The fat in meat provides moisture and carries the natural flavor. So when using lean cuts, healthy cooks must find other ways to add flavor and tenderness. Marinades can help…without adding a lot of calories and unhealthy fats.
Marinades commonly consist of an acidic ingredient, such as citrus juice, vinegar, wine or yogurt—as well as oil and various seasonings, such as onion, garlic, spices, herbs and soy or Worcestershire sauce. The acidic ingredient tenderizes while the oil adds moisture and helps distribute the various flavorings.
The oil usually makes up less than one-fourth of the total mixture, the acidic component is one-fourth to one-third of the total and the flavorings make up the rest. If the amount of acid is too high or if the meat marinates too long, the acid may toughen the meat or turn it mushy instead of tenderizing it.
The time you should marinate depends on the type and size of the meat and the strength of the acid. Here's a general guide:
- High-acid marinades (made with citrus juice or vinegar): Marinate dense meats like beef or pork roast and large pieces of poultry for 8 hours to overnight. Marinate smaller cuts like chicken breasts, steak and pork chops from 30 minutes to 4 hours. Marinate seafood and cubes of beef, chicken or pork 15 minutes to 2 hours.
- Low-acid marinades (made with wine or dairy products): Meats and seafood may marinate twice as long as the above recommended times…or up to 24 hours. Marinating longer than 24 hours is not advised.
You should use heavy-duty plastic bags or a glass dish for marinating. Do not use aluminum pans. The acid in the marinade can react with the pan and alter the flavor. Using a bag requires less marinade—1/2 to 1 cup of marinade for 1 to 2 pounds of meat. Marinating in a dish requires twice as much and more frequent turning if the meat isn't entirely covered.
These moist grilled Marinated Turkey Tenderloins (shown above right) marinate overnight in a savory teriyaki and soy sauce mixture. "I had used this recipe for years on pork tenderloin and decided to give turkey a try," says Linda Gregg of Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Sweet honey and zippy red pepper flakes accent the herb-enhanced marinade Julie Craghead uses for Maritime Grilled Fish. "It's also good on chicken," Julie writes from Peoria, Illinois.