While marinades are brilliant at turning cuts of meat that can often dry out when cooked into flavorful, moist meals, it's easy to forget to plan ahead and get that meat into a marinade well before you're ready to cook it. Enter: the freezer marinade, when you bring that meat home from the grocery store toss it in a marinade first and freeze it right in it. It will absorb the marinade whenever you decide to thaw it, and then all you have to do is bake, sauté, or grill it. This is a weeknight dinner game-changer.
How to Use Freezer Marinades
This seriously couldn't be easier. Just combine your marinade ingredients in a zip-top freezer bag, add the raw chicken or pork, seal it, squish things around a bit to coat the meat, and then toss the bag in the freezer. The marinated meat will keep well there for up to nine months.
When you want to us the meat, thaw the meat overnight in the fridge and cook it however you prefer — baking or grilling both work well. You won't have to tack on extra cooking time for marinated meat — just follow your preferred method and use an instant-read thermometer to check for doneness. When inserted into the thickest part of the meat, it should register 165°F for chicken and 145°F for pork.
The Formula: Meat + Marinade + Cook It Your Way
These five marinades are measured out for 1/2 pound (8 ounces) of boneless, skinless chicken breast or pork tenderloin. That's roughly one serving of meat. Scale up as needed to feed your crowd.
1. Maple Mustard
Tangy mustard and sweet maple syrup make for a balanced marinade that's tart and sweet. Combine 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard with 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, 1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, and a big pinch of salt. Serve the meat with mashed potatoes and roasted broccoli to make it a meal.
2. Lemon Pesto
Pesto can be a whole lot more than an easy sauce for pasta. As a base of a marinade it delivers an herby, garlicky punch to the meat — a little bit of lemon juice added to it gives it tang. Just mix 3 tablespoons of store-bought basil pesto with 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1/2 tablespoon olive oil, and a big pinch of salt. The meat becomes a simple, Italian-slanted meal when served alongside a caprese salad — and any leftovers are great tucked into a sandwich the next day.
3. Chili Garlic
Give your chicken or pork a hot kick by bolstering a marinade with fiery sambal oelek or Asian chili-garlic sauce, and then tame the heat by serving the cooked meat over rice. Combine 3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce with 1/2 tablespoon grated or minced fresh ginger, 1 tablespoon sambal oelek or Asian chili-garlic sauce, and 1/2 tablespoon Asian sesame oil. The spicy meat is great over sesame noodles (or these cucumber noodles, if you want to keep things gluten-free).
4. Yogurt Garam Masala
Yogurt makes for an incredible base for a marinade, as it tenderizes the meat. And the Indian spice blend garam masala (which contains cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, cumin, coriander, nutmeg, and peppercorns) lends a warm, aromatic touch. Stir together 1/4 cup whole-milk yogurt with 1 teaspoon garam masala, 1/2 tablespoon olive oil, and a big pinch of salt. Serve the meat with naan and something green, like these Kerala spiced peas.
5. Sweet and Sour
Forget calling your favorite Chinese restaurant for a takeout order of sweet and sour chicken or pork and make an easy version at home instead. Just mix together 2 tablespoons pineapple juice with 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, and 2 teaspoons soy sauce. Then serve the meat over cooked rice and grab the chopsticks.