What do marinades do?
Depending on what’s in your marinade and how it’s used, it can tenderise food as well as adding flavour to it. If a marinade includes sugar or salt, it will have a gentle softening effect, but if there’s an acid such as lemon juice, vinegar, buttermilk or yogurt mixed in, the marinade will, over time, transform the surface texture of any meat it’s used on.
How long to marinade for?
If you leave any meat in an acidic marinade for too long, the surface texture will eventually become stringy and dry. As a general rule, you shouldn’t leave meat to marinate in acid for any longer than overnight. About 5-6 hours will impart the best flavour and texture, but even 10 minutes of marinating will add flavour. Non-acidic marinades can be left longer, but this won’t make them work any better. Stick to 24 hours as a maximum.
How do marinades work?
Marinades never go far into larger pieces of meat or poultry – they’ll always be surface flavours. Oil and fat won’t penetrate the flesh at all, but salt will get a little way in if used in large quantities (1½ tbsp salt per 250ml liquid) and this loosens the muscle fibres.
Make the most of a marinade
Slash joints of chicken with a sharp knife before marinating, as this creates more surface area for the marinade to work. It also helps the chicken cook more quickly – of course, the longer the cooking time, the drier it becomes. For meat other than poultry, choose thinner steaks or cubes that can be skewered. High heat helps caramelise any sugars, so barbecuing, grilling, pan-frying or roasting transforms a marinade into a delicious crust.
Top 5 marinades
These marinade ideas are inspired by food culture from all corners of the globe.
- Mediterranean: combine olive oil, garlic, lemon zest and juice, dried oregano, black pepper and chilli flakes
- Tandoori: mix yogurt, ginger, garlic, finely chopped chillies, turmeric and garam masala
- Jerk: stir together garlic, chillies, ginger, thyme, brown sugar, soy sauce and allspice
- Teriyaki: mix together honey or sugar with mirin and soy sauce
- Barbecue: combine garlic, brown sugar, wine vinegar and paprika