A marinade is a savory, acidic sauce in which a food is soaked to enrich its flavor and tenderize it. To marinate means to steep food in a marinade. When meat is properly marinated, a tender meat bursting with flavor will emerge. Consider these tips.
• A marinade consists of acid, oil and spices or flavorings. The acid works to soften and flavor the meat by denaturing it. When the proteins are denatured, they create pockets in the meat where flavor enters. Acids also can help soften tough cuts of meat. Acids commonly used include vinegar, tomato juice or citrus juice. Oils moisten the meat and add flavor. Red meat marinades often don’t include oil since the meat generally contains enough fat, however chicken and fish benefit from oil since they are leaner meats. Flavorings include fresh or dried herbs and spices, fresh garlic and ginger, salt, sweeteners such as molasses and honey and Asian sauces.
• When marinating, allow the sauce to sink as deeply as possible into the meat. A general rule of marinade-to-meat ratio is one-half cup of marinade per pound of meat. Times vary depending on the type, cut and size of the meat. Denser meats such as pork and steak can marinate for 24 hours or even longer. A lighter meat like chicken can marinate between 2 hours and 24 hours. Seafood marinating times range from 15 to 60 minutes. Be careful not to exceed marinating time since allowing food to soak too long can result in toughness.
• A marinade should be thin enough in consistency to penetrate the meat; otherwise, the flavor desired will not be reached. Keep in mind that there is a difference between sauces and marinades.
• Marinating budget cuts of meat helps improve tenderness and flavor. A high-quality cut of meat does not need to be marinated for tenderness, but can benefit from increased flavor. Much of the beef, pork, lamb and poultry are bred leaner today. Marinades aid in tenderizing these meats.
• Do not marinate in a metal container since the acidic mixture can react with the metal. Use a plastic or glass container and cover with plastic food wrap. Turn meat occasionally so all sides are coated evenly with the marinade. Another option is to place the meat in a plastic food bag, pour in the marinade, seal and refrigerate. Turn the bag from time to time.
• For safety, marinate meat in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter. Some older recipes call for marinating at room temperature. Do not follow this practice. Marinating at room temperature causes meat to enter the danger zone, between 40 F and 140 F, where bacteria multiply rapidly. When a recipe calls for marinating at room temperature, increase the marinating time, and leave in the refrigerator to achieve similar tenderness and taste results. Place marinating meat on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to prevent any possible leaks onto foods below.
• Never serve cooked meat on the same plate that held raw meat. Bacteria in the raw juices can transfer to the cooked food. If using marinade for basting, prevent contamination by setting some aside before it touches the raw meat. If it has touched raw meat, bring it to a rolling boil in a sauce pan for one minute, stirring constantly, before using it for basting.
• Use a meat thermometer to determine if meat is done. The USDA recommends the following minimum internal temperatures: steak, roast and fish, 145 F; pork, ground beef and egg dishes, 160 F; chicken breasts and whole poultry, 165 F.

By: Darlene Christensen - Jul. 2, 2011