Frozen Meat Primer

A common question I get from customers at farmers’ markets is if I have any meat that is not frozen. They are shopping for that evenings’ meal and don’t have time to thaw it. Occasionally, farmers will have fresh meat for sale, but the majority of locally raised meats are frozen, so knowing techniques for quickly and safely thawing frozen meat can be handy when shopping at your local farmers’ market or farm stand.

 

If time is not an issue, thawing meat in a refrigerator is the best option. Be sure to place the meat in a bowl or pan in case the package leaks during the defrosting process which will help keep the fridge clean and avoid limit the possibility of cross contamination. It is important that you make sure your refrigerator is less than 40 degrees F. The USDA’s Safe Food Handling Fact Sheet has valuable information about food safety including the fact that dangerous food borne bacteria can grow between the temperatures of 40-140 degrees F. It is important to limit the amount of time your thawing meat (any meat or prepared food, really) is in the ‘danger zone’. The refrigerator is the safest method, but in a pinch using a microwave or a cold water bath to speed up the process can work, if done correctly.

frozen chix

 

Cold Water Bath
Submerge your packaged meat in cold water. Unpackaged meat can attract bacteria from the air and absorb too much water, so put the meat in a ziplock bag if needed. Replace the water as it warms (about every 30 minutes) with fresh cold water. This technique will speed up the thawing process significantly.

water chix gallery

Microwave
Using the defrost mode on your microwave is another way to get the meat on the table quickly. When defrosting in a microwave it’s important to cook the meat immediately. The microwave isn’t ideal for defrosting red meats (it negatively affects the quality), but chicken and pork can be ready for cooking in no time using the microwave.

 

Grilling steak

Cooking Frozen Meats
Another option is to skip the thawing process altogether. America’s Test Kitchen  determined that the quality of beef steaks (especially grass-fed beef) improves when cooked while still frozen. For those who like a rare or medium-rare steak, cooking a frozen steak is the way to go.

This cooking technique is courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated chef Dan Souza

  • Heat skillet filled 1/8 inch deep with oil
  • Sear until browned (90 seconds per side)
  • Transfer to wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet
  • Cook in 275-degree oven until desired doneness (18 to 20 minutes for a 1-inch-thick steak)

Another handy tips when you are have a whole frozen chicken and need to have a meal on the table for dinner is to cook it frozen. It will take 50% more time to cook, but you can roast a whole chicken frozen and have a delicious dinner in a few hours. It is not recommended to cook frozen meats in a slow cooker because of the uncertainly about how long the meat will be in the danger temperature zone.

You can also boil frozen chicken. Boiling a whole frozen chicken has the advantage of giving you delicious chicken stock AND cooked chicken for several days worth of meals.

Thawing Frozen Meat FAQ

Can I refreeze meat that has been frozen and thawed?
Yes! If thawed in a refrigerator and packaged correctly you can refreeze meat that has been previously frozen. This is a great tip when you have a large package of meat and don’t want to cook it all at once. If frozen in an air-tight package there should be no loss of quality.

I just found a frozen chunk of meat at the bottom of my freezer – is it still good?
Hard telling, not knowing… You can find the FDA quidelines for storing foods here. Freezing (below zero) keeps food safe indefinitely, it is the quality that can be affected by length of time in the freezer and the type of packaging. Try to clean out your freezer at least once a year to be sure you use all your frozen goodies while they are still good.

Grill happy

How long is my refrigerator thawed meat good for?
Sorry, there is no one answer to this question. It depends on the type of meat (ground vs. whole, seafood vs. lamb, smoked vs. fresh), the type of packaging (vacuum packaging lasts longer), how long is was fresh before being frozen originally. The best advice is to use common sense, use your nose, and don’t take any chances.

These rules are true for all frozen meats!

