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How to marinate meat

Rather than the sometimes suggested role of ‘tenderising meat’ a marinades job is to enhance the meat by adding an extra layer of flavour. Tender meat is achieved by using the right cut for the way you’ve chosen to cook, and by cooking it well. 

Marinate for flavour not texture

Marinades add great flavour to meat, they should be quick and easy to put together. Good combinations rely on single or simple flavour strategy – fresh robust herbs like thyme and rosemary with olive oil or a mix of tomato and Worcestershire sauces are a good blend. 

You’ll need about half a cup of marinade to flavour 500g meat

Use what you have in the cupboard and fridge. Be mindful of the sugar content of the mixture, as marinades high in sugar will burn before the meat is cooked. Go easy on the salt too. Too much salt or salty ingredients like soy sauce will leech out the meat’s juices making the meat dry.

Good combos include: 

  • Soy sauce, a little honey and orange juice
  • Tomato sauce, a little red wine vinegar and Dijon mustard
  • Olive oil, a little lemon juice and dried oregano and/or rosemary
  • Soy sauce, oyster sauce and sesame oil

Dry marinades (sometimes called dry rubs)

Dry marinades are made up from dried spices and dried herbs, they’re an easy way to enhance the flavour of red meat. The meat absorbs the essential oils from the spices and dried herbs. 

Pastes are an extension of dry marinades

Pastes are made up from dried spices and both fresh and dried herbs with a little liquid added – often a little oil or finely pounded ginger and garlic. The paste mix is moistened only enough to hold the ingredients together. 

How long to marinate

Refrigerate the marinating meat unless you have prepared it and are going to cook the meat within 20 minutes or so. Whole pieces of meat can stand for 12 to 24 hours covered in the fridge, while cubes of meat for kebabs should only need 2 or 3 hours marinating time.

Rub a dry marinade or paste into the meat about 20 minutes before cooking. Use enough pressure to ensure that the rub or paste sticks evenly to the meat.

To cook meat that has been marinated

Take the meat from the liquid and lightly pat the meat with absorbent paper before placing it in the pan or on the barbecue. If you do not the meat will not brown well. 

Don’t pour marinade over the meat while it’s cooking

This makes the meat stew and causes flare-ups. To keep meat moist you can brush the meat with a little of the marinade as it cooks. Do not brush it on the meat during the last minutes of cooking time. 

NEVER pour raw, leftover marinade over the cooked meat

The marinade mixture must always be bought to boiling point and boiled for a few minutes before using to kill any harmful bacteria. It can then be served alongside the cooked meat. 

Try these easy marinades for beef and lamb, they'll add great flavour

  • Spicy tomato marinade – Grate half a large onion and cook with 1 tbsp of oil and 1 crushed garlic. Add 1tspn of dry mustard, 1 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce, ¼ cup brown vinegar, 1/3 cup brown sugar, ½ cup tomato paste and ½ cup of water. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Spicy vindaloo marinade – Combine 1 tsp each ground cardamom and ground cinnamon, 2 tsp each of ground cumin, turmeric and hot mustard, ¼ tsp chilli flakes and ¼ cup white vinegar, mix well.
  • Mediterranean marinade – Combine 3 cloves crushed garlic with ½ cup tomato paste, 2 tsp dried oregano, ¼ cup each of oil and red wine, mix well.

Especially good for lamb chops or cutlets

 Combine 2 tbsp each of tomato sauce and honey, plus 1 tsp each crushed garlic and 1 and chopped chilli. 
Mix the juice of 1 small lemon with 1½ tsp of salt and pepper, 2 tsp dried oregano and 2-3 crushed garlic cloves.

Recipe suggessions based on what you have in your fridge.

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