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Meats Love Marinades

Marinating meat is just one step in a flavor-layering approach to protein. A complementary sauce enhances rather than smothers the primary taste of the cooked meat. Photo courtesy of mizkan americas. Soaked, rubbed, injected or brined — marination brings out the best in protein

By Karen Weisberg

Sure, there are distinct differences between a brine, a marinade and a rub, but there’s a delectable crossover in flavors when knowledgeable chefs mix and match techniques. A lot depends on the protein at hand and the desired outcome.

Some chefs apply a rub and let it set overnight, while others inject a marinade or brine for deeper flavor penetration. In addition, a substantial number of chefs are devotees of the Cryovac/vacuum/spin method of massaging in the seasoning, which achieves deeper flavor penetration and speeds up the marinating process.

Growing up in Puerto Rico, chef Arturo Paz developed a deep knowledge of and regard for the marinating process, a primary technique of the islands and tropical, coastal climates.

“With marinating, I’m using basic preparations from cultures with limited resources to take flavors to the next level,” he says. Paz brought recipes and techniques passed down from his grandparents to the newly opened Bombora at the Beach Plaza Hotel in Ocean City, Md., where marinating is a key technique in his contemporary world cuisine, served in an oceanfront setting. The concept is the newest addition to the Baltimore-based Phillips Foods family of restaurants.

At Bombora, Paz views marinating as the basic building block of flavor for nearly all proteins on the menu. “After the product comes in the door, we fabricate it into how it’s going to be served, and the next step is marinating,” he explains. “What you’re really doing with marinating is creating that primary layer of flavor.”

His skirt steak is marinated in blood orange, sherry vinegar, garlic, rosemary and thyme. Shrimp skewers are marinated in cilantro, garlic and sherry vinegar. His pork flat iron gets a classic mojo marinade of onions, garlic, bitter orange juice, lime juice, oil and garlic salt.

“Even the spearfish we get in from Hawaii, we marinade,” he notes. Most proteins are marinated overnight.

And that’s just the start at Bombora. Paz follows up each marinade treatment with carefully considered layers of complementing or contrasting flavors.

“At high-end restaurants back in the ’90s, we saw way too many sauces in one dish, and basically your protein disappeared,” he says. “A marinade and two sauces are as far as you want to go before you start losing the showcase of your protein.”

Paz likes to feature two sauces with varying textures, like an oil-based chimichurri and a red-wine demi-glace for follow-up layers on the grilled pork flat iron. “You get different patterns and flavors on the plate, like in a painting.”

Given its oceanfront location, a lot of the inspiration for Bombora’s menu is “beachfront cuisine,” admits Paz, with a lighter touch when it comes to flavor development, and marinating is key to that approach.

“If you’re not marinating, you’d have to layer atop the protein, likely with a heavier sauce,” he notes. “The marinades create the flavor layers without the use of heavy, fatty sauces.”

Luke Trinosky, chef instructor at The Chef’s Academy in Indianapolis, underscores the message that no matter the marinade, it’s used primarily for adding new flavors to the protein and not for tenderizing, which comes from cooking correctly. A naturally tough flank steak, for example, takes higher heat and a shorter cooking time than some other cuts to get to slightly under medium rare when cut on the bias.

Marinating is the key to developing light layers of flavor in chef Arturo Paz’s beachfront cuisine at Bombora, a new Phillips Foods concept in Ocean City, Md. A born teacher with years of restaurant experience to his credit, Trinosky generally includes equal amounts of soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce in his marinade, plus rosemary, grilled onions, crushed garlic and black pepper, along with a splash of red wine or whisky. He’ll marinate the steak in this mixture (under refrigeration) for two to three hours — but he’s not through with the process just yet.

“People often remove the meat and try to cook it wet, but you can’t get a proper sear with wet meat,” he explains. He suggests drying it off with paper towels. “Then season it with salt and pepper and apply a light coat of oil if you’re grilling, and grill to medium rare.”