Beef, Turkey & Mushroom Meatloaf with Cider Mustard Gravy

I grew up eating meatloaf on a regular basis. It was a popular item in my mom’s dinner rotation, usually served with baked potatoes – because they could bake at the same time – and a green vegetable, like broccoli. Although I’ve knocked my mom’s cooking on occasion (sorry, mom) I actually liked her meatloaf quite a bit. And the leftovers made for a good sandwich on toasted bread with cheese and ketchup.

But not everyone has happy memories of meatloaf and there’s that association with bad cafeteria food. Just the sound of it is perceived as a bit unappetizing. A loaf of meat? Surely someone could have thought of a better name. Though isn’t it strange how no one reacts that way to meatballs, especially when a meatloaf and a meatball are so similar? Hmm.

Traditional meatloaf “mix” is packaged with beef and pork. But as I browsed around the Rutland Co-op last week, turkey caught my eye over pork.  I guess my turkey craving couldn’t wait for Thanksgiving. Mushrooms called to me as well and add an extra savory depth to the loaf. And that’s what I love about foods like meatloaf, meatballs and burgers – you can always play with the flavors.

Chopped onion, garlic, sage and thyme flavor the meat as well, while egg and breadcrumbs bind it all together. It’s really pretty simple to put together, that must have been why my mom relied on it so often. Once the meat is mixed it bakes unattended for nearly an hour.

meatloaf ingredients

The best tool for mixing meat is your hands. Don’t be afraid to get a little dirty.

You don’t need a loaf pan for a meatloaf. It bakes up fine just shaped on a baking sheet. See the large flecks of onion? Yum. But if you’re not an onion fan, chop those up a bit more than I did here.

cider gravy
A little homemade gravy cannot be overlooked when serving meatloaf.  Just save some of the onion from the loaf, cook it with tomato paste, mustard and flour, reduce with apple cider and it’s good to go well before the meatloaf comes out of the oven. Or if you’re on top of your game and have the gravy made before the meatloaf is in the oven, spoon some over top before baking.

meatloaf

Beef, Turkey & Mushroom Meatloaf with Cider Mustard Gravy

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Yield: 6-8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup bread crumbs (or 1 large slice of bread, chopped)
  • 2 cups broth (beef, turkey or vegetable)
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 10 leaves sage, chopped
  • 8 sprigs thyme, leaves removed
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • A small bunch fresh parsley, roughly chopped

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. In a small bowl, pour one cup of the broth over the breadcrumbs and let sit for a minute as you prepare the other ingredients.
  3. Combine the beef, turkey, mushrooms, half of the chopped onion, garlic, herbs and egg in a large bowl. Mix together with your hands and fold in the breadcrumbs. Season well with salt and pepper.
  4. Form the meat mixture into one large loaf or two smaller loaves on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil.
  5. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of your loaf.
  6. Meanwhile, in a small pot cook the onion, tomato paste and mustard in a tablespoon of the oil. When onions have softened, about 5 minutes, sprinkle over the flour. Cook another minute, then add the remaining cup of broth and the cider. Simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes, then add in the parsley.
  7. Slice the meatloaf and serve with the gravy.

Spring Freezer Cleanout: Turkey Pot Pie

how-long-food-last

Earlier this week I joined Bethany Yon from the VT Department of Health on her show, What’s Cooking Rutland. The theme was cleaning out the freezer. Bethany and I took inventory of our freezers and were surprised by how much we found – especially in leftover fruits and vegetables from last year’s harvest.

Now is a good time to see what is hanging out in there and to start using up what you already have before the season really kicks off and you start buying more. It’s not a bad idea to clear out anything questionable either. Here’s a useful guide to reference while determining what may or may not be worth saving.

Fruits and vegetables, for instance, shouldn’t spend more than a year in your freezer.

We based the show’s menu around what we found. When I discovered green beans, kale, carrots, homemade chicken stock, herbs, and pie crust, a pot pie came to mind. Then Bethany told me she had turkey breast from Thanksgiving. Perfect.

