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I have no doubt that a long marinade makes a difference for coarsely striated meats like beef, pork, lamb and some fish. But I've got my doubts that marinating, say, chicken or (peeled) shrimp for several hours makes any substantial improvement over a brief marinating of 15 minutes or so. It doesn't seem to me that the marinade penetrates the meat deeply and rather simply coats it. If you use a dark marinade you can see this with beef, pork and lamb. The longer you marinate, the deeper you can see it penetrate. But not so with chicken and shrimp. I see no evidence a long marinade makes any difference.

Am I wrong?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

No marinade penetrates very deeply in unless:

  • The marinade is quite salty, as the salt can diffuse past cell membranes into the meat
  • The marinade contains an active enzyme or acidic component which will denature the meat over time, allowing deeper penetration

Marination is by its very nature a surface treatment, although one that can add considerable flavor.

Kenji Alt at Serious Eats says (in regards to flank steak):

In reality, a marinade is mostly a surface treatment, and not much benefit lies in marinating for more than half a day or so. If you'd like the flavor of the marinade to completely coat your meat, your best bet is to reserve some marinade and simply toss your meat with it after it has been cooked and sliced.

I am more partial to the dry rub or wet rub myself.

See also:

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Most marinades I use do contain significant salt and an acid, but even those don't seem to penetrate chicken and shrimp at all, whereas they clearly do penetrate red meats and pork. –  Carey Gregory Jun 2 '13 at 21:08
    
If anything, I understated the case. See new references in answer. –  SAJ14SAJ Jun 2 '13 at 21:32
    
OK, I get your point, but note that Kenji Alt talks in terms of a half day or so. From what I've seen, a piece of beef will absorb some marinade during a half day, but chicken and shrimp will absorb nothing at all. What I'm asking is, is it worth marinating things like chicken and shrimp at all? Is just tossing them with the marinade equally effective? –  Carey Gregory Jun 2 '13 at 21:47
    
I am not a big fan of seafood, but my experience with chicken is that it doesn't matter much after about 15 minutes--but doing it farther ahead may be convenient for things like doing prep the night before. –  SAJ14SAJ Jun 2 '13 at 21:50

I find that Lime or Lemon Juice will penetrate any meat or fish particularly fish or shellfish. In fact lime in its self is used very often in South America for preparing or curing dishes, for example Ceviche or Tiradito from Peru and when mixed with other ingredients such as ginger, garlic or chili the lime seems to act as vehicle to share these other flavours. As prawns are relatively small though I wouldn’t see any advantage in marinating these though unless as SAJ14SAJ suggests it it just to save on prep.

www.food.com/recipe/simple-peruvian-ceviche-111154

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