Submitted by Mephysteaux
So, you have some meat, but want to add something to it. Here's a basic guide to marinating your meat so it will be tasty and delicious.
Making a Marinade
First step to making a marinade is to make a plan. Decide what it is you want your meat to taste like, then start building a marinade around that. One easy way to go about this if you're just starting out is to go for a regional flavor. For example, if you're looking to make Italian Chicken, look for ingredients like balsamic vinegar, garlic and Italian seasonings, things that seem logical. Another short cut is to pick up a premade marinade at just doctor it to your liking. If you're looking to create an all new marinade, though, you'll want to start looking at your sauces and spices. First ingredient you should pick is an acid. Acids are essential to marinades because they start to break the meat down, allowing your flavors to seep into it. Good acids to use are vinegars and citrus juices. Also, look for things that have those acids in them; Worcestershire sauce has vinegar, Mountain Dew has orange juice (I think), these can be used as well. I actually used it on chicken a couple times, it's actually good. Keep in mind, though, that a lot of acid will create an overwhelmingly tangy taste. That brings me to my next point, flavor balancing. Your marinade will probably have several different flavors to it. Some examples are:
- Tangy (vinegar, citrus juices)
- Sweet (brown sugar, other fruit juices)
- Spicy (hot sauce, peppers)
- Nutty (nutmeg, sesame oil)
- Salty (salt, soy sauce)
- Robust (herbs, garlic)
Generally a good idea is to mix 1 or 2 pronounced flavors (Tangy, Sweet, Spicy) with a background of subtle flavors (Spicy, nutty, robust). As you're mixing your marinade, smell/taste it from time to time to make sure you're getting the desired effect. If one flavor is too weak, add more; if it's too strong, add a little of everything else. Also keep in mind how this flavor will mix with the natural flavor of the meat. Adding oil is usually a good idea. It won't mix well with the marinade, but will coat your meat, helping seal in flavor and moisture. Salt and pepper are never a bad idea, either. Adding water, however, is not recommended. Also, if the marinade contains solid ingredients like garlic, onion or spices, consider making your marinade the day before to allow all of the flavors to come out and mix.
There are some things that can be used as marinades in and of themselves. In the grocery store, you will see lots of ready-made marinades. Salad dressings usually can be used as marinades as well, especially non-creamy ones. Sauces, also can be used. Barbecue sauce is an obvious choice, I personally enjoy beef marinated in Worcestershire sauce... You can pretty much use your favorite sauce as a marinade.
This is the easy part, but the one that requires you to plan ahead. Once you have your marinade, you'll want to spread it over the majority of the surface of the meat, making sure to get both sides. If you can't cover everything, don't dilute it with water. Then put it in the refrigerator. You want to keep your meat below 40 degrees F (About 5 C I think) until you're ready to cook it. You can marinate over night, or the morning before, but you'll generally want to give it a few hours, maybe 3-4. Cut down on that time if you're using something unusually strong like Italian dressing.
Adding marinade to your meat while it's cooking can add moisture to the meat, making it better. You can also serve your marinade as a sauce along with the meat; just make sure the marinade you serve or any of the utensils used to serve it haven't come into contact with raw meat as to avoid cross contamination.