I took the items out of the freezer earlier in the day to defrost and lightly pressed out some of the water that was left in some of the vegetables. While you could try making this without defrosting the vegetables (the meat, on the other hand, will definitely require a defrost period), you might end up with a pretty watery pie. It’s harder to drain out the excess liquid at that point.

While I worked on the pie, Bethany made the blueberry and maple syrup sorbet we posted last year and a refreshing strawberry rhubarb soup. I usually don’t like rhubarb, but that was good stuff.

The show will be airing all through April on PEG-TV and streaming on their site as well. Check it out. Here’s the recipe for the pot pie. Of course, you could use ingredients that haven’t been frozen as well.

Turkey Pot Pie

  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 3 Tbsp. flour
  • 3 cups stock
  • 2 1/2 cups cooked, cubed turkey (or chicken)
  • 3 cups mixed vegetables
  • 2-3 Tbsp. of your favorite herbs (such as thyme, rosemary, parsley, oregano), chopped
  • 1 or 2 sheets of pie crust, either homemade or store bought
  • 1 egg, beaten

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Melt the butter in a large pan over medium high heat. Add the onion and garlic and saute for a few minutes, until translucent. Stir in the flour and let cook for a minute, while moving around the pan, before pouring in the stock. Bring to a simmer for a couple of minutes and then add the meat, vegetables, and herbs. Simmer for 5 minutes until everything is heated through and the sauce has thickened. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed.

If you’d like both a bottom and top crust to your pie, go ahead and spread one sheet of dough over the bottom of a pie plate. A casserole dish could work too, if desired. Ladle in the contents of the pan and then top with another sheet of dough. Crimp the edges of the dough if you’re looking to have a nice presentation, or if you’re too eager to bother, just make a few slits with a knife. Brush with the beaten egg, for a browner, crispier crust, place on a baking sheet, and slide into the oven.

Bake for about 45 minutes, until the crust is looking golden brown. Remove and let cool as long as you can before slicing up and digging in.

(Leftover!) Turkey Curry

The Domestic Diva’s Curry goes together just like her soups, based on your personal preferences and tastes. Please use this recipe as a guide and add or subtract vegetables and spices as you see fit. The Domestic Diva’s Turkey Curry

  • 2-5 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2-2 inched of ginger, minced
  • 2-3 large onions, cut into medium pieces
  • 1-2 peppers, cut into medium pieces. Diva prefers colored peppers
  • 1/4-1 hot pepper, think jalepeno or thai chili, diced finely
  • 1-2 potatoes and/or sweet potatoes, cut into medium pieces
  • 1/2-1 head of fennel and/or celeriac, cut into medium pieces
  • 1/2- 1 rutabaga or turnip, cut into medium pieces
  • 3  carrots, cut into medium pieces
  • Whatever other firm vegetables you have on hand.
  • 1-2 cans of coconut milk
  • 1-2 large cans of diced tomatoes
  • Meat, raw or cooked (optional)
  • Spices: cumin, coriander, curry, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, chili or chipotle powder, salt and pepper

Preparation Place onions and garlic in the stock pot with oil and cook until fragrant.  Introduce raw meat if desired. Cooked meat will be added later.  Add vegetables one at a time, allowing them to cook and begin to let go of some of there “flavor”. Until all vegetables are in pot and seasoned with salt and pepper.  Add one can of coconut milk and one can of tomatoes.   Add cooked meat if desired. If you are adding fish wait until later.  If you desire more liquid you can add more coconut milk and tomatoes, or water/stock, and if you have white wine on hand some of that.  Taste.  Begin to add the desired seasonings one at a time.  Taste after each addition.  Continue to add spices until your desired flavor has developed. Allow to cook on low, until all vegetables are soft. If using fish add it when the vegetables are done cooking and cook until the fish is done.   Serve over rice. Super easy, freezable, and a great way to use left over Turkey from the holidays!