Marinating and Preparing Food Ahead of Time

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A recent food safety question came to the office regarding prepping foods ahead of time for quick weeknight meals. The question was about combining these ingredients several days ahead of time.

Marinading is the process of soaking meats and vegetables in a seasoned liquid before cooking. They are a great way to add flavor and moisture to foods. Marinades can also help to tenderize a tougher cut of meat. The basic ingredients typically found in a marinade are fat, salt, acid, seasonings, herbs, and sweeteners.

A recent blog post by Casey Collins MPH from our Eat Smart, Move More, Weigh Less team, offered some essential tips for marinating:

Food Safety: Make sure to marinate food in the refrigerator. If the marinade is to be used as a sauce, save fresh marinade that has not touched raw meat in a separate container. If you forget to keep some marinade separate, you can also boil the sauce used to marinate raw meat, which will kill harmful bacteria that could cause illness.

Time: Read the recipe and follow the recommendations for marinade times. Marinating some food too long can result in tough, dry or poor texture. Meat can be marinated for anything from 15 minutes to 24 hours. For example, don’t prepare marinated shrimp or chicken and wait several days to cook it. Vegetables should only be marinated for a short period of time.

Acid: It is important to find the right balance of marinade ingredients. Adding too much acid to a marinade can dry out and toughen meats and seafood.

Sugar: Marinades that contain sweeteners like sugar or honey will burn quicker, so keep an eye on the food while cooking.

You can buy store-bought marinades, but making your own lets you control the ingredients. NC State and the NC Department of Public Health have a healthy eating program called Med Instead of Meds that features the Mediterranean Diet. They offer several healthful recipes on their website that use marinades, so be sure to check out their website.

Here’s a popular (and really easy) one using salmon.

person spoons sauce onto a salmon dish

Honey Balsamic Glazed Salmon

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon capers or coarsely chopped green olives
  • 1 teaspoon fresh chopped rosemary
  • 6 (5-ounce) salmon filets

Directions: Mix all ingredients (except salmon) in a bowl. Place salmon in a baking dish, pour marinade on top, and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 – 60 minutes. Preheat oven to 400º F. Cook salmon for about 15 minutes (until the internal temperature reaches 145ºF).

Serves 6. Serving Size: 1 salmon filet. Nutrition Information per Serving (Based on 1 tablespoon capers) Calories: 207 calories. Carbohydrates: 7 grams. Fiber: 0 grams. Protein: 28 grams. Fat: 5 grams. Sodium: 860 mg.

So, if you’re marinating food several days in advance you may want to get all the ingredients ready ahead and store in the refrigerator, but not combine the marinade with the other foods until closer to the day you’re going to be doing the cooking. Most recipes for marinating meat and poultry recommend six hours up to 24 hours. Marinating times depend upon the type and size of the food. For example:  seafood, vegetables and chicken pieces require less marinating time than whole pieces of meat.

It’s safe to keep the food in the marinade longer, but after two days it is possible that the marinade can start to break down the fibers of the meat causing it to become mushy. A good rule of thumb is to keep marinating time under 24 hours.

We’re planning on offering classes after the first of the year focusing on the Mediterranean diet and the Med instead of Meds series. Watch our website for details about these classes.

Eat Smart, Move More, Weigh Less is an online weight management program  developed by NC State, N.C. Cooperative Extension and the NC Department of Public Health. This program uses strategies proven to work for weight loss and maintenance. Each lesson informs, empowers and motivates participants to live mindfully as they make choices about eating and physical activity. Check out their website for more information!