We tend to take frozen meat for granted in the modern world. We are so used to being able to enjoy meat from far away lands that we have trouble imagining what it was like before frozen foods became widely available. For example, if you lived in Tn., without freezing, chances are you would never get to savor the succulent taste of broiled cod, from the North Atlantic, without having to deal with the salted version (which is OK, but not the same). Likewise, for people in New York to enjoy steak, live cattle would have to be physically marched From Tx., Wy., Ok., and other cattle centers, to railroad stations, transported alive (which requires feeding, housing and other concerns) and butchered locally.
People in frozen lands have long known of the benefits of freezing meat, but only in the 20th century have the benefits been extended to the rest of the world. There were early attempts at transporting frozen meat by sailing ship in the latter part of the 19th century, but the technology for reliable freezing, and maintaining the proper temperatures were unreliable, at best. Widely available frozen meat would have to await the genius of Clarence Birdseye in the 1920s.
Clarence Birdseye was born in Brooklyn, NY. in 1886. He was a taxidermist by trade, and an amateur chef. He was also an avid sportsman, with a passion for hunting and fishing the wonderful wildernesses of Canada. He really wished that his family could enjoy the fresh fruits of his expeditions all year-around. After years of observing the people of the sub-arctic preserving meat in barrels of quickly frozen sea water, he hit upon an idea. He had long known that fish he caught in the arctic became frozen almost as soon as they were pulled from the water, and when thawed, tasted almost as good as fresh. He determined that it was the quick-freezing that allowed the food to taste almost fresh months later. In 1923, with an investment of $7.00 for an electric fan, ice and buckets of salt-water, he came up with a method of quick-freezing that preserved food for very long periods of time. The method was later refined, and the patents and trademarks were sold to the Postum Company (which would become General Foods) for 22 million dollars! In 1930, frozen foods were first marketed in the US under the trade name Birdseye Frosted Foods. The rest is history…..
Even after all this time, there are still misconceptions about frozen foods. One is that frozen foods are only good for a certain amount of time. Frozen foods are safe to eat indefinitely, or until they are thawed. Frozen Mammoths, over 10,000 years old, are still edible. The quality of the meat may suffer slightly after a few months, but the meat is still perfectly edible. Another misconception is that freezer-burn renders meat unusable. Freezer-burn has no effect on the edibility, but it does impart a slight aftertaste, and affects the texture a cooking properties slightly.
Being able to freeze meat, and being happy with the results after thawing are two different things. This is where the tricks come in. Freezing protects food by slowing down all metabolic processes, causing bacteria and other microbes that contribute to the process of decay, to go dormant. Freezing also stops the metabolism of organisms that transmit food-borne illnesses. Freezing can destroy parasites such as trichina (a nemotode, or roundworm in pork that causes trichinosis). Freezing should always be done at temperatures of 0°F or colder. The quality of thawed meat is dependent on the quality of the meat before freezing, so freezing meat sooner, rather than later is paramount. Meats that are frozen near the end of their useful life will thaw to the same condition. Thawed meat will undergo deterioration at the same rate as a fresh piece of meat, and should be treated as such. It is best to keep meat frozen until it is ready to be used, or even cooked frozen if possible. Contrary to popular opinion, freezing does not destroy nutrients, and can prevent oxidation of vitamins. Thawed meat has roughly the same nutrients as it did before freezing. Also, again contrary to popular belief, meat can be safely frozen in it’s original unopened packaging as long as it is completely airtight. Any air inside the packaging can cause freezer-burn.
The best way to freeze meat is to use a vacuum-sealer and freeze the meat as fast as possible. Slow freezing allows large ice-crystals to form (water expands when it freezes) in the tissues and it tears the structure up, so when you thaw the meat out, it will be ‘mushy’ and tasteless. Vacuum Sealers can be purchased for under $100.00 and are worth every penny. They suck out all the air in the freezer bags and hermetically seal them, totally eliminating any danger of freezer burn or oxidation. The next best method is to leave the meat in its original packaging, and wrap the whole thing first in freezer paper, then in foil, and quick freeze. Another good method is to wrap the meat very, very tightly in Food-Service Warp (Saran Wrap, or other film wrap), then in freezer paper. And lastly, if you have lots of room, you can freeze meat in packages of lightly salted water. Rinse the meat off after thawing to remove the salt. Whatever method you use, be sure to mark each package with what it contains, and the date it was frozen. Food can be kept this way indefinitely as long as it is not allowed to thaw.
Thawed meat can be re-frozen, although the quality may suffer slightly due to a loss of moisture. Both raw, and cooked foods can be re-frozen.
A deep freezer is a great investment, especially if you hunt, fish, or buy in bulk. The next time they have a great sale on your favorite cuts of meat, you can load up on them, and freeze them to enjoy later, when prices are more prohibitive. Freezers also allow you to buy organic meat in bulk from local producers, usually at a great savings. You can buy a cow on the hoof, have it processed and have meat all year without worrying about price fluctuations, using expensive gas to go to the store, etc…You also have much more control over the quality of your meat this way.
Proper freezing techniques can go a long way towards saving money on your grocery bills.