– Olive Oil. Lemon juice or vinegar or cultured milk. Herbs or Spices or both. Salt & pepper. –
Marinating meat is an excellent means to improve tenderness and impart flavour. It is pretty effortless and another trick the amateur cook can use regularly to improve the dishes they prepare. Cuts which derive from the part of the animal that have worked the hardest such as shoulder or leg cuts lack both fat and tenderness. These cuts require a lengthy marinade to avoid dryness and toughness.
Like stock, marinades are very simple to prepare. For those with a creative bent they can be excellent tool-sets for trying out new flavour combinations. For those less inclined to experiment there are always one or two reliable recipes they can always fall back on. The acid in the marinade works brilliantly at relaxing and tenderising the meat, whilst the natural enzymes in the olive oil will make the meat easier to digest once consumed. The spices will add flavour to the final dish.
The fun thing about a marinade is that the cook is completely free to decide what spices work well in whatever combination they feel like. When it comes to flavouring your marinade there are no DO’s and DON’T’s. The only requirement is that the meat be left to rest, coated in the marinade for as long as possible. One hour at least but the longer the better since time gives the acid, enzymes and flavours a chance to do their work and penetrate the meat transforming it into a more delectable morsel of food than would otherwise be the case.
One other important point to remember is to never consume the juices from the marinade raw since it may harbour some interesting microorganisms not conducive to the human body. You can, however, add it to the sauce if it is being cooked at 100 degrees centigrade.
To prepare a marinade begin by deciding what acid you would like to use to tenderise the meat: Lemon? Lime? Wine? Beer? Vinegar? Yoghurt? Kefir? Buttermilk? Fermented dairy mediums work very well with meats such as lamb, beef or pork. In the Middle East tough cuts of lamb are marinated in yoghurt. Germany has a beef buttermilk recipe that works very well. That all said you can equally use lemon, lime or vinegar. It doesn’t matter.
When you’ve decided what acid you’re going to use pour it into a medium sized bowl. Add the salt, pepper and any other additional spices, herbs or flavourings you would like to flavour your marinade with – curry and coriander; mustard and honey; dill and tarragon or ginger and orange peel – anything you think works for you and the dish you would like to serve. Next, add a good glug of olive oil and mix into the whole.
When you are happy with the marinade sprinkle salt and pepper over your raw meat and rub it on the meat by hand. Don’t be squeamish – this really does make a difference. Pour the marinade over the meat making sure that all of the meat is covered in the marinade. Cover the marinade and leave to rest as long as possible. In the winter it can stay on the kitchen surface for up to 24 hours. The acid, spices and oils will prevent it from fouling. In the heat of the summer it is probably best to place it in the fridge but remember to take it out approx. one hour before cooking so that the meat has a chance to relax before being cooked.