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What is marinating?

It is flavour enhancement by absorption, by osmosis; it is a technique that was originally used when they had no refrigeration to keep foods fresh, it was done to preserve foods and it was also done to disguise the often putrid taste of the meats. Thankfully this is no longer the case, instead we use it to infuse certain flavours to enhance the full natural flavour of foods or to add to them. Sure, we can still use long marinating times and preserve the foods this way if we desire, but with a little advance knowledge and shorter marinating times we now can use it to just enhance the natural flavours of the foods.

Another result of marinating is that it helps break down the tough proteins of foods; what many commonly refer to as ‘gristle’, like the collagen and elastin in meats. There by making the meats more palatable, easier to chew and seeming more tender.

Types of marinades

Essentially there are two types of marinades; dry ones and wet ones. Which one to use depends on many factors:

  • the type of food

  • the toughness/tenderness

  • the desired effect

  • whether preserving is required or a factor

Dry marinades

Use the capillary action of salt to break down the proteins, it also helps to infuse the other flavours by drawing them in. Or they utilise the natural strong flavours of the marinating ingredients; such as garlic to in set the flavour.

Wet marinades

Wet ones by comparison utilise acids to break down the proteins; acids such as lemon juice or vinegar and again use the natural strong flavours of the marinating ingredients to add flavour.

What types of foods can be marinated?

Virtually anything from meats to fish to fruits and vegetables.

How long does one marinade?

That depends on the foods:


Large cuts of meats (over 2kg)

= 8 hours to overnight

Small cuts of meat

= 1/2 to 3 hours

Whole fish

= 3 hours to overnight

Fillets of fish (depending on size)

= 1 hour to overnight

Fruits and vegetables

= 1 to 3 hours

But why marinate/cure meats?

To add flavour and to preserve. Old-time butcher shops closed every weekend and ice the only refrigerant available, could not dependably hold fresh meat for two days. To keep unsold meat from going to waste, the butcher soaked the meat in a strong brine or covered it with coarse salt to trigger osmosis (the movement of water across a membrane from weak solutions toward strong solutions). The grains of salt were called "corn" in England, and the name "corned beef" stuck with the product.

What is curing?

It is the process of preserving the foods by a form of dehydration by the addition of a chemical. It is also used to add other flavours to the foods

What are the commonly used curing compounds?

Salt, sugar and sodium nitrate. Salt and sugar both cure meat by osmosis, in addition to drawing the water from the food, they dehydrate and kill the bacteria that make food spoil. Commercially though, the word "cure" refers to processing the meat with either sodium nitrite or sodium nitrate. Sodium nitrite is the basis for two commercially used products: Prague powders #1 and #2.

Prague powder #1

A mixture of 1 part sodium nitrite and 16 parts salt. The chemicals are combined and crystallised to assure even distribution. Even though diluted, only 100gm of Prague powder #1 is required to cure 45kg of meat. A more typical measurement for home use is 1 tsp per 2kg of meat.

Prague powder #2

A mixture of 1 ounce of sodium nitrite and 0.64 ounces sodium nitrate per pound of finished product. The remaining 14.36 ounces is sodium chloride (salt).

Recipes for

So know you know a little of the whys and wherefores, I hope you are now dying to give it a go? So all that is left to answer is the hows . . .

With the knowledge that a wet marinade needs a acid to help break down the proteins, it only remains to point out five factors:

  1. Use an acid that suits the foods and flavour you desire.

  • for red meats I recommend red wine or a red wine vinegar (or a combination of)

  • for white meats white wine or a white wine vinegar (or a combination of)

  • for fish white wine, white wine vinegar or any citrus juice; lemon, lime, orange etc (or a combination of)

  1. Never have the acid more than 1/3 (I recommend 1/4 as ideal) of your total marinade, or it will turn from breaking down the protein to actually ‘cooking’ it

  2. A good quality oil can be added to the marinade, but only in small quantities (no more than 1/4 of the total marinate) if the food is low in fat, like wild meats

  3. Make cuts in the foods to reduce marinating times and increasing flavour absorption; scoring meats and some fish (squid is great for this technique) in a neat criss-cross fashion, will give a spectacular effect when you cook them.

  4. To this add flavours that suits your individual taste:

  • soy sauce

  • Worcester sauce

  • sweet chilli sauce

  • Asian vinegars

  • sesame oil

  • garlic

  • ginger

  • chilli

  • wasaabi

  • shallots

  • onions

  • spring onions

  • fresh herbs

  • spices

  • lemon grass

You are limited only by your imagination. Armed with the above information I suggest experimenting and finding what suits you best; what flavours, how long etc. Think about what suits the cooked food and build a marinate around it: orange for duck, red wine and juniper berries for venison, etc.



Food and Cooking Tips
from professional
Chef Tallyrand


Born and raised in Plymouth, Tallyrand started his initial training as a chef at Plymouth College of Further Education. It was here that he was to learn his love, his passion for food and the culinary arts. From here he headed to Germany to complete his apprenticeship as Commis de Gardemanger.

Germany gave him his first taste of cooking for the rich and famous, as half way through his first year, along with the Sous Chef and a Chef de Partie, he was whisked off to Cologne to help prepare meals for a political conference, where amongst other dignitaries they cooked for Mr Brehznev, the then powerful Russian leader. This was to prove to be just one of the many celebrities he was to cook for or get to know over the years . . .

If you would like to find out more why not visit Tallyrand's own web site www.tallyrand.info (link in main menu)

Email Hub-UK : info@hub-uk.com