Know-how with marinades, brines and rubs can take your entrees to the next level.
On a recent Friday, five tons of raw chicken arrived at the central kitchen at Universal Studios Hollywood in California. Whole birds for the rotisserie, half birds, skinless breasts, nine-piece fryers — all either went into a marinade or got rubbed down with salt and pepper or other seasonings to steep for a few hours to a week before being distributed to the various outlets that serve an average 25,000 visitors daily.
For such volume, why not simply source pre-marinated, pre-seasoned chicken? Eric Kopelow, corporate executive chef, wouldn't hear of it. Besides the pride of saying the theme park cooks as much as possible from scratch, marinating all unbreaded proteins before bagging and sealing for distribution also saves labor and ensures food safety.
“The outlets don't have to do any prep when they receive product,” Kopelow says. “They don't have to wash pans or worry about cross-contamination.” But more important, regardless where it's served at the up to 160 points of sale, chicken at Universal Studios Hollywood always bears the flavors Kopelow — who also marinates hot dogs in beer and vegetables for the grill in herbed oil — wants it to. Product not only is moister, more flavorful and easier to cook, but stays fresh longer under refrigeration.
Pre-Columbian peoples in Mexico capitalized on the enzyme in papaya leaves, which, when wrapped around tough meats during cooking, made the meat digestible. They knew better than to steep meat in the actual juice of papaya, which could easily turn it into mush.
Indeed, creating the ideal marinade, brine, rub or paste to impart flavor deep into the flesh of a protein or vegetable considers the balance of art and science, and has everything to do with the food, says R&D chef Andrew Hunter, owner of Culinary Craft in Los Angeles and consultant to several food manufacturers.
“Because of beef's texture and natural flavor, you need a stronger marinade,” says Hunter, who likes chile in marinades for the subtle heat it imparts. He's recently discovered the flavor power of miso, a soy-based paste, and yuzu, an East Asian citrus with floral undertones, as marinade ingredients becoming popular in the States. “Pork is probably second in terms of intensity, chicken third, and finfish and shellfish fourth. Acidity and sodium penetrate meat, so together they're important. If you marinate with just lime juice, say, flavor imbalance aside, you could really denature the protein and reduce the quality of the eating experience.”
Sodium, whether from sea salt or soy sauce, can make something too salty really quickly, “yet salt is an important part of a marinade,” Hunter says. “Soy sauce that's naturally brewed actually reduces the sodium content in a marinade while enhancing the umami sense.” Soy-sauce-based marinades are equally applicable to Latin, Mediterranean and Asian cuisines, he adds.
Following are a host of on-trend recipes that benefit by steeping at least one ingredient in a marinade, brine or rub — for several minutes to several days — to yield pumped-up flavor.
Bourbon Raspberry Rub Steak with Raspberry Mango Salsa
Honey-Marinated Portobello Mushroom with Roquefort & Bitter Greens
Spicy Chinese Chicken and Rice
Peanut Butter Marinade
Triple Pepper and Onion Marinade
Cranberry & Pecan-Crusted Rack of Pork
Sweet-Smoky-Spicy Wild Salmon Rub
Spicy Ponzu-Glazed Avocado Salmon Spring Roll