Lots of people believe that a tough piece of meat will be made tender by a good marinade, so they buy cheaper grades than they should. Unfortunately, that is not really the case. Good meat has to start out as good meat, and while many marinades taste great, they do not tenderize all that much. Let us look at three major categories of marinade and see how they work.
Marinades come in three basic types acidic, enzymatic, and dairy. Acidic marinades that are too strong can make your food tough, while enzymatic marinades at an overly high strength will turn many steaks to mush. Dairy marinades can improve the tenderness of meat, but they are not necessarily suited to certain kinds of cooking.
Acid marinades are among the most common in Western cooking, and use vinegar, wine and citrus to denature the proteins in the meat, unwinding them and tangling them back together. The same general process occurs when we heat food. This mesh of proteins will trap water initially, and the steak will be more tender. However, highly acidic marinades will tighten those bonds further, forcing out the water and making the food tougher.
Milder acid marinades are preferable to really strong ones, since they allow us to add plenty of flavor without the danger of tightening the meat and toughening it. Meats that start out with a closer grain, including flank steak, will do okay in a stronger acidic marinade, but they are also tougher to being with.
Enzyme marinades actually have the ability to break down animal tissue, including muscle fiber and connective tissue. Many fruits contain enzymes that can break down protein, but papaya and pineapple are probably the most common. Overuse them, and they will create a mushy, unappealing piece of meat. The same thing happens if you use them too long. This kind of activity is present in commercial meat tenderizers, too.
The last category of easy steak marinades is based on mildly acidic dairy products, like yogurt or buttermilk. These are commonly used in India for goat and lamb, as well as for southern fried chicken.
Steaks can be interesting in this kind of marinade, but you may need to look at how you are cooking them, since this is not the most common type of marinade used for them. Try curry flavors along with your marinade for a good result.
Marinades do not have to be complicated, and if you know the kind of results to expect from your ingredients, you will have no problem getting a great end product every time. Take a little while to investigate the different varieties of marinades to find the one that is likely to go best with your steak. The results might surprise you.
Knowing the different types of marinades makes it easy and fun to make great steak every time you set out to make great steak. Just like there are different types of steak, there are different types of marinades and using the right marinade with the right cut of meat is a must but if you pair these two together properly, the results will be well worth the time and effort it takes to learn these tricks.