Why are we constantly slathering chicken breasts with marinade? The most common answer is to enhance flavor and tenderness. Chances are, only one of the two take place; not both. But which of these are more important and why?
To answer this, you really need to know where we, as a chicken loving society, have come from. Over the past 10 years, you may have noticed at weddings that guests who were pleased with the food almost always said, “The chicken was so moist”. Why is this phrase so common? Was “DCS” (dry chicken syndrome) more common decades prior? Absolutely. So what happened? Marinades happened, but not for flavor.
A simple dip in salt water solution became a main stream processing practice. Today, all the cool kids call it “brine.” This is a technique where protein enters only the first stage of curing and only for a very short time. It was designed so poultry can be prepared ahead of time and often over cooked while remaining moist.
At home, the same effect can happen when chicken is marinated days ahead of time in a high sodium sauce. Unfortunately, many chicken companies have taken this practice much further by injecting salt solutions along with a whole slew of artificial flavors, preservatives and water into the meat. But what if you have no plans to overcook your chicken and really just want to incorporate fresh flavors? Welcome to the wonderful world of “topical marinades.” These are the marinades that can be thought of as more of a seasoning and need far less time with the chicken to pack a punch. Naysayers often think topical marinades are worthless because they don’t penetrate the meat. A good reply: does the cheese penetrate the crust on a pizza? For me, flavor is most important when it comes to marinating chicken.
Perfect topical marinades are the 5 new flavors of Great Food Fast marinated chicken breasts available now in all Lunds and Byerly’s meat and seafood departments: Hickory Raspberry, Apple wood chipotle, Tuscan, and Lemon Herb. They are gently mixed with olive oil, hand -picked spices, red sea salt and fresh lemon juice. Certainly the red salt and lemon will help with tenderness, but the overall purpose of this marinade is bold and fresh flavor.
Marinades like these are a must with chicken breasts because they play off all the points we love about white meat: it’s leaner, lighter, and has a more delicate flavor. All of this is meaningless when we use heavy sauce-like marinades that are high in sugar and fat. Topical marinades with fresh chicken are awesome. Be sure to give them a try!
Michael Selby, executive chef