How to marinate chicken

How to marinate chicken

Everything you need to know about marinating chicken

Ever had the debate of whether or not it helps to marinate chicken? Not sure what marinating chicken does or how to do it? We thought we’d shed some light on the subject. Let’s have a look.

What is marinating?

Marinade is a sauce or liquid in which you soak food, especially meat, before cooking. Marinades containing acidic ingredients such as fruit juice and vinegar or enzymatic elements like ginger or pineapple causes the tissues in the meat to break down. There is speculation that this allows the seasoning and fluid to enter the meat so that it maintains moisture and flavour when cooking or grilling.

Are there different types of marinating?

Two types of marinating: Wet marinating and Dry marinating. Wet marinating entails completely immersing the meat in liquid. This could be done by adding one of these three category marinades: Enzyme Marinades such as pineapple; Acidic Marinades such as lemon juice or Dairy Marinades such as yoghurt. Dry marinating consists of rubbing the meat with spices and herbs.

Does marinating chicken work?

Does marinade make chicken more tender?

Rumor has it that marinating actually does not tenderize chicken. It is speculated that the tenderness of the chicken has almost nothing to do with the marinade and is almost completely based on whether or not it is overcooked. Although acid seems to cook fish, the same could not be said about chicken, as the protein fibers in chicken are much thicker. In other words, the marinade does not reach the proteins on the inside of the chicken and thus only covers about 1-3mm on the surface of the chicken.

Does marinating add moisture to chicken?

This might be another rumor. Most marinades consist of acidic liquids, spices and some oil. Since chicken contains a lot of water, it naturally repels the oil. Plainly speaking, it also doesn’t have space for more water. Due to the above, there is speculation that marinades cannot penetrate the chicken to add moisture.

Does marinade add flavour to chicken?

As seen from the previous two questions, it would seem that marinade does not penetrate chicken. Therefore, the flavour also does not go into the chicken. However, the flavours that come in contact with the surface of the chicken adds an extra kick of taste. Onion and garlic are water soluble and hence are believed to penetrate slightly deeper into the meat and might be a great choice to add some tang.

Whether or not marinating chicken actually makes the meat tender, seems to debatable. It would seem as though the only purpose for marinating chicken is to add some delicious flavour to the surface or the chicken. Due to the high temperatures of grilling, the marinade will caramelize and transform into a sticky sensation or a crispy crust. The stickier the marinade, the better!

How to marinate chicken

What should you use to marinate chicken?

Based on the above points, even though marinating chicken might not soften it, you could still add some great flavour. An ideal marinade sauce comprises of equal amounts of an ingredient with acidic properties, combined with spices or herbs and a fat ingredient like oil. The oil in marinades serve as a dissolving agent for all the spices and other ingredients.

Can marinade be used as a sauce?

Here’s an interesting suggestion: Let your marinade soak by itself (without the chicken) throughout the night. Why? The flavours of the ingredients will then get released into the liquid. This way, you also avoid the health hazard of the marinade touching raw chicken, so you can go ahead and use this marinade as a sauce.

Techniques to marinate chicken

If you are planning to marinate chicken for more than an hour, place it in an air-tight glass container in the fridge. Another nifty tip: Pierce the chicken slightly with a fork for the marinade to seep into the chicken. Not too much though, as you don’t want the skin to tear.

Alternatively, you can make small incisions with a sharp knife, which will also decrease cooking time. Some argue that the best way to add flavour to your chicken is to season it with a dry rub (dry marinating). This way, the seasoning and spices adhere to the surface of the chicken, instead of dripping off as a marinade would have.

Another surprising element that might aid in marinating chicken is salt. When used in large quantities, it might slightly loosen the muscle fibers. Be cautious with this one though, you don’t want to gulp down water because your chicken is too salty. Try doing this a few hours in advance for the salt to do its work.

How long to marinate chicken?

There is no exact answer for how long you should marinate chicken. Here is a rough indication of suggested minimum times for each cut of chicken: Whole chicken +- 4 hours; Skinless chicken breast +- 30 minutes / 1 hour; Thighs +- 1 hour; Wings +- 2 hours and Legs +- 2 hours. This is all dependent on the type of marinade you use and the purpose of marinating the chicken. If it is to just add flavour as we saw earlier, 30 minutes to an hour should to the trick.

how long to marinate chicken detailed infographic

Can chicken be marinated too long?

Marinating chicken for up to two days in a refrigerator can be done. However, we do not recommend this. So, how long is too long to marinate chicken. Some have said that chicken should preferably not be marinated for more than 5 or 6 hours at most (when using an acidic ingredient) as the texture will get worse and the chicken might dry out. Marinating chicken for a longer period of time does more damage than good, as it only makes the surface mushy without penetrating the inside.  

Can marinated chicken be frozen?

When preparing fresh marinade, we suggest you use all of it and discard of what is left. Marinades without acids can be safely refrigerated for up to 24 hours. That is only for the marinade though. When it comes to freezing marinated chicken, this can definitely be done. Marinade acts as a sort of preservative, thus making it ideal for freezing marinated chicken. Be sure to defrost the marinated chicken breasts in the fridge once you are ready to use it again. Do not leave it outside on the countertop to defrost, as this might be a health risk.

Mistakes to avoid when marinating chicken

Be careful to never serve uncooked marinade when it has come in contact with raw chicken, as it might cause someone to fall ill. Do not use metal containers for marinades. Some acidic ingredients in the marinade could react with the metal, leading to a nasty taste and also possible food poisoning. Avoid adding sugar to any marinade in the case where meat will be grilled. The high temperature of the grill might cause it to burn. Be mindful of which spices and flavours you add to ensure they all go together to form a delectable palate.

It would seem that marinating chicken does not tenderize meat, or add moisture. It does however add some delicious flavour to the surface of the chicken. So Dry Marinating might be the way to go to ensure you enjoy some great-tasting meat.

FAQs summary

How long to marinate chicken?

how long to marinate chicken detailed infographic

Here is a rough indication of the suggested minimum time to marinate chicken cuts: Whole chicken +- 4 hours; Skinless chicken breast +- 30 minutes / 1 hour; Thighs +- 1 hour; Wings +- 2 hours and Legs +- 2 hours. This is all dependent on the type of marinade you use and the purpose of marinating the chicken. If it is to just add flavour as we saw earlier, 30 minutes to an hour should to the trick.

Should I marinate chicken?

Rumor has it that marinating actually does not tenderize chicken. It is speculated that the tenderness of the chicken has almost nothing to do with the marinade and is almost completely based on whether or not it is overcooked. The marinade does not reach the proteins on the inside of the chicken and thus only covers about 1-3mm on the surface of the chicken.

Based on the above point, even though marinating chicken might not soften it, you could still add some great flavour. An ideal marinade sauce comprises of equal amounts of an ingredient with acidic properties, combined with spices or herbs and a fat ingredient like oil. The oil in marinades serve as a dissolving agent for all the spices and other ingredients.

How do you use marinade?

Wet marinating entails completely immersing the meat in liquid. Dry marinating consists of rubbing the meat with spices and herbs. If you keep the marinade separate from the raw meat, you can use it as a sauce on its own.

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