Meat Marinades for Your Braai Day (7 minute read)

Heritage Day is fast approaching and the holiday will be celebrated by South Africans taking the day to reflect upon the diverse cultures and languages which truly make South Africa a wonderfully unique country to live in. For most South Africans, meat plays an important role in their Heritage Day celebration. Whether it’s chicken, beef, fish, pork, or mutton, you’ll have a hard time finding a Heritage Day celebration without something cooking over a fire or stewing away in a potjie pot for the afternoon.

Preparation of the feast usually begins the night before or early on the day by selecting the best cuts of meat and marinating in your favourite sauce. Many people have marinade recipes that have been handed down for generations, some may use their favourite store-bought marinades, while others may try their hand at creating their own recipe from scratch.

Here we are going to discuss a quick guide to marinating meats, with the four things you need to know for a sumptuous Heritage Day cook-off.

1. The Big Marinating Myth:
A long-standing myth widely believed when it comes to marinating, whichever type or cut of meat you have chosen, is that the longer marinating time you give, the better the meat will be. Marinating is used to tenderize the meat while adding a delicious flavour of your choice. If left to0 long, this tenderisation process can break down the nature of the meat proteins leaving it with an undesirable texture.

2. Marinating Times:
Depending on the type of meat you are using and the size of the pieces, this will determine the time you should leave your meat marinating. Here is a guide for the perfect marinating times on different meats, remember that any longer can start to deteriorate the meat texture making it undesirable.

  • Poultry (chicken pieces) should only marinate for 2 - 3 hours
  • Shrimp and fish fillets/steaks should only marinate for 15 - 30 minutes
  • Lamb, beef and, pork steaks and chops should marinate for 2 - 4 hours depending on the size
  • Lamb, beef, and pork roasts can marinate for 4 - 6 hours depending on the size
  • Vegetables can marinate for 1 - 2 hours

3. Components of the Perfect Marinade:
The best marinades make use of five important elements: oils, acids, sugars, salts, and aromatic spices. When used together, these ingredients work in unison to tenderise and flavour your meat, keeping it moist, adding colour and caramelizing while cooking over the open flame.

  • Oils: the oil you use will set the underlying tone for all the flavours to do their work. Remember to use a 1:1 combination of neutral (sunflower or canola) oils to flavourful ( Avocado, olive, sesame seed, peanut) oils.
  • Acids: the acids you use will work on tenderising the meat but it’s important to remember not to over-do this section of your recipe. The golden rule to adding the right amount of acids to your oils is a 3 part oils and 1 part acids combination. Acid options include citrus juices, vinegar, wines, and even yoghurt.
  • Sugars: these help bring the caramelization and colour into the cooking process, and your options include granulated brown sugar, honey, syrup, or some coke which are all great options for sugars. For every half cup of oil used, 2 tablespoons of your sugar option should be used.
  • Salts: the salt option in your marinade is a key component to penetrating flavour to your meat and salty liquids are the best option for a balanced mixture. The best ‘salty’ elements to use are not actually ground or granulated but rather a sauce like soy sauce, fish sauce, or Worcestershire sauce to give you an even mixture.
  • Aromatic spices: these spices add and enhance the flavours of the marinade and help to flavour the meat. The sky's the limit with the types of spices you can use: fresh herbs, crushed garlic, cut chilies, chopped onion, grated ginger, dried spices, and many more. Now is the time to allow you to show off your creative cooking skills and put together the marinade of your own making.

4. Marinating Dish:
The vessel which you marinate your meat in plays an important role in how well the marinade can penetrate the meat proteins. The favoured method by most people and top chefs is to use a ziplock bag, as this ensures no air bubbles remain in the bag once it’s seal. However, a good quality Tupperware or glass container will work just as well, provided there is enough marinade to completely cover the meat while it works.

Whatever you are marinating and whichever recipe you use, remember to never over marinate your meat, let it chill in the fridge while it does its magic, and make sure to keep a little extra separate to use as basting while you cook your tasty meal this Heritage Day.

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