serve two different functions: as a tenderizer and flavor enhancer. You probably
already know that some tough cuts of meat benefit from the tenderizing effects
of marinating, but how does it work?
The cooking process itself turns connective tissues into gelatin to varying
degrees. Depending on the cut and type of meat, it may need a little assistance
to bring it to a palatable range of tenderness. Certain plant and fungi enzymes
and acids can break down muscle and connective proteins in meats. As far back as
pre-Columbian Mexico, cooks found that wrapping meats in papaya leaves before
cooking made for more tender results. The active enzyme in the papaya leaves is
papain, now refined from papayas and commercially available. Connective tissue
that comes in direct contact with the protein-digesting enzymes gets broken
down. These tenderizing enzymes also reduce the capability of the meat to hold
its juices, resulting in greater fluid loss and thus drier meat. Enzymes are
also heat activated at levels between 140 and 175 degrees F. and deactivated at
the boiling point, so it really serves no purpose other than flavoring to let
meat sit in a marinade at room temperature. In fact, refrigeration is
recommended to avoid the growth of harmful bacteria. Let meat come to room
temperature before cooking.
Direct contact is the important point, since it is necessary for the chemical
reaction to occur. This means that soaking a piece of meat in a marinade will
only penetrate just so far into the surface of the meat. If you marinate a large
cut of meat in a tenderizing marinade, you end up with a mushy exterior and an
unaffected center. Puncturing the meat for the marinade to penetrate gives an
uneven result, with the further undesirable side effect of allowing the meat to
lose even more juices while cooking. Thus, flat cuts of meat benefit most from
tenderizing marinades. Place meat in a plastic baggie with the air squeezed out
and turn it often to be sure all surfaces benefit from the marinade.
Both tenderize and flavor many different types of foods, not just meats and
seafood. Acids such as citrus juices, pineapple, yogurt, buttermilk, and wine
tenderize by denaturing or unwinding protein strings. They also lend flavor to
the end product. Marinades containing oils with emusifiers mono- and diglyceride
(check the labels) penetrate deeper and faster. Extra-virgin olive oil naturally
contains monoglycerides and is a good choice for marinades.
Also known as rubs, are used to enhance flavor as opposed to tenderize, although
some may have some beneficial tenderizing side effects. This type is usually a
mixture of herbs and spices, sometimes mixed with oil, which is rubbed into the
meat, poultry and seafood. Those recipes using dry rubs usually specify a grill,
pan-fry or broil cooking method.
As a rule, poultry and seafood are not tough cuts and could turn to mush or
leather if left in a tenderizing marinade for an extended period. In fact, fish
can be "cooked" in acid, requiring no heat at all. Extended marination
of tender seafood can actually toughen it by "overcooking" it.
One-half hour of marination time before cooking should be sufficient to impart
the flavor of the marinade to seafood. Marinated recipes that will not be
eventually oven-cooked may specify a much longer time. Thirty minutes to one
hour is usually sufficient time to successfully marinate poultry.
Nature gives many tenderizers to choose from, both enzymatic and acidic. When
using an acid-based marinade, be sure to use only containers made of glass,
ceramic or stainless steel, never aluminum. The chemical reaction produced
between alkaline and aluminum not only imparts an unattractive discoloration to
the food but can also darken and pit the aluminum container. Many marinades will
include one of the following along with various herbs and spices.
~ Figs ~ Papaya ~ Ginger
Kiwifruit ~ Mango ~ Honeydew ~ Wine
Citrus ~ Beer ~ Vinegar ~ Tomato ~ Yogurt
is up to you which ones you chose when you prepare your food. It is all a matter
of taste and preference. Some go for yogurt or beer when cooking chicken, wine
or cider when cooking pork. Beef is tender as it is so some avoid using
marinades. Fish is also great on its own.