Ready to add an amazing layer of flavor to your meal by simply letting food rest in the fridge? Marinating is a versatile and fun cooking method that’s easier than you think to pull off — you just need a simple framework of knowledge.
Understand what marinating does
Marination uses acid to break down proteins in meat, naturally tenderizing it and allowing it to better absorb the spices and other flavors. The oil seals in moisture and adds a level of protection against heat. One reminder on the acid factor, however: Matt Rotroff, director of business development at Meats By Linz, warns that if meat is left in citrus for more than 24 hours, it will begin to “cook,” as is what happens with ceviche, or marinated fish.
Enjoy experimenting with your ingredients
The sky is the limit with marinades, and the process truly lends itself to scratch cooking because once you know the framework, you can let your creativity fill in the blanks. It all starts with the number three: The basic ratio is three parts oil to one part acid. The acid can be vinegar, wine, citrus or yogurt, while the oil could be sesame, canola, olive or even fish sauce. Beef, chicken, veggies and tofu can generally take the same marinades, with the variety stemming more from the flavor profile. In addition to oil and acid, you also need to consider a third component: the flavor! This is the herbs, spices, aromatics and salt.
Chicken might take apple cider vinegar and Worcestershire marinade in an American-style approach, while Middle Eastern recipes might use yogurt and mint, and Asian flavors use rice wine and ginger. Salmon might take a fresh tilt, with tarragon and white wine, or a Japanese profile, with miso and mirin, a sweet cooking wine. If you are looking for nice char, adding a small amount of honey or maple syrup can help the food to caramelize while cooking.
Match your meat with your method
The two reasons to marinate meat are to tenderize and to impart additional flavor. Since Meats By Linz specializes in premium cuts, Rotroff says higher-tier meats like porterhouse and rib eye can actually be ruined by marinades, but more affordable meats like flank or sirloin will really benefit, especially from tenderization.
Know your timing
Marinating might not be ideal when you’re in a time crunch, but it doesn’t take as long as you might think. For beef and chicken, Rotroff says two hours can do the job. You don’t want to go over 24 hours or so, as the marinade can toughen the meat. For fish, the general rule is 30 minutes, otherwise the fish can begin to cook. Veggies only need about 30 minutes, as they don’t need to be tenderized.
Put care into prepping
Think about ways you can help the marinade soak into the food. That means chopping and removing skin when possible. As an added benefit, smaller pieces allow for faster cooking. As you prepare your marinade, calculate portions properly so you’ll have enough: Think a half cup per pound of meat. Don’t forget to reserve some for sauce before you submerge the meat. Once you’re ready to start, one of the easiest ways to distribute the marinade and help with cleanup is to use a zipper-locked plastic bag, though nonmetal covered bowls work, too. Just don’t use foil, as a chemical reaction could botch your entire recipe. Remember to never marinate at room temperature. Slip your food in the fridge, set a timer and enjoy the anticipation!