Your marinade ingredients will either make or brake you meat recipe. Most cooks think of a marinade as only a way to add another flavor to their meat. The true power of the marinade goes well beyond that basic purpose. To understand what a marinade can do, we’ll explore what the best marinade ingredients are.
Every marinade you make should contain three basic components, Acid, Fat, and Seasonings. Each part plays an important roll and will interact with, and effect, the other parts. I like to consider a fourth component too, and that is time. How long meat marinates effects the end result. Marinades are part science and part art.
The first component we’ll look at is the acid. The acid’s job is to tenderize the meat by making the bonds in the meat break down. Tenderizing doesn’t only make the meat easier to chew, it lets the flavor agents get into the meat better. You can think of the bonds loosening like opening a door. It can let flavor in but it can also let moisture out of the meat. Having too strong an acid, or letting it sit for too long, can cause meat to become tough and leathery. Some common marinade acids are:
- Vinegar – this is a strong acid, so a little goes a long way.
- Wine – Though not an acid, alcohol can be used in place of an acid because the fats in meats are alcohol soluble.
- Fruit Juice – many fruits contain acids, especially citrus fruit. Our Fajita recipe is an example of using fruit juice as the acid in a marinade.
- Milk – this is very weak acid, ideal for some meats, especially chicken and pork
Fats help balance the effects of acids. They also work as a medium for the flavor component to “travel” throughout the marinade and the meat.
- Oils – Oils are the preferred fat for most dishes because they stay in a liquid state at lower temperatures.
- Butter – butter, once melted works well too.
Fats and acids are the groundwork of the marinade while seasoning is the star of the show. This is the part most people will talk about, and the part that give most marinades their recipe name. Planning the flavors that will explode in a person’s mouth when they experience your dish is a lot of fun.
- Salt – nearly every marinade flavor should start with salt. It causes other flavors to strengthen. It also works as a tenderizer.
- Sugars – Sugars can help provide a contrast to bitter flavors. That makes them pop a little bit more. At higher temperatures, sugar caramelizes adding a nice dynamic
- Herbs/Aromatics – Aromatics like thyme, rosemary, sumac, and oregano, add new flavors to the meat. They can also provide that great aroma that primes people to enjoy the dish before they put it in their mouth
- Peppers/Onion – peppers and onions have aromatic attributes, but are more well known for bringing some spiciness to a dish. (You can tame the spiciness of peppers by adding a little bit of cloves to your recipe)
- Fruit – many fruits can add a nice sweetness to meat, but you have to be careful about the acids in the fruit
Marinades often turn a dull meal into something amazing and are a lot of fun to experiment with. Be creative but be methodical so you can create the absolute best marinade you can.