All in the Marinade…but Keeping it Simple

Rachel Ray has some great ideas, and her cooking is wonderful for busy moms. I have her 30 Minute Meals 2 and there’s one recipe that I use all the time. But I confess, I’m not faithful to the intent of the recipe. I use her No-Mystery Marinade for our summertime grilling. The Basic Marinade can be used for filet mignon, strip steaks, chicken breasts (and thighs), pork chops and portobello mushroom caps…but mostly, I use it on chicken thighs. I prefer to use all natural or organic meats, and thighs cost a little less than breasts most of the time.

Marinated No-Mystery Meats Recipe:
Basic Marinade:

  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves, a few sprigs
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley leaves, half a palm full

One recipe will cover:

  • 4 to 6 (1-inch) thick beef tournedos (filet steaks), 6 ounces each
  • 4 strip steaks, 12 ounces each
  • 4 pieces boneless skinless chicken breast, 6 to 8 ounces each
  • 4 center cut pork loin chops, 8 ounces each, 1 inch thick

Combine marinade ingredients in the bottom of a shallow dish. Season meat of choice with salt and pepper and set meat into marinade and turn to coat. Allow meat to hang out 10 minutes.

In 30 minutes or less, I can have a meal of chicken breasts or thighs on the grill. Take a large (gallon) size Ziploc bag and fill it with the ingredients of the marinade. By now all I do is drizzle in the red wine vinegar, add some glugs of olive oil, add salt, pepper, thyme, parsley, minced garlic, some red pepper flakes, swirl around a bit and add the meat. In 15 minutes the meat is ready to be grilled.

This recipe has been a lifesaver for us. I’ve made it for guests and during trips away from home. I can’t always trust ready-made marinades, or homemade mixtures. Soy sauce is a common ingredient, and it contains wheat starch. This is a quick meal I can make when I need some alternative safe foods for my son.

On the subject of marinade, do you ever plan on grilling and realize you didn’t allow time to marinade? Some recipes call for overnight marinating. I just recently read a Q&A in the August Issue of Cuisine At Home that boosted my spirits! Is the writer secretly trying to help out busy moms who want to cook good meals?

Too Much of a Good thing
Is it possible to keep meat in a marinade for too long?

Yes, contrary to popular belief, a marinade’s primary purpose is to add flavor to meat, not tenderize. It’s true that acids in marinades (wine, vinegar, citrus juice, yogurt, etc.) cause meat proteins to break down. But the acids penetrate only about 1/4″ deep, no matter how long the meat is soaked. And at a certain point, the proteins will break down so far that they lose a great deal of texture, causing the meat to become dry and mealy.

So how long should something be marinated? In general, an hour is plenty for beef, pork and lamb; 30 minutes for chicken. Because fish and seafood are more delicate, it’s best to marinate them just 15-30 minutes. Any longer and the acid in the marinade will “cook” the fish, turning it rubbery.

What a relief! So, even in the afternoon if I come home with groceries and decide the fate of a cut of meat is going on the grill, I still have time to marinade AND cook. Woohoo!