Pamper your proteins
With two sons playing summer baseball, and each boy on a house team as well as a travel one, my husband and I feared we would be challenged with one of our favorite warm-weather pastimes (after watching our sons play baseball, of course): outdoor grilling. Thankfully there are an increasing number of fish, meat and poultry options that I would consider to be “grill ready.” Not only are these center-of-plate proteins trimmed and portioned, processors pamper them in such a way that even inexperienced grillers have a chance to serve a main course they can be proud of.
Many processors pamper proteins with a brine, which is a concentrated salt and water solution that the raw protein soaks in prior to cooking. Through a process called osmosis, the proteins absorb the brine solution, which helps them remain moist during cooking, even if slightly overcooked. The latter often happens when the “griller” gets distracted by a whining child or chatty neighbor.
The salt denatures protein molecules, causing them to unwind and form a matrix to trap water, as well as break down and tenderize the flesh. When the brine solution is enhanced with herbs, spices and other flavorings, they get absorbed during osmosis, and make for an even tastier entrée.
Depending upon the protein and its cut, brining can be a lengthy pampering process, which is why many packers prefer industrial marinades, also referred to as enhancement solutions. Industrial marinades are very different than the marinades consumers apply at home, which are strictly about adding flavor and tenderizing muscle. Industrial marinades do the same, but they also increase product yield, as they contain hydrocolloids and phosphates, both of which aid in moisture retention. They can also help packers mask inconsistencies in the protein related to inherent differences from animal to animal, as well as improve the sensory attributes of lower-quality cuts.
Industrial marinades are either injected into the protein or applied via a tumbler. The process dictates the marinade composition. For example, injected marinades should not contain particulates that could clog needles. If visual seasonings are desired, packers will typically marinade by tumbling the protein.
Phosphates are a key component of most industrial marinades. As mentioned, they can increase the water-holding capacity of the protein. This is accomplished by increasing the protein’s pH away from its isoelectric point. In doing so, the protein’s net negative charge increases, producing an electrostatic repulsion between the muscle fibers that increases the protein’s ability to absorb and retain moisture.
Some phosphates slow the development of rancidity in raw proteins by binding inherent metal ions that act as catalysts to lipid oxidation. This assists with ensuring product shelf life. Phosphates can also preserve color and flavor, improve juiciness and assist with freeze/thaw stability.
Because many of us taste with our eyes before our mouth, topically applied seasonings, often referred to as dry rubs or dry marinades, are an easy way for packers to add value. And a little goes a long way in regard to enhancing visual appeal.
Dry rubs are topically applied to the protein. In an industrial setting, it is usually sifted onto conveyed protein or applied via a gentle tumble, after a light adhesive coating (oil or hydrocolloid solution) is applied.
Dry rubs are usually a blend of dehydrated herbs and spices, sometimes with some dried caramel color or even sugar. The latter not only provides a touch of sweetness, which complement many spices, but it also participates in the Maillard browning reaction, which results in surface caramelization during cooking.
With so many ways to pamper your proteins, give it a try. Parents appreciate the efforts.