Grilled, fried, or baked, there are dozens of ways to prepare chicken. Cooks like it because it’s healthier than most red meat, as well as less expensive to boot. Marinating chicken is one way to infuse the meat with rich flavor while simultaneously tenderizing, and nothing beats a good soy chicken marinade. The best versions use the right type of soy sauce for the dish and create dimensional flavor with citrus or vinegar, garlic, ginger, or other additions.
Westerners might think that all soy sauces are the same, when in fact, there’s a wide range of variations. Lighter versions are used for seasoning at the table, while dark soy sauce has aged longer and developed a sweeter, less salty personality. Mushroom dark soy sauce has an even deeper taste. Japanese soy sauces include those made with wheat and without, while Indonesian sauces range in terms of salty and sweet flavors as well as in thickness. The best soy sauce to use in a chicken marinade is largely a matter of taste.
A very simple soy chicken marinade combines soy sauce with a little olive oil and some minced or crushed garlic. To add a bright note, many cooks squirt in a little lemon juice. Lime juice can be used to change up the flavor a tad.
From this base, almost anything goes. Minced ginger adds sparkle, and cilantro or basil both work well as herbal notes. A little dried or jarred mustard is a fine way to add perkiness. Either stone ground or yellow mustard can be used, depending upon the cook’s taste and what’s available.
For a tangier soy chicken marinade, a splash of either rice vinegar or red wine vinegar works well. This version can be grounded with a good dose of steak sauce to keep the vinegar from overwhelming the other ingredients. A dollop of ketchup instead of the steak sauce is another option.
Putting an elegant spin of soy chicken marinade is accomplished with a splash of white wine or champagne to the basic recipe. This version doesn’t want or need much else besides a little garlic, some lemon, and perhaps some ginger. Herbs, of course, are welcome as well.
Chicken contains less connective tissue than beef and most cuts of pork, which means less time is required to properly marinate the meat. Marinades work by breaking down connective tissue and partially cooking meat with their acidic ingredients. If chicken, especially breast meat, sits in marinade for more than a few hours, the texture can be compromised.