In our health conscious world, fat in meat has received a bad press and is largely shunned by the consuming public. The fact of the matter is that fat is an essential element in good meat, providing both flavour and moistness.
If you’ve bought a very lean piece of meat you may need to be careful how you treat it and cook it if you want to avoid chewing on something akin to shoe leather! One way to help tenderise it before cooking begins is by ‘marinating’ it. Marinating breaks down some of the fibres in the meat and the more acid the marinade, and the longer you leave it, the greater the effect. Just bear in mind that the process draws nutritious juices out of the meat so don’t throw the marinade away once you’ve used it! Either baste the meat with it as you are cooking or make an accompanying sauce out of it.
A marinade is typically a combination of three elements:
- an acid ingredient, such as wine, sherry or vinegar
- oil – infused oils such as chilli, garlic etc., olive, walnut and sesame oils – which help to impart flavour and retain moisture
- seasoning – from basic salt and pepper, to herbs, to spices, to other ingredients like honey, lemon, good old ketchup and Worcestershire sauce.
If you’re experimenting and making your own marinade just try to balance the three elements and use ingredients that are complimentary to the meat. For instance, lamb and rosemary is a classic combination, pork works well with either sage or rosemary, and chicken with lemon and thyme.
The process is very simple: Put the meat in a shallow glass or pottery dish – not metal, because the acid ingredients may react with the metal and taint the food. I find sturdy zip-lock bags very useful for marinating. Pour your marinade ingredients over the top and turn the meat a few times to coat. (This is where a zip-lock bag comes in useful because you can just pop the whole lot in the bag, zip the top and toss the bag over and over a few times to thoroughly coat). If using a dish, cover and then, whatever the container (including zip-lock) you need to put it in the fridge for the alloted time. If your marinade doesn’t completely cover the meat, turn it every half hour or so. Pork and poultry will take 2-4 hours happily in the fridge, red meat and game, 4-6 hours.
Marinating is not confined to meats. Both fish and vegetables can be given the same treatment but bear in mind that fish, in particular, is a far more delicate meat and if you overdo the marinating time the whole lot could become mushy. For fish and veg therefore I’d recommend just half an hour to an hour in the marinade.