(Photo: Good Food)
With grilling season pretty much under way, here are a few things to keep in mind when marinating meat!
Meat doesn't absorb that much. It's true. Pretty much all meats across the board don't soak up a marinade with a few exceptions. Salts may penetrate deeper, but not much else will. One exception meat-wise is with fish. A marinade will generally get pretty deep into the fish cut. In general, however, marinades will only effect the surface.
Beware sugary or acidic marinades. There's a common belief that acidic marinates like vinegar and citrus tenderize meat. Unfortunately, because the meat doesn't absorb the marinade that well, the acid never gets past the surface and you're more likely to end up with a mushy outside than a thick, tender cut. On the other hand, a sugary marinade can burn when pan seared. If you are coating your meat in a lot of sugars, go for a low, slow roast.
Thin cuts of meat with a short soaking time is best. For reasons stated above, keep the soaking short. Leaving a steak in a marinade for too long can make it cook too wet, and really doesn't increase the flavor too much. At worst, you'll end up with either a mushy surface or the proteins will have broken down so much they can't retain moisture. To keep everything overall delicious, make sure you're using a thinner cut of meat like a chicken breast, pork chop, steaks, cutlets, and chunks of meat like kebabs. For thicker meats use a spice paste or a dry rub that will adhere to the meat.
Know your ingredient's purpose. Different bases and additions to the marinade will serve a very distinct purpose. Salt, for example is a flavor enhancer and does actually penetrate the meat. Oil helps release the aromatics of herbs and spices. Don't use olive oil, though. Go for canola or peanut.
Cook off the alcohol. Alcoholic beverages make a great addition to many meals. As a marinade, however, alcohol itself adds little to the dish and can prevent some flavors from sticking. The best solution is to put the alcoholic drink into a pan, add your spices and cook for a little while before letting it cool and pouring it over the meat.
So what's the take-away from these tips? Marinades are a fantastic way of flavoring meat, but they are not a catch-all. They work great when there is a lot of surface area, but not too much volume, and you shouldn't rely on a marinade to make meat tender.