Marinades: The Busy Cook's Friend
Has this ever happened to you? You are staring at a package of chicken (or perhaps a beef roast, or a pork tenderloin) wondering what to do with it. Whether you decide to grill, roast, or sauté it, marinating will make whatever you are cooking tastier. And, if you follow a few simple rules, you can make sure that your food is safe as well.
The verb "marinate" means to steep food in a marinade. A marinade is a savory acidic sauce in which a food is soaked to enrich its flavor or to tenderize it. The acid in marinades causes meat and poultry tissue to break down. This has a tenderizing effect. The breaking down of the tissue also causes meat and poultry to hold more liquid, making it juicier.
Rules for Marinating Safely
- What containers to use: For easy cleanup, use food-safe plastic bags during storage, and discard the bags after marinating. You may also use food grade plastic, stainless steel, or glass containers to marinate food.
- Where to marinate: Always marinate food in the refrigerator, never on the counter. If you marinate in container, cover the container during storage in the refrigerator.
- Reusing marinade: Never reuse marinade used on raw meat or poultry unless you boil it first to destroy any harmful bacteria. If you plan to use some of the marinade as sauce for the cooked food, your best bet is to reserve a portion of the marinade before putting raw meat and poultry in it.
- Storing marinated food: If things get busy and you end up not cooking the chicken, don’t worry! You can store marinated poultry in your refrigerator for two days. Beef, veal, pork, and lamb roasts, chops, and steaks may be marinated up to 5 days.
- Cook it safely: Be sure to use a food thermometer and cook the meat to a safe minimum internal temperature. Check the Minimum Safe Internal Temperatures Chart to be sure.
You can use an oil and vinegar or Italian-style salad dressing, or make up your own marinade. Mix any good cooking oil with an acid, such as vinegar, lemon juice, or wine. Chop up some fresh herbs or add spices from your pantry. For an Asian marinade, mix soy sauce with oil, chopped onions and garlic.
Let’s say that you’re planning to have boneless skinless chicken breasts for tomorrow night’s dinner. Put it in a plastic zip-top bag (or any food safe container), add the marinade and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. Tomorrow you can cook this chicken any way you wish and it will be juicy and full of flavor.
For more information about marinating, check out these resources: