As the primary ingredient in a marinade or basting sauce, apple cider imparts a subtly spicy flavor and also moistens meat. It is best to use cider with types of meat that you might otherwise cook with apples, such as pork, chicken and turkey. Consider the piquant and fruity flavors of cider when you season the meat. Apple cider generally contains cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and orange zest.
Apple Cider vs. Apple Cider Vinegar
There are two kinds of fruits that have the power to tenderize raw meat: highly acidic citrus fruits and enzymatic fruits such as raw pineapple, kiwi, papaya and figs. Apples do not contain enough acid to tenderize meat, nor do they contain protein-softening enzymes. But apple cider vinegar is acidic enough to denature and tenderize proteins. If you substitute apple cider vinegar for plain cider, do not marinate the meat for more than two hours. Acid eventually denatures proteins too much, making them even tighter than they were originally.
Marinades Add Subtle Flavor
Proteins that are moist and juicy are ultimately more succulent. While apple cider is not a tenderizer, it can protect meat’s natural tenderness by infusing the flesh with more moisture. The most important thing you can accomplish with an apple cider marinade is imparting the subtle, spicy taste of cider to the meat. Some moisture ultimately cooks out of the meat, but flavor concentrates during cooking. An apple cider marinade ultimately imparts a subtle flavor near the surface of the meat and helps keep the proteins juicy.
Brines Impart Moderate Moisture
The most effective way to boost meat’s moisture content is to brine it. A brine is a seasoned, water-based marinade packed with brown sugar and salt, but you can substitute a nonacidic liquid, such as apple cider, for some of the water. The brine's salt draws the meat’s natural moisture out. To compensate, the proteins absorb brine to replace the lost moisture, ultimately drawing in more liquid than they lost. The flavor and juiciness that an apple cider brine imparts are more intense than the qualities of a traditional marinade. Typically, solutions that contain 1/2 cup of salt to 1 quart of liquid are the most effective brines for pork and poultry. Soak poultry for two to four hours; soak pork for four to six hours. Rinse excess brine off meat before cooking.
Baste for Intense Flavor
Basting meat with an apple cider-based sauce -- or plain cider -- is the most effective way to impart robust flavor. This method works particularly well if you are roasting the meat in the oven or on the grill. As you apply thin layers of sauce or cider to the meat while it cooks, the sugars in the cider caramelize, creating a thin glaze on the surface of the meat. If you baste at frequent, consistent intervals, the layers of glaze are collectively as thick as a light sauce, but they have a highly concentrated flavor. A glaze seals some of the meat’s natural juices in as well, which promotes tenderness.
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