How much marinade is absorbed by different meats? And which are the best marinades to use? —C.B. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The amount of marinade absorbed depends on many factors—its acidity, the amount of salt and oil in the marinade and its thickness (how well it "clings" to the meat). The type, cut, weight and surface area of the meat also affect how much marinade is absorbed, as does the total marinating time. Delicate cuts such as fish fillets may need to marinate only 30 minutes. Chicken breasts or cubes of beef require 2 to 4 hours and whole chickens or roasts may benefit from 8 hours or longer. The most accurate way to determine the nutritional impact of a marinade is to measure the amount that has been absorbed during the marinating process. Our guideline here is that if we start out with 2 cups of marinade and 1-1/2 cups are left after marinating, we know that 1/2 cup has been absorbed…and that is what is calculated into the Nutrition Facts. If a recipe calls for part of the marinade to be set aside for basting, the entire basting amount is factored in. Marinating adds flavor to meat and tenderizes it. While many bottled marinades are available at grocery stores, most are high in fat and sodium. When you make your own, you can control the amount of fat and sodium, plus use your favorite flavors.
Our staff plans 2/3 to 1 cup of marinade for 1-1/2 pounds of meat. A well-balanced marinade has an acidic ingredient, plus seasoning, salt and oil. Acidic ingredients—fruit juice, wine, vinegar, yogurt or buttermilk—help tenderize the meat, retain the juices and add flavor.
Seasonings such as herbs, spices, soy sauce, mustard and sugar provide the primary flavors. Pick your favorites!
Salt aids in carrying moisture and seasoning flavor throughout the meat. The amount of salt may vary, from 1/4 to 1 teaspoon, depending on the seasoning ingredients and length of marinating time. If a salty seasoning, such as soy sauce, is used, or if the marinating time is for 4 or more hours, plan to use less salt so the meat won't be too salty.
Finally, a little oil also helps carry the seasoning flavors and keeps the meat moist during cooking. A tablespoon or two is all you need.