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For chicken, I like to marinate or bake in the oven with spices. However, whenever I get chicken for the same day to cook, I usually do not have enough time to marinate overnight. I was wondering if there are things I can do to "speed up" the marination using some ingredient and/or culinary technique, or an equivalent technique to make it taste similar (i.e., balsamic vinegar and mustard/herbs marinade vs. cooking it in the oven using the same ingredients).

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  • Ever seen a vacuum sealer on a cooking contest show? I gather that works a treat, if you have the $$ and counter space for one. – Steve Chambers Jul 9 '20 at 23:46
  • A vacuum aspirator connected to a faucet will do the job as well as a vacuum sealer. Both pull the air/liquid out of pores in the meat. When you release the vacuum, the marinade surrounding the chicken gets push into the empty holes. About $20 will cover one.duckduckgo.com/?t=ffsb&q=vacuum+aspirator&ia=shopping – Wayfaring Stranger Jul 10 '20 at 0:30
  • These are very helpful comments. Thanks for the help – qxzsilver Jul 10 '20 at 21:42
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Marination can have a number of purposes and mechanisms, the biggest four of which I'll talk about here: Salt, acid, enzymes and miscellaneous flavour compounds.

Salt

Salt can do a few things; firstly and most obviously, it seasons; salt tastes good, and it makes things that already taste good taste even better. Salt can also make meat hold on to liquid better; as it permeates throughout the meat it interacts with some of the proteins, 'unfolding' them a little and making them less prone to tangle together and shrink on heating, meaning they'll squeeze out less liquid.

These processes take time, and for salt, generally, longer is better, though eventually, with enough salt and time, you're not so much marinating as curing your meat. For salt, it will take as much time as you give it, but even a short-term salting will improve your end product.

Acid

The second thing a marinade often has is acid. Fruit juice, vinegar and wine are all common acids for marinades, but there are many other options. Acid also works on the proteins in the meat, but it's not as gentle as the salt; a short marinade can tenderise, but a longer one - anywhere past a few hours - can denature the proteins so much that your meat turns mushy. For acid, a short marinade is generally best.

Enzymes

There are certain ingredients that contain enzymes that work on protein; some fruits, like pineapple, kiwi and papaya, some funguses like koji and to a certain degree fermented dairy like yoghurt will work on meat in a similar way to acid; tenderising, then after too much marination, rendering mushy and chalky in texture. Dairy and koji can be somewhat gentler here; tandoori chicken, for example, involves a reasonably long yoghurt-based marinade, but generally you want to have a good idea of what you're doing with enzymes and marination.

Everything else

Other components of marinades, be they spices, herbs, aromatics like garlic, shallot or onion, chillies and most anything else not included in the categories above, don't really penetrate into the meat, regardless of how long they're left marinating. The flavour molecules are simply too big to squeeze into the web of proteins, so they stay on the surface. As such, they're not generally very time sensitive in a marinade; once it's on the surface, it's going to stay there. Some oil or fat can help the fat-soluble flavours in some of these spread more evenly over the surface of the meat, but that's not really a time-sensitive operation either.

In conclusion, you might not need as long a marinade as you thought; the only thing that's really going to benefit from an overnight marinade is the salt, and even that is often happy enough with a shorter marinade. Oftentimes, overnight marinades are a result of convenience; if you left your meat marinating last night, then it's easier to just get home from work and cook it up, rather than having to do the marinade and then wait for it to take action before you can finally have dinner.

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  • Great answer. I want to point out that with koji, the physical action of the mycelium and also the drying properties contribute to flavour development. – goboating Jul 10 '20 at 1:33
  • Is the drying a feature of the koji itself, the hygroscopic grain substrate it's grown on, or just due to koji treatments generally involving sitting uncovered in the fridge and drying due to airflow? I'd sort of skipped the 'dry aging-esque' properties of koji because I don't feel they're especially relevant to a marinade, given all the wet ingredients typically involved - the answer was long enough when being about marinades, I didn't want to get elbow-deep into all the other ways of treating meat before cooking it, haha. – Blargant Jul 10 '20 at 1:57
  • The drying is because the mycelium consumes the moisture. This is is not apparent in a two hour koji marinade but is in a two day one. It's much more relevant over a time-frame of weeks or months however. It's key part of koji's ability to accelerate meat ageing. Koji is tropical, it's at its best in a warm 75% humidity. Freaky right? – goboating Jul 10 '20 at 2:08
  • This is a very great overview of marination principles and the culinary theory. I'll keep these in mind when trying to do a quick flavoring. I also wanted to know more on the aspects that I can control, namely heating methods/time. Would these have any positive/negative affect if I'm strapped for time? – qxzsilver Jul 10 '20 at 21:44
  • By 'heating methods/time' do you mean, for example, frying vs baking, and for how long? If so, some more direct heat methods like frying, barbecuing (in the UK/AU sense), grilling or broiling will tend to caramelise any sugars present in a marinade, and any attempts to sear the meat with high direct heat will run into issues because of all the extra moisture the marinade imparted, unless the meat was dried off thoroughly before cooking. Other than that, cooking a piece of marinated meat is more or less exactly like cooking a piece of plain meat, I'm afraid. – Blargant Jul 13 '20 at 0:12

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