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All About Marinades
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Marinades 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.

·   Acid-based marinades.
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.

·   Dry 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.

·    What to use?
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.

Pineapple ~ Figs ~ Papaya ~ Ginger
Kiwifruit ~ Mango ~ Honeydew ~ Wine
Citrus ~ Beer ~ Vinegar ~ Tomato ~ Yogurt

It 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.

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September 22, 2017

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