Before you make that marinade a sauce, read this.

By Kimberly Holland
July 09, 2020
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A good chicken marinade can turn a basic breast into magnificent dinner. A great steak marinade might be enough to convince you that you never need to visit a steakhouse ever again. You can even make roasted or grilled veggies into a kid-favorite side dish with a flavorful marinade.

Marinades are a simple, easy, and mostly-hands-off way to add flavor to proteins and vegetables of all sorts. These solutions also have the added benefit of increasing tenderness and improving texture.

Take, for example, chicken marinades. Chicken breast can be tough and chewy, but a simple chicken marinade recipe has the solution to that in its ingredients: acid. Most marinades are made up of three parts, oil, acid, and spices. The acid may be vinegar, wine, or citrus juices. The acidic ingredients in a marinade break down the tough chicken fibers and help tenderize them. They also help the meat hold onto moisture during the cooking process. The end result? A flavorful, incredibly juicy chicken breast.

But marinades can seem like a lot of waste, too. After all, you're putting several ingredients into something that's just going into the trash after an hour or two. Is that really all a marinade can do?

In fact, it's not. A marinade can be used again as a sauce for your meat, tofu, or vegetable. But it's not as simple as reusing the marinade after you've removed the meat.

During the marinating process, problematic pathogens that could make you and your dinner guests terribly sick may have transferred into that marinade, so it's not safe to eat as is. You'll need to cook it first to eliminate bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli. Then — and only then — is it safe to reuse as a sauce or glaze.

So before you go lathering on the leftover marinade, you'll need to take these steps:

  1. Remove all meat from the marinade.
  2. Pour the marinade into a saucepan, and bring it to a boil on the stovetop.
  3. Boil for five minutes.

You can use a food thermometer ($14; Amazon) to make sure your sauce is maintaining boiling temperature (100°C or 212°F). Also, be sure not to use a brush that has touched raw meat with the newly-boiled sauce. Use a separate basting brush, like this $9 OXO Good Grips version that has more than 1,500 five-star ratings. Using separate brushes will guarantee you keep the bacteria from the raw meat away from your new sauce.

Will boiling the marinade change the flavor?

It might. Boiling a marinade for several minutes will certainly reduce the amount of liquid, which could leave the marinade thicker. In some cases, that may be preferable; the thicker sauce can cling to veggies or meat more easily. If the sauce thickens too much, add some chicken or vegetable broth after the five-minute boil.

Does this apply to non-meat marinades?

If you've marinated tofu or vegetables, you don't have the same food safety concerns as you do with a meat marinade. These foods rarely carry pathogens that could make you ill, so feel free to use that leftover marinade as a baste or sauce as is.

However, if the marinade is thin and you'd like to reuse it as a thicker sauce, boiling will help reduce the leftover marinade and concentrate the flavors. Plus, this step doubles as a safety measure.

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