What Does Marinating Do To Meat?

marinated chicken

First, what exactly is the marinade? It is essentially a mixture, mostly liquid, made up of various aromatics, and often contains an acid element.

The tenderizing element of a marinade is its sour ingredient. Like lactic acid (found in yogurt and buttermilk), some seem to be more effective than others, but the tenderizing effect is minimal anyway.

Marinating longer in a very acidic marinade is certainly more effective. Still, the high dose of acid also brings its share of problems: the meat takes on an unpleasant sour taste and changes its appearance. Like beef and lamb, Robust meats can tolerate such processing, but more delicate products, like fish, seafood, and poultry, can suffer outright. In the long run, very acidic ingredients, like lemon juice and lime juice, cause the proteins to tighten on the surface of the pickled food.

By squeezing together, the proteins expel the water they contain, making the food firmer and a bit drier – quite the opposite of the tenderizing effect sought. I consider this article as an expansion to my other post about meat.

So Why Marinate?

Especially to give flavor! Salt, along with the aromatic molecules present in herbs, spices, and vegetables such as garlic and onion, gradually penetrate the food’s surface, giving it an additional layer of flavor. But just like the touching effect, it is only on the surface that this happens! The marinade oil is important in this regard: many aromatic molecules are soluble in the oil. Therefore, the latter helps to “extract” the aromas from these ingredients and transfer them to meat or fish. It is best to crush or finely chop solid ingredients, such as garlic and ginger, to maximize this process.

How Long?

Since marinades don’t do miracles when it comes to tenderizing, you only need to let marinate long enough to add flavor. The times suggested below take into account the robustness of the product and its ability to tolerate the acid environment’s aggressiveness.

Flesh-Eating Enzymes

Enzymes called “proteases” (an enzyme is a specialized protein) capable of attacking muscle fibers and collagen in meat and breaking them down little by little. These enzymes are found naturally in some fresh fruits, such as pineapple, papaya, and kiwi. You can also buy powdered preparations that usually contain papain, the enzyme in papaya. You should know that these enzymes exert their effect not at the time of marinating, but rather at the very beginning of the cooking period when they are activated by heat. The problem is, they are so effective that they can make the surface of the meat mushy and unpleasant. Experience it: the next time you make kebabs, alternate cubes of fresh pineapple and cubes of beef, pork, or chicken. Cook over medium-low heat on the barbecue, and watch how meat surfaces in contact with the pineapple become soft and mushy.

2 cooks marinating meats


The more you let marinate, the better? This may be the case for robust meats like beef and lamb, but certainly not for delicate products like fish.

Well marinated: a fillet of salmon trout left for 30 minutes in a marinade composed of 60 ml (1/4 cup) of olive oil, 15 ml (1 tbsp.) Of lime juice, 5 ml (1 tbsp). teaspoon) honey, 1 chopped garlic clove, 1 sprig of fresh thyme, crushed pepper. The flesh will still be soft and moist and retain its original appearance.

Too marinated: after 2 hours in the marinade, the fillet will start to become slightly opaque. Also, he will have lost 1% of his weight. After 12 hours in the marinade, the fillet will be firmer and opaque, as if it had been cooked on the surface. Also, he will also have lost 5% of his weight. Why? The protein in the fish coagulated under the effect of the acidity, and as a result, the flesh hardened and lost some of its delicacies.

How Long Should We Let Marinate?

Red meats (beef, lamb, game): 4 to 12 hours

Poultry and pork: 4 to 6 hours

Fish, shrimp, scallops: 30 to 60 minutes

Larry Mulkey