So, you've decided to serve pork. Good decision -- after all, it's lean, tasty, and in the right hands, it offers a quick, simple answer to the dinner bell. But long before the table is set, first on your mind should be the best way to get the maximum amount of flavor from your cut. There are many ways to do this, from the cooking method to the wine pairing, but the most efficient and -- let's face it -- the most fun, is the marinade.
Selecting the right marinade can be tricky, and weighing taste against nutritional merit can complicate the process even further. Bottled marinades come in a staggering variety of flavors, but they often contain unnecessary preservatives, sugar and sodium that you can avoid by making your own. In this article, we'll discuss five healthy pork marinades to help you add flavor to pork without pigging out on the bad stuff.
Oil-based marinades are the most ubiquitous when it comes to day-to-day preparation of meats. This is because they are ideally suited for preserving or adding moisture during the cooking process, a top priority for most casual chefs. They also promote even distribution of flavor by preventing herbs and spices from settling, and they give meat that scrumptious, glossy sheen. You can keep it simple by adding just and pepper to the oil marinade, or spice it up with minced garlic or fresh herbs.
Olive oil and sesame oil are both great for pork marinades. Each one packs loads of flavor and nutrients, and as little as half a cup is all you need for two hearty tenderloins. Sesame oil is rich in powerful antioxidants and vitamin E. Olive oil is the leader among natural oils for providing monounsaturated fatty acids and helping keep LDL (bad) cholesterol levels down while raising HDL (good) cholesterol.
And thanks to the natural flavor, you can skip popular ingredients such as sugar or molasses that would add unnecessary calories.
Where oil-based marinades enhance moisture, the acidic properties of orange juice, lemon juice, lime juice and other citrus fruits can be used in marinades to tenderize meat and add a natural, sweet flavor. Citrus-based marinades are popular because of the exotic and refreshing flavors they offer. And striking just the right balance between the sweetness of the fruit and the savory meat is a challenge that adventurous cooks may welcome.
Citrus-based marinades are inherently healthy since these fruits are loaded with vitamin C, and many are naturally sweet, eliminating the need for refined sugar or other sweeteners. As healthy as citrus is because of what it has, it's also a pretty smart choice for what it lacks: cholesterol, sodium and fat. And you can avoid processed ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and preservatives by preparing them yourself rather than buying them in bottles or packages.
People have been cooking with wine for almost as long as they've been drinking it, and for good reason. The spectrum of flavors wine provides is vast, and using it for marinating pork can be as healthy as it is delicious. Like citrus, wine is acidic and will tenderize the meat as well as enhance its flavor. This keeps the ingredients list simple since you have one element doing the work of two. You could easily add in some garlic or fresh herbs to enhance the flavor, but using just the wine and some salt and pepper will also do the trick.
When using wine, it's best to keep the shade of the meat and the shade of the wine in the same neighborhood. Red wines generally pair well with dark meats like steak, lamb or duck, while pork is best marinated in white wine. And even though wine can be high in calories, just a little bit can go a long way. Most of the calories come from the alcohol, which you can reduce by bringing the marinade to a boil (alcohol begins to evaporate at 178 degrees Fahrenheit).
When chefs are ready to take their meat creations the next level, they'll usually start with a rub. Instead of soaking the pork like a marinade, just apply the rub directly to the meat. This takes a little more patience and care than a traditional marinade since everything you put in the rub goes directly onto the meat, and therefore, your plate. So each herb and spice, every tablespoon of oil, and pinch of salt or sugar needs to be considered carefully.
Wet rubs are a good transition between traditional soaking marinades and dry rubs, which we'll discuss in the next section. They're usually thick and stick to the meat, providing an even coating around the cut. This gives you more control over the taste because the rub can be applied in large or small amounts as needed.
Spicy mustard is a great wet rub base because it's low-calorie and packs a robust flavor. You could also add a light vinegar or mix in some honey to sweeten the mustard's kick. Avoid barbecue sauces and ketchup in rubs because the flavor benefits usually don't outweigh the sugar, sodium or preservatives they contain.
Dry rubs are generally the domain of experienced cooks who favor slow, methodical cooking over speed, and they're usually reserved for meat prepared on the grill. But they are also the simplest recipes, and with just a few ingredients, you can create a savory, healthful rub.
Onion powder, chili powder, basil and paprika are all great ways to season your rub. Just a pinch of any of these ingredients carries enormous flavor and is ultra-low in calories. Cayenne pepper, for example, offers a savory, intense heat and loads of nutritional benefits, including vitamin A and beta carotene. It's also known to boost immunity and help lower cholesterol, all without a single calorie or gram of fat.
Brown sugar is a common base for dry rubs used for pork because of the sweet, aromatic flavors it produces when cooked slowly over low heat. But the high number of calories means it's not the best choice to use on an otherwise healthy cut of lean pork.
Regardless of which style you prefer, with just a few adjustments, you can create a healthful marinade that will power up the flavor in your pork dishes all summer long.
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