Making a marinade can consist of an endless choice of tasty ingredients, and potentially the most flavor enhancing of all – salt. Most people know that salt can also dry things out from drawing out water so are hesitant in using it. I did some research to find out if it’s a good idea to add salt to marinades and this is what I found.
You should add salt to your marinade if you plan to marinate for at least an hour or more. At shorter periods salt will draw water out of the meat via osmosis, but after 40 minutes the salty marinade starts getting reabsorbed into the meat.
If you plan to marinade for a short time then it’s best to leave out the salt and season your meat just before cooking – otherwise you risk a dryer steak. Read more in my post about seasoning food before vs after cooking.
I decided to learn why many cooks think adding salt to your marinade is so important. Read on to see what I found out and how it could change the way you do your marinating forever!
How Does Salt Help Marinate Meat?
It’s well known that salting meat before cooking will initially draw out moisture but what many people don’t understand is what happens if you leave it for an hour or so. First of all, the drawn-out moisture mixes with the salt, and then after around 40 minutes, the meat will start to reabsorb the solution.
As it gets absorbed, the brine solution weakens part of the protein structure in the meat allowing it to hold more moisture. It also loosens the muscle fibers to help tenderize them at the same time.
Adding salt to your marinade just helps speed up the process and rather than dry out your meat, usually helps the water-soluble flavors penetrate much further. This in turn allows the chicken breasts, pork chops, beef steaks, etc. to hold on to more of the flavor after cooking.
Using salt in cooking goes back thousands of years, mainly as a preservative to start with. Ancient civilizations discovered that by packing perishable goods with salt they would last much longer. That came in very handy for transporting goods over long distances or bringing in the catch from a long fishing trip.
These days salt is mainly used in culinary pursuits for two things – tenderizing and boosting flavor.
I looked into whether marinating can preserve meat in my related article.
How Salt Can Ruin Your Marinade
At its basic level, a marinade is usually a combination of fat, acid, and salt, often flavored with a variety of herbs, and spices.
If you over-salt your marinade, it will become a brine and the delicate flavors of your mixture will be lost. The marinade may make your meat overly salty and ruin the dish rather than adding flavors.
Check out my list of things I recommend to not put in a marinade.
Another mistake many people make is when using an ingredient like kosher salt (cooking salt, rock salt, flake salt, etc.), they don’t make sure it has dissolved completely.
Although much purer than the regular table variety, kosher salt has a larger grain size. That means it will often just settle out of the marinade and collect at the bottom of the mixing bowl or container.
The best thing is to grind it down first into much finer granules and then give it a thorough mixing with the other ingredients to ensure it dissolves in the liquid.
Another good tip I often try is to use a salty ingredient like Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, or fish sauce to add saltiness. These mix in much better than dry salt granules and also add their own unique flavor to a marinade.
How Much Salt Do You Put In A Marinade?
When it comes to marinating, to get the perfect ratio of salt and acid to fat you would need to balance your ingredients with the type of meat. Different types of proteins benefit from a different mix.
As an example, a lean cut of beef will require less salt and acid in the mix than a fattier cut. To keep it simple:
You can make a straightforward marinade base that will work in most situations using the following amount of salt in a ratio:
- 1 teaspoon of salt, ½ cup of acid, 2 cups of oil
If your marinade contains salty ingredients such as those we mentioned earlier (fish sauce, soy sauce) then cut down on the amount of pure salt you add to the mix.
The acidic part of your recipe will come from ingredients such as lemon juice, orange juice, lime juice, apple cider vinegar, etc.
Besides providing the foundation, the oil constitutes most of the liquid content of the marinade as well. Oil also helps round out the flavors and prevent any sharp or acidic notes from dominating. Additionally, it’s useful in helping fat-soluble flavors transfer into the meat and in retaining moisture. See my post on why oil is added to marinades which contains all the best oils to use.
I sometimes use a cheap neutral flavored oil such as canola mixed with an equal amount of something with more taste such as extra-virgin olive oil as a base for my marinades.
Should You Rinse Marinade Off Before Cooking?
There is no need to rinse a marinade off before cooking. Rinsing will just wash off a lot of the flavoring deposited by your marinade and spread bacteria from the raw meat around your sink.
However, in most cases, it is better to remove the excess marinade in some other way. After all, you don’t want the oil to drip onto your grill and cause a flare-up. Excessive liquid on the meat you’re planning to pan-sear will also prevent it from browning properly.
Check out my article on the best way to grill a wet marinated steak. If you’re baking or broiling the marinated meat then it’s usually ok to leave some of the mixture on but not so much that it’s still swimming in the stuff.
The best way to remove any extra liquid is to lift the meat out of the marinade mixture, let it drip off, and use paper towels to pat the meat dry if it’s wet.
Hopefully, you now know if you should add salt to your marinades.
The general opinion is that adding the right amount of salt will really lift your marinade to new heights. It both helps the flavors to really penetrate the flesh and also tenderizes it in the process. Contrary to popular belief, if done in the right way, the salt will not dry out the meat but actually make it even juicier when cooked.
The important thing is to be careful with the amount of salt you include, especially if you already have some sodium-rich ingredients in the recipe. Too much and your marinade will turn into a brine. That’s not a bad thing, but it will probably not be what you’re aiming for.
Cooking is very much all about using your own tastes and experiences to bring out new flavors and textures. Try experimenting with varying quantities of salt in your marinade recipes to see what works best for you.
A good tip is to taste the marinade before pouring it over your meat or poultry. If you don’t like the taste of your marinade on its own, it’s unlikely you will enjoy it on your meat either!
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