Pulling his secret flavorful finishing touch out from under his chef’s toque, Trinosky prepares a fresh batch of that first marinade but adds a cup of balsamic vinegar to it for a secondary marination of the cooked meat. The balsamic mix lends flavor but doesn’t dry out cooked steak as it would raw meat.

“Really, in regard to tenderness, how you cook it is more important than the marinade, so rest the meat 10 to 15 minutes in this secondary marinade before slicing,” he advises.

For poultry or pork, Trinosky does more of a brine or sometimes a quick marinade. Typically one hour is sufficient when utilizing his Asian marinade, a mixture of soy sauce, red curry paste, black bean paste, oyster sauce, spicy garlic sauce and minced lemon grass.

The technique of injecting a marinade and applying a dry rub has its flavor benefits, as well. As the 2011 winner of the National Pork Board’s Taste of Elegance for Indiana, Trinosky has experimented with a variety of marinades for pork. For a pork butt, he injects a marinade of Worcestershire sauce, cider vinegar and apple juice, plus a little soy sauce, into about 15 to 20 different spots.

“Then, on the outside, I’ll do a dry marinade, or dry rub, of paprika, salt, brown sugar, dehydrated onion flakes, granulated garlic and oregano and let it marinate overnight.” He suggests wrapping the meat in plastic wrap or placing it in a non-reactive container covered with plastic wrap — or both.

“You can also use a tumbler that spins the meat under vacuum so that flavor is quickly absorbed into the meat within about an hour,” he explains. “You’re taking the meat, adding the liquid marinade and putting the top on the tumbler. A hose sucks out the air, and the meat spins on a roller, which slowly massages in the flavors.”

With marination, Trinosky finds he typically gets 2 inches of flavor penetration; he therefore underscores the benefit of injecting. In fact, he’s done a comparison with 100 pounds of chicken (or about 30 whole chickens), injecting brine versus soaking in brine; either way he uses about a half-cup of brine per bird.

His brine generally incorporates one gallon of water, three-quarters of a cup of salt, one cup of brown sugar, plus garlic, sage and thyme. Given that there’s more flavor penetration with injecting, the big plus is space saved: “With brining, you need 30 containers (for the 30 chickens), but with injecting, you just line them up on a sheet pan and refrigerate overnight — it saves a whole lot of space.”

When time constraints make marinating a challenge, “soft drink carbonation” can speed up reaction time. When chef Justin Klobucar of Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center in Chicago recently took part in the Association for Healthcare Foodservice 2011 Culinary Competition, he had one hour and 15 minutes to prepare his entry — Lucky Wonton Chicken Tacos served on Purple Rice with Pickled Cucumber Slaw and Atomized Ginger Vapor.

“I’m really influenced by Asian flavors for everything we do here, including chicken, lamb, fish, beef and pork,” Klobucar says. “Typically I prepare a marinade of balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, Dijon, chopped garlic, plus olive oil, and let the protein marinate overnight. With leaner meats, I’ll use less vinegar so they don’t dry out,” he explains. “But with no time to marinate the chicken overnight [for the competition], one of our chefs suggested I use lemon-lime soda, letting the carbonation break down the protein faster. I added it to the marinating ingredients but omitted the balsamic vinegar.” Sure enough, Klobucar’s Lucky Wonton Chicken Tacos earned Finalist status.

Klobucar now uses soda in the marinade for filet mignon in the Doctor’s Lounge. He marinates it overnight in a mixture that’s simply the contents of a can of cola, a splash of Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper. “It gets a nice dark crust on it when broiled, thanks to all the sugar in the pop,” he points out.

Lamb is a specialty at One Market in San Francisco, where chef Mark Dommen adjusts the marinade seasonally to account for flavor and texture changes at different stages of the animal’s growth. Photo courtesy of american lamb board/one market. SEASONAL CALIBRATIONS
Since 1993, when One Market restaurant opened in San Francisco, it has put a premium on farm-to-table sourcing. Lamb is one of chef/partner Mark Dommen’s specialties, and he knows that as the seasons change he must subtly recalibrate the marinade mix to complement the difference in the stages of lamb, from milk-fed to maturity. His Grilled Sonoma Lamb Loin Chops Marinated with Espelette Chile and Garlic is a popular item on the frequently changing menu.

