Grocery-Marinated Meats: How Fresh and Delicious are They?July 2, 2019
- Gela VelascoWords
Meat is both simple and complicated: some cuts can be seasoned with salt and pepper, others require a low and slow cook. Marinating meat is one method many welcome, as it only takes a few minutes to prepare before the cuts are left in the refrigerator to soak in the flavors. But even groceries are saving customers those minutes, and selling packaged marinated meats alongside the fresh cuts of the meat section. However, is there an actual difference in quality between meat we marinate ourselves, versus the ones prepared by supermarkets?
The Science Behind Marinades
Marinades are made according to how they break down the meat’s large molecules. Lighter meats like chicken require a minimum of two hours, and a maximum of 24 hours in the marinade. The denser quality of pork and beef has a larger minimum time of 24 hours, but they can be kept for much longer. Marinades need to be thin enough for the liquid to seep through the cut, and shouldn’t be so thick that the volume settles on the surface. The size of thinner cuts require less time, while larger pieces are likely to be more flavored on the meat’s surface, than within.
Time isn’t the only factor in the marinating process. The marinade’s ingredients are responsible for how strong, and how distributed the flavor will be among the pieces of meat. Acid is what denatures or shifts the structure of the meat’s proteins- the acid creates pockets in the meat where the marinade can enter. Oil is another ingredient that can be added, but it’s usually only included in the marinades of white meat. Red meats have enough fat for it to recreate the effects of oil.
Now that we know the science behind marinades, how do these facts apply to what we buy from the grocery meat section versus what we prepare with our preferred cuts?
Packaged Marinated Meats Versus Own Marinades
In the meat sections of Rustan’s, SM Supermarket, and Shopwise, marinated chicken had a larger space compared to the marinated pork and beef. Shopwise had a separate section for packaged marinated chicken, while the other supermarkets had more marinade choices for chicken compared to the other meats. Makati Supermart and South Supermarket had a larger choice for marinated meats since they were selling Monterey’s products.
According to the Shopwise staff, a fresh new batch is prepared every day. The woman I spoke to also assured me that they used the same cuts as the other meat parts that were sold in the rest of the meat section, however, she added that some are displayed for up to two days. She guaranteed, however, that each package could keep for a week. The Magnolia chicken in SM lasts shorter, as the staff told me the packages last for three days. They used similar cuts to the ones in Shopwise (thighs, legs, and wings) and I was told that a fresh batch is prepared every day.
The marinated meats displayed next to the butchered cuts were left out in the open, and weren’t sealed, unlike the packaged chicken. Although the staff guaranteed they used the same cuts as the meat parts sold in the larger sections, it was obvious that the marinated products’ pieces were chosen according to the marinade. They also used the same parts for each marinade, thus limiting consumers to the meat they’ve chosen. Legs and thighs were the preferred parts for most marinades, while other mixes like spicy or inasal-based marinades are better with wings.
To investigate how the groceries choose their meat cuts, I bought the Monterey beef tapa, and one-fourth kilo of peppercorn chicken. I bought both cuts at around lunchtime, so considering that each batch is prepared daily, the meats only had about two hours to marinate. The beef tapa was transferred from the open display to a plastic bag that wasn’t really swimming in the marinade. The chicken, on the other hand, was bursting with peppercorn.
Closer inspection of the beef tapa proved that they gave just enough slices for the one-half kilo request. The cuts, however, were thinner than usual, and lacked that savory yet slightly sweet flavor one is used to with beef tapa. The pepper overpowered the beef, and needed to be neutralized with some extra rice. The same could be said of the peppercorn chicken- the chicken wasn’t lacking in meat, but all I could taste was the peppercorn, and not much of the marinade it was supposedly soaked in. Perhaps the bigger issue with marinated meats is not so much the meat cuts they use, but what the marinade actually tastes like.
Grocery marinades may save you the preparation time, but there are several factors that fall under the supermarket’s control. You leave the marinade flavor, marinate time, and cut choice to the vendor. Although the meat cuts aren’t smaller than their untouched counterparts, consumers are still limited by the pieces chosen according to the marinades. The marinade also isn’t as flavorful as what you would prepare at home. You’re also gambling with the actual time the meat spends in the marinade, as it depends on how long the meat has been on display. Although we do leave our marinated porkchop or beef for a week or so in the refrigerator for easy preparation, at least there’s the assurance you picked the meat yourself, and the flavor will be according to your taste.