Simply the Best Marinade: A Science Lesson

simply the best marinade

My friend, Lori, is known for her delicious chicken cutlets.  She marinates boneless chicken breasts overnight and then grills them to perfection.  Lori’s marinade is legendary.  As with most great recipes, Lori’s marinade recipe did not start or end with Lori.  Lori received the recipe from her friend, Marcia, and Lori shared this awesome marinade recipe with me and so the sharing of recipes continues…

I have found uses for this marinade way beyond grilled chicken cutlets.  I have since added pepper, ginger, wine and mustard, some of my favorite flavors, to the recipe.  The ginger, wine and mustard also add some marinating science to this recipe, as you will see. I have prepared this delicious marinade for roast chicken, london broil, steaks, roasts and tofu, too.  When I use this for a thick roast or steak, I pierce or score the meat slightly to allow the marinade to penetrate.

Many times, I prepare a double or triple batch of the marinade and then use it to marinate all the chicken and meat that I plan to use for Shabbos or for a barbecue.  To keep things interesting, I’ll add jalapeno, lime juice, Montreal Steak seasoning or whatever seems to strike my fancy to some or all of the marinade.  This is a versatile and delicious marinade that is a winner every time.

And, now for the science of marination: Marinades tenderize food by adding ingredients that flavor and soften the protein.  Most marinades are comprised of oil, seasonings and an acid and/or enzymatic component.  Raw lean meat tends to be tough because of the collagen and elastin fiber content of the connective tissues.    Marinating meat before cooking is an excellent way to pre-tenderize meat by breaking down the connective tissue in the meat. and to prevent moisture loss when heat is applied.  It is important to watch the amount of time that proteins marinate, because if a marinade is left for too long, it can completely digest the meat.

Acids, such as lemon juice or vinegar, denature proteins through disruption of hydrogen bonds in the collagen fibrils. Alcohol, like beer and wine,  help the acid components of the marinade penetrate since fats in the meat are soluble in alcohol  Certain enzymes work to  attack the protein networks of tough meat. Protease, found in ginger, helps to break down muscle fiber protein and Bromelain, found in pineapple,  break down collagen and elastin in meat.  Oils are used in marinades to impart and  release the flavors of the seasonings.  Mustard is an excellent emulsifier, helping to keep ingredients together with minimum separation.


 1/2 cup oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons wine
3-4 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
generous squirt of ketchup
generous squirt of mustard
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (see kosher notes)
2 minced garlic cloves or garlic powder
1 tablespoons fresh minced ginger or ginger powder

dash of black pepper, red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper


Whisk, shake or combine all ingredients together in a bowl, plastic container, mason jar or food processor.
In a covered dish or ziploc bag, marinate chicken, meat or tofu in this marinade for at least one hour and no longer than overnight.  Pierce thicker cuts of meat to allow marinade to penetrate. Prepare according to recipe.


Most Worcestershire sauces contain anchovies and kosher dietary laws do not allow mixing of meat and fish. Those with anchovies are often marked with the rabbinic certification followed by the word “fish”. There are a few brands that impart the Worcestershire flavor without the fish content and would be appropriate to use for this type of recipe. Make sure to check before using or skip the Worcestershire sauce entirely.


Add fresh jalapeno, herbs or your favorite spice combination for a flavor alternative.
Substitute cider vinegar for citrus juice for a more pungent flavor.

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