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Finally, some Marination support! [Jun. 13th, 2008|09:28 am]
My next appointment is running 15 minutes late and I need to get this off my mind. I know, you're expecting me to write of drinking, the only kind of marination I've been up to lately.

But no, this time I'm serious. Marination. Really. Please join me in kissing the endless days, the overnight, the mushy texture of overmarination. Not that I really hold the Washington Post Food Section up as the final word culinary matters, but at least I no longer sound like a quack.

See, here's the thing, as a personal chef, I had three choices when a recipe called for marination. Break the law (or health code regs, or at the very least tread the line, depending on the county) and buy the meat ahead of time so that I could indeed marinate it for the 4-24 hours called for in the recipe. Or, I could buy some gadget that promised faster marination: either by injection or osmosis but I'm not fond of gadgets, especially as a PC, since remembering to pack the very gadget I needed on the day I needed it was at best, an elusive skill. Finally, the option I chose. Screw 4-24 hours. Mix the marinade, put the cold meat and it in a zip lock bag, leave at room temp for 20-30 minutes. Cook. Discard marinade or boil and use some to flavor the finishing sauce.

Hunh. It comes out just as flavorful as the one I let sit overnight at home for me. Ten years of this and let me tell you -- the only time I let something marinate overnight is because I didn't get to cook it in time.

No, it doesn't tenderize the meat. (unless you've got some enzyme action going -- and again, you'd have to inject it or get it inside in order for it to have any action except on the surface -- and if you just pound the meat with a meat mallet a bunch of times, you'll get the same effect, only better.) Go ahead, insist that leaving it in the fridge for 2 days marinating tenderizes the meat. My friends, that is called wet aging at best, or really, if we're going to be honest...decomposition. You've just kept some of the bacteria at bay with the marinade.

As for flavor -- it really doesn't get better, the longer you wait. Really, the most that's going to happen, unless you've got a well-balanced marinade, is that osmosis will draw out the moisture in your meat...The only time I'll cut you a break is that mixing the marinade ahead of time and letting those flavors meld will make it more flavorful -- this time, pulling the moisture out of the garlic, etc, macerating the spices and herbs. So mix the marinade the night before, then put it on the meat for 30 minutes.

(Brining is different -- there you can wait long enough for osmosis to become your friend again and draw the moisture back in...but if you're this interested in the science, get thee to a bookseller of your choice and read anything by Harold McGee. Not that I believed him completely until I started 30 minute marinating and thought, okay, science CAN be true. grin.)

Don't get me wrong -- I'm all about the lazy -- I've got the skirt steak, I've got 15 minutes, but we're going to a friend's for dinner or hitting the road...I'll mix the marinade, pop the meat in it and put it in the freezer for later. But that's really about the lazy -- 'cause then I can just thaw it and cook it without having to do any other prep. And there are rules for making a long term marinade -- you have to reduce the acid, or you're going to get that mushy texture on the outside. Or in the case of seafood or chicken, have it half-cooked in a ceviche kind of way by the time it's thawed out.

So those of you who feel inadequate because you can't get your act together in order to marinate in advance, pah, quit worrying about it.

If you ARE going to marinate for a longer period of time -- the lazy, because you refuse to believe...at least adjust your marinades to acknowledge that an acidic marinade can "cook" the outside of the meat over time.

Here are the basic guidelines I developed for my personal chef association.

Decrease the acidic to oil ratio. Halve the acid, increase the oil, so you get the same liquid volume. If it's for a sensitive protein like fish/seafood or chicken, take the acid out -- instead of lemon juice, use lemon or lime zest, or lime or lemon oil, or flavored olive oil. For wine, use verjus, or add in as a finishing sauce. Add the acid component either right before you cook, or add it to the finishing sauce. Boil the leftover marinade and use as a drizzle over the sliced, finished meat, or if strongly flavored, add a dash to finishing sauce.

There. Go forth and marinate.

Sigh. Maybe some day I'll have the time to cook again...instead of snatching five minutes to just WRITE about it.

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[User Picture]From: mistressfetch
2008-06-13 02:20 pm (UTC)
My favorite way is to use my vacuum sealer. Now, you have to have a vacuum sealer to do this and they aren't cheap. BUT, if you have one it's excellent because the process opens up the "pores" of the meat allowing the marinade to get inside :-) mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
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[User Picture]From: pyllgrum
2008-06-13 03:45 pm (UTC)
I am a dry rub kind of guy. Does the "rub and freeze" principle work for dry rubs?
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[User Picture]From: terribleturnip
2008-06-13 03:58 pm (UTC)
You could, although I'd let it sit in the fridge for a while first, so that the moisture of the meat can dampen the rub. Short term that should be fine -- for longer term, you want to mix that rub with oil so that it's protected from freezer dehydration which will really dimish the flavor. My favorite not-really-dry, but it comes out the same way, but better is to mix a tbs of the rub with 1 1/2 tbs (or "enough") oil and rub it all over the meat.
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[User Picture]From: pyllgrum
2008-06-13 04:00 pm (UTC)

That makes a lot of sense, and when you flip it onto a hot grill the searing will happen sooner.

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[User Picture]From: toxins
2008-06-13 05:45 pm (UTC)
I love your advice on cooking....back to work for me...
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