Cooking Questions: Marinating

Browse our collection of frequently asked cooking questions for advice on marinating foods.

Marinade for Chicken

Photo by Melissajean

What is the best way to marinate?
The main role of marinades is to add flavor to food. A plain grilled chicken breast tastes pretty good, but a grilled chicken breast that’s been bathed in an orange, ginger, and sesame marinade for a few hours tastes absolutely spectacular! The kinds of flavors you can add to your marinade are only as limited as your imagination and the contents of your pantry. Choose some flavorful, spicy, fragrant, or aromatic ingredients that taste good together. These can include any fresh or dried herb or spice, but don’t forget about other tasty things like fresh and dried chile peppers, onions, shallots, garlic, ginger, and citrus zest , as well as prepared condiments like mustard, ketchup, or plum sauce. One word of caution: don’t add salt to the meat until right before you cook it. Salt can leech out the moisture, turning your meal dry and tough.

Marinades also add moisture to foods, particularly when the marinade contains some sort of fat. Generally, oils are better to use than butter or margarine, because oils will remain liquid when refrigerated. In the oil category, try olive, peanut, sesame, walnut, or chile. You can also use milk, coconut milk, buttermilk, or yogurt.

Additionally, marinades are widely believed to tenderize meats. Buttermilk and yogurt are especially popular for this purpose. Other acidic ingredients, whether or not they will significantly tenderize a piece of meat, will do a great job of balancing out the sweet, spicy, and aromatic flavors of a marinade.

How long should I marinate my food?
Most seafood shouldn’t stay in for longer than an hour; boneless chicken breast only needs about two hours. Pork loin can soak for four hours, lamb can go from four to eight hours, and you can leave beef for 24 hours or more. More delicate meats like seafood and skinless chicken will become mushy from the acid in the marinade if they soak too long, so keep an eye on the clock.

Remember, always marinate in the refrigerator to avoid promoting bacterial infection of the foods.

Can I eliminate the oil in a marinade to reduce fat?
Marinades add moisture to foods, particularly when the marinade contains some sort of fat. Generally, oils are better to use than butter or margarine, because oils will remain liquid when refrigerated. In the oil category, try olive, peanut, sesame, walnut, or chile. You can also use milk, coconut milk, buttermilk, or yogurt. Using low-fat versions of the dairy products can help reduce the fat.

What containers are good for marinating?
We recommend either a glass dish or a resealable plastic bag. Using metal containers can give a metallic flavor to the food.

Can I reuse the marinade?
We recommend discarding the marinade. If you would like to use the same mixture to baste the foods while cooking, either set a small amount aside before marinating, or boil the marinade for at least five minutes before using it as a basting sauce.

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