The Art Of Marination: What You Need To Know

So first things first. Why do we marinate meat? 

There are two primary motivations behind marination, one is to impart a particular flavour and the second is to tenderise the meat. The process usually involves soaking a piece of meat in a seasoned liquid before cooking, but marination could also come in the form of a dry rub of spices and salts that are left on the surface before cooking – this method is most commonly found in barbecuing and smoking techniques.

When it comes to imparting flavour almost anything can do the job but to speed up the process it’s better to pair strong flavours, high salt contents and acidity to really give the meat a powerful marinade to soak up. Things like soy sauce, vinegar, and lemon all go to work on the surface of the meat changing the outer layer before cooking.

  – as we see in dishes like ceviche. So it really comes down to the strength of the meat in combination with your marinade ingredients to definitively say how ‘tender’ a marination can make it. 

Basic Elements Of A Marinade

Fat: This helps fat-soluble flavours transfer onto the meat and helps in retaining moisture. They also balance out the acidic or sharp flavours. Some commonly used fats are oil, yoghurt, buttermilk or mayonnaise. 

Salts: Salts are needed to help water-soluble flavours penetrate the tissues better. It also helps restructure the proteins and creates gaps to allow for more moisture in the meat itself. 

Acids: They weaken the surface proteins of meat and boost the umami flavours. This can include lemon juice, vinegar, pickle juice or even dairy products which also contain trace amounts of lactic acid. 

Enzymes: Certain fruits and vegetables contain enzymes that help to break down connective tissues between proteins. The most commonly used are pineapple or papaya. 

Seasonings: The source of the flavour bomb, they can be any combination or permutation of herbs and spices that you love. It can also include condiments like tamarind or mustard.

Sugars: Although sweet and meat don’t necessarily sound like a natural pair, a touch of sweetness helps balance out all the flavours. This could be in the form of honey, molasses or even sodas.