28 November 2005

How to freeze meat

In the third of this series of articles on freezing foods, we take a look at the freezing of meat and poultry based on "The South African Deep Freeze Book" by Alice Theron.

In the third of this series of articles on freezing foods, we take a look at the freezing of meat and poultry based on "The South African Deep Freeze Book" by Alice Theron.

An economic proposition
Most of you probably already use deep freezes to preserve and store meat. Then there are the pronounced savings one can make by buying meat in bulk, for example half or quarter of a beef carcass, or half a lamb or pig. The only restriction to this type of economy is the size of your freezer.

Most butchers offer considerable reductions in the price of meat bought in bulk and will also help you pack the cuts in specified portions ready to be frozen. So if you have a large family, a large freezer and need to economise, buying meat in bulk and freezing it is an excellent proposition.

Things to keep in mind
Once meat is frozen, it is in a state of suspended animation. This means that ripening processes that soften the meat will no longer take place. It is, therefore, essential to make sure that the meat you buy for freezing has already been matured.

There is nothing more distressing than to buy half a beef carcass and to discover that every one of the cuts you defrost are as tough as old leather. This is a total waste of money. So discuss your plans to freeze meat bought in bulk with your butcher and make quite sure that the meat has been well matured before you purchase and freeze it.

Otherwise you will have to mature the meat yourself. Theron recommends that mutton should be hung overnight at room temperature in summer and for 24 hours in winter. Store raw beef or mutton in your fridge for 24 hours after purchasing if it is not matured. Pork should not be matured at home. Get the butcher to do this for you as he has adequate cold storage facilities. Liver, kidneys and offal should not be matured, but frozen immediately.

When purchasing poultry for freezing, either buy frozen chickens, turkey and other poultry, or freeze raw poultry as soon as you get home. Check that the frozen poultry does not contain too much frozen water - you are paying for the meat, not the frozen water.

Things to avoid
The following are no-nos when freezing meat:

  • Do not freeze meat in very large portions, i.e. half a sheep or pig should not be frozen in one piece (divide steaks and chops with pieces of cling wrap and don't freeze more than 4-6 in a packet; also divide mince and sausage into smaller portions for freezing; legs of lamb or pork can be frozen whole).
  • Never freeze meat without a covering – this not only causes so-called 'freezer-burn', which discolours the meat badly, but also detracts from the flavour.
  • Never freeze meat while it is warm – it must be completely cold before it is packed.
  • Never re-freeze meat or poultry, which has been frozen and completely thawed – this can lead to food poisoning. Rather cook the thawed meat or poultry and then freeze it again.
  • Do not re-freeze cooked meat that has been frozen and thawed completely. Cook the meat again thoroughly and then re-freeze (this is probably not a good idea as the meat will be highly overcooked by this process, but it can be used in emergencies).

Thawing meat
When thawing meat, you can either leave the frozen meat in the fridge overnight, which should thaw it by morning, or leave it outside for the necessary period (but as this can be a problem during the hot summer months, the first method is preferred).

However, Theron points out that there is no reason why you cannot use frozen meat for cooking without thawing it. She correctly points out that when you thaw meat, it tends to lose a lot of blood, which means you lose a lot of flavour and nutrients.

According to Ms Theron, you can take frozen meat straight out of the freezer and cook it, e.g. roast legs of lamb or pork. Just allow an additional half hour for cooking time.

Chops, ribs, steaks, sausage and meat patties should be packed individually with pieces of cling wrap between them so that you don’t have to thaw them completely before cooking. If these meat items are not separated by cling wrap you won't be able to prise them apart for cooking and will have to thaw them completely, thus losing flavour and nutrient value.

If you choose to thaw or defrost meat in the microwave, be careful not to heat the meat at too high a temperature or for too long as the meat will discolour and the cooking process will begin. Rather use the 'Defrost' setting and check every 30 seconds to see whether the meat is not starting to cook and turn grey.

Use polythene freezer bags, or Ziplock bags, to pack meat in portions as required, e.g. four chops or 500 g of sausage or mince. Pack steaks, chops, ribs, meat patties, sosaties and sausage with inter-leaved plastic wrap to make it easy to separate portions without having to thaw completely.

Expel all the air from the bag, either by squeezing or sucking out the air with a drinking straw. Seal carefully and mark the bag with an indelible marker to make recognition easy, i.e. the type of meat (beef, lamb, pork), the cut (steaks, chops, roast) and the date.

Do not freeze meat for longer than six months as the fat can develop a rancid taste and the general appearance of the meat deteriorates with prolonged freezing. Liver, kidneys and offal should not be frozen for longer than three months.

Freezing cooked meat dishes
Cooked meat dishes freeze well and preparing ahead can save you time and effort. For example, if you make a meat lasagne you can prepare it days ahead, freeze it and then just reheat when you require the dish.

Make sure that all cooked meat dishes (lasagne, cottage pie, meat roll, chicken pie, venison pie) are cold (store in fridge) before you freeze them to prevent growth of harmful organisms that may cause food poisoning. Seal dishes carefully with cling wrap, excluding as much air as possible. And remember to mark the meat before you freeze it.

Freezing meat can not only save you money, but also ensure that you always have meat handy when you need it. – (Dr Ingrid van Heerden, DietDoc)

(Reference: Theron, Alice (1970). The South African Deep Freeze Book, Howard Timmins, Cape Town)


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