Whether you are cooking lamb chops or leg of lamb, a marinade can help lamb retain moisture and give it additional flavor. You can give your lamb a Mediterranean flare by letting it soak up a yogurt-based marinade, or choose a tangy barbecue marinade if you plan on grilling. The difference in how long you marinate will depend on the type of marinade you choose and your personal tastes.
Parts of a Marinade
Before knowing how long to marinate your lamb, you should know what type of marinade you want to use. The function of a marinade is different, depending on the ingredients the recipe calls for. The three parts of a marinade are acid, oil and spices.The amounts used for each of these depend on what you are trying to achieve with your marinade. For example, if you are wanting to make your cut of lamb more tender, then you will want to use a marinade that has a high acidic value. These include vinegars, fruits and even yogurt. Oils will be used for moisture quality and will also help the seasonings spread evenly over the lamb. The spices simply add the desired flavor.
The length of time for marinating the lamb will vary depending on your type of marinade. If you pick a marinade that has a high level of acidity, you will want to be careful about marinating too long. The acidic content in ingredients such as lemon juice and vinegar can break down the lamb, and it may make it become too soft and turn gray. Yogurt is a commonly used ingredient in lamb marinades, but remember that dairy products can contain similar qualities to highly acidic ingredients. However, for most marinade recipes, you can marinate your cut of lamb overnight or up to 24 hours. Remember that this is a personal preference as well. Some chefs feel that more than a couple hours will mask the lamb's natural flavors, whereas others feel the longer, the better.
Other Considerations for Marinating
A marinade can also add flavor to the lamb only during the cooking process. For example, you can brush the marinade onto the lamb while it is barbecuing. If you are roasting the lamb, cook it in the marinade sauce and occasionally baste the lamb while it is roasting. If you have chosen to let the lamb soak in the marinade while it was raw, never re-use the same marinade during the cooking process. Since the raw lamb has come in contact with the marinade, it is no longer safe and should be thrown out.
Whether you chose to leave your lamb in the marinade for half an hour or overnight, you will need to store your lamb in the refrigerator. Never leave your lamb sitting in a marinade on the counter, since it should always be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Make sure that every part of the lamb is soaked in the marinade. To achieve this, place the lamb in a plastic freezer bag and remove any excess air. Shake the bag to evenly coat the lamb. Periodically check the lamb in the refrigerator to make sure it is not overmarinating.