Good oils for marinating include olive, sesame, peanut and infused oils (such as chilli). Garlic, ginger and onion are great starting points but you can also use fresh herbs and chilli to spice things up, or honey and sugar to sweeten your food. Seasonings include citrus peel, soy sauce, mustard, salt and pepper, and herbs and spices. Small amounts of sugar and oil are the most effective in helping your foods sear and brown quickly, but remember that too much of either will result in burning or flare-ups.


How to marinate and safety concerns

Always marinate meat and fish in the refrigerator. If the food isnt completely covered in marinade, turn it every 30 minutes. Use glass or ceramic dishes if your marinade contains acids like citrus juice, vinegar or garlic. Reactive metals such as aluminum or copper will respond to acids by discoloring the food and giving it a metallic taste. Nonreactive containers are like those made of glass, ceramic, plastic, or stainless steel.

While it’s true that the acid in marinade can slow or stop the growth of bacteria, it won’t kill the bad bugs. By the same reason, don’t reuse your marinade, or use it as an on-the-side seasoning dip, because the used marinade will have raw meat juices that could cause food poisoning. Place the used marinade in a saucepan over high heat and boil for 5 minutes, this will kill any harmful bacteria. When marinating fish that wont be cooked, make sure the fish is sushi-grade, or frozen-at-sea (FAS) fish; both are safe for healthy adults to consume raw.

marinating, meat

Guide to marinating times

Small or thin cuts of meat and poultry are generally good candidates. Larger cuts, such as roasts, may not benefit since they offer less surface area. Tender vegetables, such as mushrooms, zucchini, yellow squash, and eggplant, absorb flavor from marinades and taste especially good grilled. A brief stint works well for fish and shellfish, and some tender fruits, such as berries, orange sections, melons and pineapple.

  • 5 minutes: scallops
  • 15-30 minutes: shrimp, octopus, squid
  • 30 minutes to hour : tempeh, tofu, salmon filet, veggies for grilling
  • 2-4 hours: duck and chicken breast (boneless, skinless), lamb, beef & pork steaks, chops, whole fish and fillets
  • 4-6 hours: whole roast of poultry, lamb and beef (bone in too), cuts can usually marinate up to 24 hours
  • days: pickled vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, carots, beet

If you have a favorite marinade, please share your recipe with us here!

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