Marinating pork chops can add flavor while enhancing tenderness. While marinades vary widely in taste, most contain an acidic liquid, like fruit juice, wine or vinegar, some aromatic vegetables or herbs, and a little fat in the form of oil. Although its balance of ingredients is slightly different, salad dressing can be used to marinate pork chops or other lean cuts of meat.
What Marinades Do Well
Marinating pork chops primarily adds flavor. The acid in a marinade will have a tissue-softening effect on the meat, but this effect is primarily confined to areas within a fraction of an inch of the surface. This is why some recipes that use marinades recommend cutting meat or poultry into small pieces, increasing the impact of the marinade by increasing the total amount of surface it can reach. The flavors of aromatic vegetables and herbs tend to be water-soluble, oil-soluble or both, giving them more authority in a marinade than in dry roasting or grilling. The oil in the marinade adds succulence and encourages browning in lean meat.
Marinades May Over-Tenderize
Although the interaction between fruit or vegetable acids, enzymes and meat tissues can soften tissue, prolonged exposure can make meat proteins mushy rather than tender. Like brining, marinating relies on the exchange of meat juices for other ingredients at the cellular level, a scientific process known as osmosis. Brief exposure to a marinating liquid can produce surface tenderness, but the tissue changes related to long exposure can sometimes increase toughness. According to food writer Shirley Cohirer, buttermilk- or yogurt-based marinades are the only varieties that may make meat more tender because of their low acidity. Cooks may disagree on the strength of marinade or exposure time involved, but in general marinades are no longer touted as excellent tenderizers for meat, and increasingly recipes recommend marinating times as brief as 30 minutes.
Why Marinate Pork Chops
Once produced with abundant fat, pork chops and other cuts of pork now benefit from marinating for two reasons. One involves tradition; especially in Mediterranean, Asian and Caribbean cuisines, the mild flavor of pork is enhanced by flavors like soy, citrus and spices. The second reason relates to changes in U.S. pork production since the early 1990s. Overall fat content has diminished by 16 percent since 1991, and saturated-fat content been reduced by has by 27 percent. Six readily-available cuts of pork, among them loin roasts and chops, now meet or exceed U.S. Department of Agriculture standards for lean meat, which are 10 grams fat, 4.5 grams saturated fat and 95 milligrams cholesterol. Like skinless poultry and lean beef cuts, pork chops benefit from healthy fats that encourage a seared, browned surface to retain moisture and tenderness.
Marinating with Salad Dressings
Both regular and low-fat salad dressings make good marinades for pork chops. Fat-free dressings can be used to enhance flavor, but will not enhance browning. Like a low-acid dairy-based marinade, buttermilk- or yogurt-based salad dressings may tenderize as well as add flavor. Experiment with marinating times, from 1/2 hour to an hour or more, until your dressing produces the flavor intensity you like.
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