How To Marinate Meat

Marinate means to soak a food item in a liquid or dry powder in order to:

From left to right : oyster sauce, Chinese vinegar, fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil.

1. Flavor the food – The flavoring effect is due to the spices and flavoring agent in the marinade penetrate into the inner part of the food pieces.  Normally, meat and seafood are the food items to be marinated.
2. Tenderize the food – The tenderizing effect is somewhat less effective, but it depends on the constituent of the marinade.
3. As part of the sauce – The marinate can also be used as part of the ingredients for making the sauce during the cooking process.  The purpose or marinating the meat before stir-frying is to ensure the flavor penetrate into the center of the meat.
4. It improves the browning characteristics that is the goal of high-heat cooking.

Marinate for the purpose of stir-frying

Marinade is used commonly in Chinese street food photo credit Flickr by FaceMePLS

The purpose of marinating the meat before stir-frying is to ensure the flavor penetrate into the center of the food pieces. It is useful if the meat or seafood have been cut into small pieces or thin slices. This is because stir-frying is a quick cooking process that may lat for a few minutes. The meat can be cooked through easily is a short period of time. This method is used in our recipe Sweet And Sour Chicken.

Ingredients For Preparing Marinade (And The Purpose)

Oil – Oil helps preserve the tenderness of food items especially for meat. Normally, oil with neutral flavor and high smoking point such as vegetables oil is used for Asian cooking. Oil also help to bind together other liquid ingredients in the marinade and enable it to be absorb more evenly into the food pieces. Oil can be omitted if the food items are marinated for a longer period, or contains plenty of oil, such as lamb.

Salt – Salt function as both flavor and texture enhancer. It act as a tenderizer by breaking down the tough protein of the meat.

Sugar – Just like salt, sugar act as a flavor enhancer. Sugar also speed up the browning process of the meat during sir-frying.

Soy sauce – Soy sauce contains salt. Therefore, you need to reduce the amount of salt in the marinade. Soy sauce also has high umami and add savory flavor to the food.

Fish sauce – Fish sauce can be used alone or in combination with soy sauce. It has a strong and unique Asian flavor. It is quite salty so be careful not to add too much salt during stir-frying.

Acid (vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice) – These ingredients help to tenderize the meat. In addition, they also add flavor the food items. However, acid tends to coagulate the protein of the meat, and change its appearance similar to partially cooked. Therefore, be careful not to overuse any acidic ingredients for marination.

Flour – Flour is used for marinating especially for deep frying or stir-frying. The small amount of flour protects the meat from burning too fast during frying. It also creates a golden brown color surface that is aesthetically pleasant. Cornflour also render crispiness to the meat for deep frying.

Herbs, seasoning and spices – Items such as pepper, clove, ginger juice, salt, sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce and commonly used to marinate in Asian cooking.

Wine – Shaoxing wine (绍兴酒) will add the unmistakable Asian flavor to any dishes. It is widely used in almost any Chinese restaurant.

Here is a short video to show the whole process.


Types of marinade

There are three types of marinade. Whether it’s chicken, pork, or beef, the basics of marinating are the same.

Wet marinade – This is the most common type if it is intended to marinate for a long time. The marinade should mix well with the meat and keep it in the chiller. If you want to store it for a longer period, said a few days or a week, you can keep it in the freezer. However, it is important to let the marinade penetrate into the meat or seafood before freezing it. Normally, the marinated meat should be kept in the chiller for about six to twelve hours before transferring to the freezer.

Dry marinade – Dry marinate also called spice rub or dry rub. It is a mixture of spices, herbs and salt that is rubbed or patted onto the surface of the meat. This technique is widely used for preparing roast or barbecue items such as roast chicken. The time required to marinate before cooking depends on the size of the meat. It will take a longer time, preferably marinate overnight for a whole chicken. Dry marinate is used to prepare Peking duck and Cantonese style crispy fried chicken

Instant / quick marinade – This is useful to add flavor to smaller pieces of meat or fish fillet before deep-frying or stir-frying. MY standard marinade for stir-frying is as below:-

  • 150g of meat (chicken, pork or beef)
  • 1/8 teaspoon of corn flour
  • 1/4 tablespoon of light soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon of vegetable oil

Just mix all the above ingredients together and leave it for at least 15 – 30 minutes before stir-frying.
You may notice that the amount of soy sauce is very small and there is no salt in the formula. This is because we will add extra flavor (salt, soy sauce or oyster) during the stir-frying process.
The texture of any meat that has been marinated will be more tender and smoother.

Please take note …..

  • Marinate under refrigeration to avoid bacteria growth
  • Use sufficient marinate to cover the entire food item. Alternatively, turn the food items from time to time to ensure even marination.
  • Use acid resistant container to keep the food items in the chiller. Stainless steel and glass containers are good choice.
  • Do not add minced aromatic such as garlic, onion or spring onion to the marinate if you are intended for stir-frying. Stir-frying required intense heat and these minced aromatic will be burned easily.

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