Thursday, March 20, 2008

Chlll in the Air

Now to today topic. Freezing:
Freeze only young and fresh vegetables and fruit. Really fresh river or sea fish, and best quality meat and poultry.
Prepare food correctly, always blanching vegetables. Whole birds can be frozen, but often it is better to joint birds so that there is a choice of which part to use, and a raw (or left over from a roast) carcase can also be bagged up and frozen separately to make stock later. If chicken breasts are bought separately, then I remove the little fillet from the back of each and bag these up to use chopped in pies or curries, or to thread on skewers. Each breast is wrapped in clingfilm and frozen separately before being bagged up so they don't stick together. Small amounts when frozen, such as just chicken winglets, or the fillets, are - one frozen in their own small bags - added to larger bags which contain other frozen winglets or fillets. They can all look much the same once frozen, so always put a label in each large bag so that they don't get mixed up.

Joints of meat can be frozen, or individual chops, chunks of stewing meat etc. It is always better to wrap each chop in cling-film before freezing, so that they don't stick together, and bag up the stewing meat in small amounts. Sausages I open freeze on a baking tray, so that again, I can remove one or two from a bag, rather than having to thaw out a whole pack.
Minced meat I have a special way of treating. This I buy in bulk, say 3 lbs at a time, then put my hand inside a small polybag and grab a handful of mince, turning the bag back around my hand, This weighs about 4 oz, and would be quite enough to feed two by the time I have added things. For spag bol, I mix together minced beef and minced pork (the pork being slightly cheaper) as this is a traditional blend in parts of Italy for making a spag bol sauce. Again this is bagged up in small amounts. The small bags are frozen separately, then collected up as one type (beef only, or beef and pork) and a label written to say what is what and tucked into each bag.

Ensure good rotation of stock (first in, first out as mentioned in a previous posting) to keep up the quality and flavour of food that has been frozen.

When buying prepacked fresh meats, fish and fowl, it should always say on the pack whether it can be frozen or not. Again, always worth taking the time to remove from the original pack and dividing up into smaller quantities or portions to be frozen separately if needed. Often cooking instructions are given with the pack, both for cooking from frozen (sometimes not advised) , microwaving, or cooking from thawed. So tuck these details into the packs you have just made up, or you will surely forget otherwise, unless you are so organised that you have a note-book to keep all records. Putting the instructions in a bag is the speedier way.

When freezing vegetables aim to freeze within 2 - 3 hours of picking. Although this may not always be possible, but if going to a pick-your-own, you could have a chilled box ready and waiting in the car boot, and pop the veggies in this. When preparing vegetables for freezing, do only a small amount at a time and keep the surplus in the fridge to avoid losing any freshness and food value which will happen if they are left to stand in a warm room.
Freezing will not improve the quality of vegetables, as they go in - they will come out, and although most vegetables can be frozen, some are more successful than others. Any veggie with a high water content, such as lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, are not suitable as they end up limp after thawing. However, tomatoes and onions are worth freezing if they are to be later used for cooking sauces, soups or for adding to casseroles as they retain their flavour if not their texture.
It is easiest to freeze tomatoes whole (they end up like snooker balls), and then skin them while still frozen, just dipping them into very hot water for a few seconds and the skin will slide off.
A good guide is that any vegetable that is cooked before being eaten will freeze successfully. Though we have to remember that many veggies can also be eaten raw as well as being cooked. Baby spinach for example. On the other hand, wilted spinach is often used in recipes, and best frozen in that way.

Unless planning to eat frozen vegetables within a month of freezing, all vegetables should be first blanched by plunging them into boiling water for the required time, or by steaming. To blanch i water you need a large pan and a wire basket to fit inside (rather like a chip pan basket). Blanch small quantities at a time, then lift out, drain and tip the veggies into a bowl of iced water. Leave for a minute, then drain and dry off as much water as possible, then pack and freeze. Blanching is very important for it prevents deterioration by enzymes, which will still happen when frozen, unless inactivated by blanching.
Frozen vegetables (either home-frozen or bought) require less cooking time than the fresh as the blanching has already begun the process. For best results cook from frozen in a minimum amount of salted boiling water, for half to two-thirds of the time if cooked from fresh.

