03 Jul / 5 Asian Secrets to Tender, Flavorful Meat on the Grill
With July 4th right around the corner, it’s time to get serious about grilling.
And if you’ve ever been a victim of tough, dry meat fresh off the flames, you’ll want to read this.
I’m not going to talk about techniques or equipment–I’ll leave that to the experts–but I do want to discuss marinades, or rather what what goes into them. Many Asian grilling marinades rely on certain ingredients, some surprising, some maybe not so, to both tenderize and flavor meats.
Grilling aficionados agree that salt rubs and brines are key to a moist and tender product on the grill. They’re certainly trending right now. However, if you ask any Asian grandma how they prepare their meat for the grill or request your Filipino neighbor’s family bbq recipe, you’ll notice that neither are on the agenda.
So why be a lemming when you can show off at your next cookout by taking your cue from Asian cuisines? I’ve taken the liberty of compiling my favorite ingredients/recipes for you to try. They’ll no doubt keep grilled meat moist and punch up the flavor at your next barbecue:
Asian pears—and some say, apples and kiwis—contain enzymes that dissolve protein and connective tissue and are the secret to every Korean grandma’s outrageously delicious barbecue recipe. In this kalbi recipe given to me by my friend Susan’s grandma, kiwis are peeled and pureed before being mixed into the meat marinade. Popular Korean food blogger Maangchi uses pureed pear in her recipe for beef bulgogi, and I’ve seen recipes using pear juice or shredded apple too.
For the simplest application, mash or slice fruit and spread over thin cuts of meat and leave for a few hours before grilling.
The ubiquitous Filipino citrus, calamansi lime, is a key ingredient in the Filipino-style steak called bistek Tagalog. Though bistek is traditionally pan-fried, there’s no reason why you can’t use the same marinade of soy sauce and calamansi juice for steak on the grill. This Indonesian grilled chicken recipe ayam bakar kecap uses makrut/lime leaf and if available, my mom likes to throw in the juice and rind too. The result is magical!
My only advice: don’t marinate meat in a citrus marinade for too long or the acid will break down the fibers in the meat and change its texture.
Indian tandoori chicken is the perfect example of a tender, flavorful meat borne of a yogurt marinade. The meat will literally fall off the bone. The combo of acid and calcium in yogurt activates enzymes to help break down protein in meats.
4. Soy sauce or fish sauce
Instead of salt or brine, try using soy sauce or fish sauce–they add flavor and saltiness, as well as tenderize your meat. Flank steak is delicious marinated in soy sauce, lemon juice and brown sugar. Vietnamese grilled pork (thit nuong) is a tasty concoction of fish sauce, lemongrass and sugar.
Okay, so soda may not be a traditional Asian ingredient but colas and lemon lime sodas (try a brand containing real sugar not high fructose corn syrup) make for excellent grilled meats like Korean bulgogi. This Filipino barbecue marinade for pork or chicken skewers uses cola, orange jucie and lemon juice. The acid in sodas tenderizes the meat and the sugar adds sweetness.
If you have a secret ingredient or technique that’s not on this list, please add it in the comments section below!