Pour It On  

Marinades are no-fuss methods to inject your food with flavor, tenderize even the most inexpensive cut and help seal in the moisture. 

And, it gets better. You don't have to do any work. Well hardly any - you just pour it on and put it in the fridge. A couple of hours later, the meat or poultry is ready to cook. Marinades are great for seafood too; and the infusion process is even quicker. 

There are three parts to any marinade: acid, oil and flavorings. Here's how they work. The acid (commonly citrus juice, wine, soy sauce, vinegar or buttermilk) is a tenderizing agent. The oil (usually olive oil) is a moisturizer. And finally, ingredients such as herbs, onions, garlic, salt, pepper and sugar add flavor.

How long you marinade, or immerse, the meat, poultry or seafood depends on how large it is, how tough it is and how much flavor you want to infuse. Don't worry, it isn't as complicated as it sounds.

You'll need to use about a ½ cup of marinade per pound. Use a glass or ceramic dish (which you'll have to cover with a lid or plastic wrap while in the fridge), or my favorite - a one-gallon plastic freezer bag with a zip lock. It helps to occasionally move the meat around to ensure all parts of it get marinated. Here are a few broad guidelines on how long the process will take.

5 lb. beef roast 12-24 hours
3 lb. pork loin 8-12 hours
4 chicken breasts 1-4 hours
1 lb. large shrimp 20 minutes

This involves a bit of planning to ensure the meat is thawed before you add the marinade. The results you'll taste are worth it. If you're making the beef roast, pour the marinade over the day before. Immerse the pork loin before you go to bed at night or when you get up in the morning. Pour the marinade over the chicken breasts when you get home from work. And 20 minutes for seafood - well, just make sure you don't over marinade.

As with any meat or poultry, remove it from the fridge about 45 minutes before you plan to start cooking. This will bring it up to room temperature - something recipes assume when they give you a roasting or cooking time. (Word of caution: don't reuse the marinade. Toss out what you don't use in finishing the dish.)

Most grocery stores sell items which have already been marinated. They're right in the meat case. You just take them home and cook. The problem is that the store charges a premium price - usually several dollars extra per pound. 

Walk down the condiment aisle and you'll find shelves full of choices. There will be bottle after bottle of marinades and vinaigrettes clamoring for your shopping dollar. The prices will vary from about $1.79 for a house brand (Italian salad dressing will do in a pinch) to $4.50 for a celebrity chef's line. All in all, a much better deal and you'll probably have enough left in the jar to make a second dish.

Want to be frugal? Chances are you're going to have all the ingredients that you'll need right in your pantry. The cost is negligible. Basic cookbooks such as
The Joy of Cooking offer good recipes to get you started. Or, online visit Star Chefs for another wonderful collection of marinade recipes.

Marinating creates tender, moist and tasty dishes. And the $10 you save by mixing your own marinade, just so happens to be about the cost of a nice bottle of wine to go with your meal. Even better, use a splash of the wine as the acid in the marinade. It will bring the meal together and impress everyone.