by Lynn Kerrigan
Depending on where you live and what the weather was like, you may have already hosted your first cookout. Grilling outdoors is so popular it's even done when snow dusts the ground and icicles hang gracefully from roof eaves. Steak, chicken, hamburger and vegetables lead the roster of foods that make great grilling companions but it's the marinade that often makes meals memorable. These nifty sauces help the grill-meister add tantalizing flavors and tenderize outdoor cuisine. Marinades (sauces in which meat is soaked to soften and flavor it) are marvelous for turning an ordinary steak or breast of chicken into an extraordinary meal.
There are a few simple rules for making great marinades so creating your own "house" blend is fairly simple. The basic ingredients are those normally stocked in most home pantries and because they are inexpensive you needn't worry about spending too much by experimenting.
Herbs and spices are combined with tenderizing ingredients such as lemon juice to give marinades their hearty flavor.
But for tenderizing tough cuts of meat it's the base that counts. The role of the acid is to "break-down" long protein strands—the part of the meat that causes it to be tough.
Start with an acidic base like vinegar. Fruit juice, milk, buttermilk and wine may also serve as a marinade's base. Vinaigrette penetrates meat fibers particularly well.
The addition of oils to marinades also aids penetration of the acid. Look for oils listing "emulsifiers" in the ingredients, as these appear to penetrate deeper into the meat making a better marinade. Emulsifiers may be listed as monoglyceride, diglyceride or Polysorbate 80. These are natural substances and not considered harmful additives.
Never use a marinade that's been used to tenderize and flavor raw meat until you boil it first. This will kill any bacteria it may contain.
All About Grilling (with Recipes)
Lynn Kerrigan's Culinary Sleuth Archive (1998-2001)
This page modified February 2007
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