The list of vegetables which can be frozen is fairly lengthy, so I am including only the ones most likely to be used. Blanching time is given in minutes (depending upon size), followed by lowest suggested storage time - could be longer).
Aubergines (4mins/9 months); Broad Beans, podded (3mins/9 months); French or Runner beans (4 mins whole beans, 3 mins sliced/ 9 months); Whole cooked beetroot (no blanching/6 months); Broccoli, trimmed to equal lengths (3 -4mins/9 months); Brussel Sprouts, trimmed, (3 - 5mins/9 months).
Cabbage/Spring greens, trimmed and shredded (2 mins/6months); Carrots - new keep whole, slice larger ones (whole 5, sliced 2 mins/6 months; Cauliflower florets (4mins/6 months); Corn on the cob (7 -10mins/9 months; loose sweetcorn (5mins/9months); Courgettes, sliced (3mins/9months); Leeks, trimmed, whole or sliced (2 - 4 mins/6months).
Parsnips, peeled and cut into lengths (3 mins/9 months); Peas, podded (1 1/2mins/9months); Bell Peppers - red or green, halve or slice (2 mins/9 months); Spinach and Kale (2 mins/9 months); Tomatoes (no blanching/9 months); Turnips and Swedes, peeled and cubed (3mins/9 months).
Herbs: no blanching. Chop finely (bay leaves keep whole), wrap tightly in small foil packages remembering to label each bag. Freeze for up to 8 months

Fish should be frozen with hours of being caught. Otherwise don't bother. Slightly different methods according to which type of fish to be frozen, so for time being this will not be covered, and if anyone wants to know more, just ask.

Freezing of meat is fairly simple. Whenever possible remove the bones before freezing, although these can be frozen separately to be later cooked to make stock or gravy. One of my books says that meat can be cooked while still frozen, but I have never done this and never will. Frozen raw meat, once thawed and then cooked throughly can be frozen, but with a lower storage time than previously. Bacon and ham should always be kept in the fridge rather than being frozen, for previous salting will cause rancidity in a very short time. Having said this, I do freeze slices of home-cooked ham to keep for a few weeks to add to my cold meat platters, or for sarnies.
There is no blanching of meat. Just wrap tightly in moisture proof paper and seal. I have asked Beloved to buy me one of those vacuum pack machines for my birthday, which will be perfect for freezing meat.
Beef: large cuts (storage 10 - 12 months); small cuts (6 - 8 months);
Lamb: as beef
Pork: large cuts (4 - 5 months); small cuts (3 - 4 months);
Offal: (2 - 3 months);
Mince meat: must be freshly minced (1 - 2 months)
Sausages: omit salt if home-made (1 - 2 months);
Chicken (whole or jointed) 9 months
Duck/Goose/Turkey: (6months)
Game birds: after hanging, plucking et al (6 - 8 months)
Hare/rabbit: after preparation (4 - 6 months)

As to dairy foods.
Butter can be frozen, unsalted keeps longer (3-6 months). Cheese may become crumbly, although grated cheese freezes very well (6 months). Double cream (40% fat) will freeze and adding a little icing sugar (1 tsp per pint) will increase the storage life (3 months).
Cottage cheese they say should not be frozen, but this is mainly because this breaks down the lumps, which I find quite useful for then it thaws out more like curd cheese - useful for cheesecakes (3 months).
Eggs can be frozen, shelled and mixed with half a tsp salt or sugar to each 6 eggs. Or the yolks and whites frozen separately (yolks mixed with the sugar or salt, whites left alone). Hardly worth bothering with.
Ice cream, home-made or shop bought: 3 months.