There are lots of ways to add flavor to your meals, but some are more convenient than others. For example, marinating pork chops or other cuts of meat takes just a few minutes of prep, then you can go on with your day as the chops gain flavor in the refrigerator. When mealtime rolls around, either drain the marinade or not, depending on how you're planning to cook the chops.
Marinades usually combine an acidic ingredient -- such as wine, vinegar, buttermilk or yogurt -- with spices, herbs and salt or sugar. The salt or sugar helps your chops absorb the flavors of the other ingredients, and the acidic ingredient weakens the protein strands in the meat. Theoretically, that provides a degree of tenderizing, although you'd have to cut the pieces very small to get any noticeable effect. With pork chops, you're mainly going to benefit from the flavor. A strongly flavored marinade might only have to stay on the chops for a half-hour to an hour, or you can use milder marinades overnight in the refrigerator.
If you're going to grill, broil or pan-sear your chops, drain the marinade before cooking. These high-heat cooking techniques get their savory flavors from browning, and the liquid marinade will slow that process. Your chops won't brown properly until the marinade boils away, and then you run the risk of overcooking them. It's best to pat the chops dry on several thicknesses of paper towel, then cook them.
If you're going to bake, braise or slow-cook the chops, that changes things. Your marinade can become the cooking liquid, turning it into a rich sauce for the chops. Arrange the chops in your slow-cooker or casserole dish, then pour the marinade over them. For added flavor, pat the chops dry and sear them first in a pan. Bake the chops until they're fully cooked, or simmer them in your slow-cooker until they're falling-apart tender. Strain the marinade and thicken it -- either with flour or cornstarch or by simmering it until it thickens on its own -- then spoon it over your chops.
Food safety is essential when you're working with a marinade. Always marinate your chops in the refrigerator -- not at room temperature -- so they stay food safe as they gain flavor. Never reuse the same marinade for a second set of chops. If you're going to cook in the marinade, it needs to come to a complete boil to be food safe. You can make sure it's safe by boiling the marinade separately, then adding the chops. You can also boil the marinade, then brush it onto broiled or grilled chops as a sauce.
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- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
- USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service: Fresh Pork from Farm to Table
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.