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I have a marinade I really love for chicken that has a base of pineapple and lime juice, aromatics, and a little canola oil. There's no salt in the marinade and I don't season the chicken before putting it in either. I tried using this marinade overnight, but found that the flavor wasn't as intense. I think this could be solved by marinating for longer and/or adding some salt to essentially brine the chicken.

I know that a typical wet brine is around can be up to 20% salt, and this is what I'm thinking of doing for the marinade. However, I'm not sure if I'd ruin a big batch of chicken with this much salt. Given that it already has all of these ingredients, should I lower the salt content and marinade for longer, or just bite the bullet and go with the standard brine ratio?

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Marinating is basically a surface treatment. Marinades don't penetrate more than a millimeter or two. Most flavor molecules are just too large. So, if you like the flavor after a short bath, just keep it at that. A longer marination generally doesn't help.

Now, salt does penetrate, that is why brining works. However, don't confuse brining with marination. The added salt will not improve the effect of marination. Only the salt will penetrate.

These are two different processes.

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    I'd add that in addition to not being helpful, too long a marination in a marinade consisting largely of lime and (especially fresh, unpasteurised) pineapple juice can have a negative effect on the texture of the meat, due to the action of the acid in both juices and the bromelain (tenderising enzyme) in the pineapple. This can render the meat mushy and chalky in texture, if left too long. If the pineapple is heated or pasteurised (i.e. from a can or other shelf-stable product) the enzyme will have been denatured and therefore not an issue, but the acid can still pose a problem.
    – Blargant
    Jul 14 '20 at 2:09
  • @Blargant...true...good addition.
    – moscafj
    Jul 14 '20 at 10:51
  • There are many flavoured brines in Rhulman and Polcyn's book, Charcuterie. I can say from experience that these absolutely do penetrate deep into the meat, including parsley, tarragon, lemon zest, garlic and onion. It's true that not all flavours get a long way inside, but the thing about large molecules still seems like a red herring. Perhaps what McGee says in his book about most volatiles being small molecules is true.
    – goboating
    Jul 15 '20 at 1:49
  • @goboating writing a book doesn't necessarily make you correct. Lots of classically trained cooks/chefs do things because they "were always done that way." Also, volatiles are not the same as flavor molecules. How do you know your herb flavors penetrated, and that you were not tasting them because they were on (or near) the surface? See, that's why people like Blonder (the link in my answer) are helpful...they do the actual experiments.
    – moscafj
    Jul 15 '20 at 2:03

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