Advice and tips on marinating fish and meat to ensure it remains at its best

The word marinate is derived from the ancient Latin word “mare”, which means “the sea”. Consequently, the word marinate only applied to fish and seafood. However, times have changed and whilst many people still marinate seafood and fish,  marinating  meat has become much more popular.

A marinade is a liquid, usually oil or acidic based, that contains a variety of herbs, spices, flavours or seasonings that is used as a pre cooking soak for meat or seafood and fish. The liquid used in marinades typically consist of vinegar, wine, citrus juice, extra virgin olive oil or some other vegetable oil.

A spice stall at a Turkish market. Here you will find a whole range of different herbs and spices you can put in to a homemade marinade.

Spice stall at a traditional Turkish marketCredit:

All supermarkets will carry a large selection of ready-made marinades that are useful for a variety of different seafood and meats. It doesn’t matter whether you are going to marinade tuna steaks, sword fish, pork, beef, lamb, chicken or any other meat you will find a marinade that will work. Marinades come in a variety of different flavours. From hot and spicy marinades that give a chilli kick to citrus marinades to more subtle flavoured marinades a supermarket will stock them all. The marinades available at supermarkets will consist of full marinades to packets of dried herbs and spices.

When using the full ready-made marinades all you need to do is open the jar, put it in a bowl and add the meat or seafood. When using the dried marinades you will need to add the oil, vinegar, wine or whatever liquid you want to the dried herbs and spices, mix thoroughly and then add the meat or seafood.  

Like all ready-made food items the supermarket marinades are often full of sugar, salt and empty calories, none of which are very good for you. The best way around this is to make your own marinades at home. Fortunately, marinades are easy to make, they are quick to make and they are made from readily available ingredients. There really are no excuses not to make your own homemade marinades.

If you are using an acidic marinade you need to use a non reactive vessel, such as a ceramic bowl, a glass or pyrex dish or a stainless steel bowl. Never use any vessel made from aluminium as this may react with the acidic base and give your food a nasty metallic taste. Rather than using a ‘hard’ vessel in which to marinade meat and seafood it is much easier to use a large plastic zipper bag. Using one of these zipper bags is easy as all you do is add the marinade, add the meat or seafood, squeeze out as much air as possible and then shake the bag before putting it in the fridge.

When marinating meat or seafood you need to chill it and keep it in the fridge at all times. Leaving the meat or seafood to marinade at room temperature may lead to a bacterial colony developing, which could be harmful.

Never put all of the marinade in to the non reactive vessel or zipper bag. If you keep some of the marinade behind you can use it to baste the meat or seafood whilst it is cooking.

Meat takes much longer than seafood and fish to marinade. Some cuts of meat need to be marinated for many hours, ideally overnight in order for the meat to properly soak up the marinade. Seafood and fish should be marinated for no longer than thirty minutes. If you leave seafood or fish marinating for too long it may end up ‘cooking’ and the flesh will go mushy, rendering the food useless.

Man cooking meat on a barbecue. Whilst the food was very tasty if it was soaked in a marinade prior to grilling it would have been even better.

Man barbecuing meatCredit:

Once you have finished with the marinade you can discard it, if you no longer want it, or turn it in to a sauce. If you decide to reuse the marinade you need to heat it up and cook it to kill off any harmful bacteria that may have grown. You need to remember that the marinade has had raw meat soaking in it for many hours, or raw seafood soaking in it for several minutes therefore there is a good chance some bacteria has grown.

Marinating poultry

You don’t need to cut up poultry in order to marinate it if you don’t want to. Simply put the whole bird in to the marinate to save cutting it in to several parts.

If you remove the skin from the bird it will soak up the marinade more effectively. A skinless bird will also take less time to marinate than a bird with the skin on.

Poultry should only take a few hours to marinate however you can leave it soaking in the marinade for up to two days, providing it is in the fridge of course. You need to remember that acid based marinades will actually toughen the meat over time so don’t leave your poultry soaking in the marinade for too long.

Marinating fish

Seafood, shell fish and fish should not be marinated for any longer than thirty minutes. This is more than enough time for the seafood or fish to soak up the full flavours of the marinade. If you leave the seafood or fish in the marinade too long the flesh will turn to a mush. 

Marinating beef

Any cut of beef can be marinated, although it suits some cuts of beef more than others. Marinades will actually ruin the higher quality cuts of beef, such as rib-eye steak.

The tougher cuts of beef, such as skirt, sirloin and flank, are far more suited to marinades. The tougher cuts of beef can be marinated for up to twenty four hours without suffering.

Adana kebab on the grill. Even a spicy traditional Turkish dish, like the Adana kebab, can be enhanced by soaking in a marinade prior to cooking.

Adana kebab on the grill

In summary........

Marinating meat and seafood not only provides some additional taste and flavour it also helps to stops the meat and seafood from drying out during the cooking process. The meat or fish when put in a marinade will act like a sponge and soak up a lot of liquid. The meat or seafood will retain this additional liquid whilst it is being cooked, hence preventing it from becoming dry and tough.

Marinating is a great way of playing with ingredients and flavours and allows you to experiment.

Final hints and tips on marinating.........

So, when you marinade meat or seafood;

  • Think ahead and plan. Start marinating meat the night before you want to use it. If you are marinating seafood or fish start marinating a couple of hours before it is needed.
  • Always marinate the meat or seafood in the fridge rather than at room temperature.
  • If possible use plastic zipper bags. These are easier to use and reduce the amount of mess since the bag can be thrown away after use. If you must use a vessel ensure it is no reactive and made out of stainless steel, glass, pyrex or ceramics.
  • Always cover containers that are being used to marinate meats
  • Never put some more meat or seafood in marinade that has already been used for a meat or seafood soak. Never use leftover marinade from raw meat or seafood without heating it up or boiling it first.
  • Never use aluminium or foil containers for marinating as there could be a reaction that will spoil the meat or seafood.