It’s a common misnomer that a marinade will automatically add flavor to meat, especially if left to sit long enough. There is a science to it and not all marinades improve flavor – in some configurations they will simply soften the meat. However, I don’t mean to misspeak. Putting any spice or ingredient on meat will change the flavor profile, but oftentimes not to the degree expected. There is a suggested structure to a marinade that will lay the foundation for a serious burst of flavor. Lets go over what the composition of a good marinade is:
First, there is an alternative to marinading meat – the dry rub. Let’s go over that too…
What is a Marinade?
a sauce, typically made of oil, vinegar, spices, and herbs, in which meat, fish, or other food is soaked before cooking in order to flavor or soften it.
What is a Dry Rub?
any mixture of ground spices that is made for the purpose of being rubbed on raw food before the food is cooked. The spice rub forms a coat on the food.
Whats the difference?
The difference between a Marinade and a Dry rub is the use of Acid. Marinades use some form of acidic liquid like vinegar, wine, or even yogurt to penetrate (get the flavor deeper, sooner) the outside of the meat. Whilst Dry Rubs are meant for a longer cooking process, using the natural juices and fats of the cooking process to self baste the meat.
Thats another good point – fat content! Super Important!
The more “squiggly” your meat is, the higher the fat content. Its important that all the fat isn’t just around the edges – ideally, you want some running through the center. They, call this marbling, because it looks like marble stone.
Why is marbling important? Well, as I mentioned in London Broil and The Art of the Sear – as these fatty reservoirs of goodness melt away during the cooking process it pulls flavor into otherwise un reachable locations within the meat. Check out the Delmonico below:
How long do you marinade meat?
Ready for this? 1 hour at room temperature. That’s if you have a proper marinade with the proper acidity.
In the Spirit of the Olympics in Rio lets look at a simple Picanha marinade.
Thats it! You have your acidity and basic flavors:
Something more complicated would be my Winged Lunch recipe:
Substitute the vinegar above for red wine to marinate steak. Remember, when using wine, if you wouldn’t drink a glass of it don’t marinate with it!
Notice the theme? The key to a good marinade is acidity balanced by strong aromatic flavors. But the key to a tasty meal is Marbling!