To prepare, Dommen combines olive oil, garlic, espelette chile, for a sweet heat, and thyme; he adds the lamb chops and marinates them for a minimum of six hours, or overnight. He removes the chops from the marinade, brings them to room temperature and seasons with salt and freshly ground pepper. For medium rare, he grills four to six minutes on each side.

As he does with the menu, Dommen makes seasonal adjustments to his marinade. “Springtime lamb is really delicate; you don’t want to overpower it,” he notes, “but for summer lamb, you can go stronger with the seasoning and bump up the garlic a bit more.”

Ideally, Dommen cooks over almond or apple wood in a wood-burning grill. He finds the espelette chile, traditionally from the Basque region of France, a good match on fish or in a marinade for shrimp.

When preparing leg of lamb, Dommen often applies a coffee rub at least six hours before roasting it on a spit. The rub is a mixture of espresso beans ground to a super-fine powder, cinnamon, star anise, a bit of clove, brown sugar and salt. “We like to do it overnight and use a Cryovac machine to force the seasoning in there to keep it nicely coated,” he explains.

Constantly experimenting with new ingredients and techniques, Dommen finds black garlic, the fermented Korean innovation, “has a garlicky-molasses flavor that seems like a natural fit with lamb,” he says. To prepare, he purees it with grapeseed oil, mirin, salt, plus a bit of chile flakes to create a somewhat pasty marinade. He then coats the lamb and lets it sit overnight, then roasts it on the spit. “Because of its sweetness, you have to regulate the fire so it’s not too hot,” he notes.

For chicken, Dommen advises brining it and cooking on an almond wood-fired spit. At One Market, his brine for poultry invariably includes water or apple cider, salt, garlic, thyme, rosemary, savory, black pepper, chile pods, plus a bit of sugar. (If using apple cider, use less sugar, Dommen suggests.)

Jack Riebel, executive chef at the high-volume Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant in Minneapolis, confides he likes to brine all his poultry and fish. “I find using a quick wet brine increases moisture and flavor while providing consistent seasoning.” Riebel’s basic poultry brine is a mix of salt, brown sugar and water, plus a special pre-made pickling-spice blend and, on occasion, chipotle or white sugar.

It’s used to good effect in his Chicken ’n Dumplings. To prepare, he grinds leg and thigh meat, then prepares a mousse (adding egg, cream and lemon) to transform the meat into Parisienne dumplings served with a fricassee of baby artichokes, ramps, peas and morels.

“For fish, I’ll use bay leaf, lemon peel, salt and water, plus granulated or raw sugar,” he says. “If we’re smoking it, I prefer brown sugar — I like the sheen and the ‘molassesy’ flavor that occurs when it’s smoked.”

Growing up in Minnesota, “the land of deer hunting and marinating in a ton of wine,” Riebel soon realized that lean meats such as wild venison and bison benefit most from brining and marinating. Now a confirmed proponent of sous vide preparation — in which the protein is served at a 145 degree F internal temperature, so it’s sweet and tender — he believes marinating is the way to go: “Marinating is a really good way to get flavor under Cryovac,” he asserts. “Some chefs add lemon peel, salt, cracked pepper, herbs, etc., then seal for a really good marinating/brining process under vacuum.”

Guests at Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant can now order Two Preparations of Duroc Pork: Prosciutto-Wrapped Loin and Madera-Glazed Pork Belly, Riebel’s winning entry for Minnesota in the 2011 National Pork Board’s Taste of Elegance.

“We prepared a wet marinade of honey with a touch of rice vinegar plus fermented tofu [red bean paste], pureed it, marinated the pork, then roasted it in a 450 degree F oven for a char,” explains Riebel. “That’s flavor no matter how you slice it!”

Clearly, the myriad combinations of marinating — in terms of ingredients and techniques — represent infinite flavor possibilities and bring value to the menu.

As Bombora’s Paz observes, “Besides preserving protein and enhancing that background flavor, marinating gives us different ways to create the perfect dish.”


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