A good marinade tenderises the meat and adds extra juiciness ready to sizzle over hot coals
Marinades are designed to bring out the best in meat or infuse it with different flavours before being cooked on the grill or bbq. Before firing up the barbie, here are a few tips about when and what, how long and when to marinate.
Of course, some meats are exceptions to the rule; marinating a good T-bone steak is practically criminal – all it needs is a sprinkling of coarse sea salt, just the right time over hot coals, and the result is succulent, tender magic. But there are many other types of meat and cuts that do benefit from a bit of marinating know-how to prevent them from emerging from the grill either tough and/or tasteless. These include meats like poultry and rabbit, for example, most pork, tougher cuts of veal or mutton and also game, for which a marinade is a must.
Basically, a marinade is prepared with oil, wine, vinegar or lemon (an acidic liquid), plus salt, herbs and spices and is massaged into the meat, before covering with cling film or placing in an airtight container. Then it is left to rest, preferably overnight. Always keep it refrigerated, never use a metal container and do not be tempted to use any leftover marinade.
You can’t go wrong with the standard marinade formula which uses a ratio of three parts oil to one part acid, ensuring you have plenty to cover all the meat. Salt should account for at least 2% of the weight of the meat plus marinade. This amounts to one tablespoon for every half kilo.
A marinade has a three-pronged approach to ensure delicious results. First, the salt cures the meat, extracting some of the moisture so it doesn’t overcook. Then, the acid component tenderises the meat by partially cooking it in advance. And finally, the oil makes it easier for the herbs and spices to break down and release their aromatic flavours, enabling them to be absorbed into the meat more easily.
Timing is all-important, too! A whole chicken needs at least twelve hours but can be marinated for up to three days before cooking. In the case of thighs, wings and breasts, just four hours will suffice. Pork and beef should never be marinated for more than 24 hours. Thin cuts can be marinated for two to four hours.