Freezing Meat for Best Results

Freezing Meat for Best Results

If anything is true these days it’s that our shopping habits have been thrown totally off-kilter. It’s no longer logistically feasible to go to the store multiple times a week especially when you get there and they may or may not have what you are looking for. And when you’re trying to not go out too much, a once-a-week “big shopping trip” is necessary. Using your freezer to store food becomes essential rather than just convenient.

I think most people would agree that cooking food, especially meat, that is fresh is better. But, if you take the time to protect whatever you plan to freeze the results can be almost indistinguishable. So how do you do that? What’s the best way to store meat in the freezer?

The key to freezing meat is to make sure that there is little to air that can get in and spoil the meat. You can do this in a few ways.

If you have the opportunity and/or space for a vacuum food sealer it can be life-changing. Vacuum sealing meats, veggies, or fruits can ensure you have fresh-tasting food always on hand. Pandemic or not, it can be a real time saver when you can’t stop to pick something up at the store for dinner. The devices themselves are reasonably affordable depending on the make and model. But, the refill bags and rolls can be pricey if you are using them a lot. When you consider that sealed and frozen meat can last up to 6 months with no issues, the benefits might just outweigh the negatives.

If you don’t have the luxury of a vacuum sealer, you will need to wrap your purchases making sure that as little air can get in as possible. Here are two ways that work for me. Although, you can find various opinions and possibilities out there on the web.

The first method is with good-quality plastic wrap. Place the meat to be frozen on the plastic wrap and fold one of the sides over. Press down on the plastic to smooth it out and get rid of any air pockets. Fold the other side over and do the same thing. Fold the sides in one at a time, again smoothing them out to eliminate any air. Wrap the meat in a second layer of plastic wrap using the same technique. Place the double wrapped meat in an airtight layer of aluminum foil or a sealable freezer bag and place it in your freezer. Don’t forget to label the package with the contents and the date. Use the meat within a couple of months for best results.

The second method is with butcher paper. Again you want to make sure that as little air as possible can get in. Place the meat directly on the waxed side of the butcher paper and fold one side over. Smooth the paper with your hands to remove any air pockets. Tightly fold the other side over and smooth it out again. Fold the sides in once at a time and secure them with tape. Wrap the whole package in an airtight layer of foil. Tape the foil shut and mark the package with the contents and the date. Again use the meat within a couple of months for best results.

Duck Breast

Duck BreastIf you are looking for something memorable for dinner either for a special event or for a romantic dinner for two, a beautiful duck breast can be an elegant alternative to a filet mignon.

Most of the duck available in the American market comes from the Pekin (also known as Long Island) breed which is a small fatty duck with a reasonable price tag. However, in recent years, the Muscovy duck, which is a larger more lean variety, has become more readily available and popular despite its higher price tag.

While you can find whole ducks on the market, it is more common to find them broken down into pieces like legs and breasts because of the versatility of using smaller pieces.

Duck meat is unique from other poultry in that duck only has dark meat. This means that the duck breasts should be treated more like a steak. It can be cooked to a lower internal temperature than other birds like chicken and duck is ideally served rare to medium-rare. Unlike other red meats, duck breasts are leaner and have less saturated fat.

Duck breasts are best prepared sautéed over medium heat, starting with the scored skin side down, so that the fat has time to render making the meat deliciously moist and the skin becomes wonderfully crispy.

Pan-Seared Duck Breast Recipe
Yields 4 servings
This is a straightforward and simple recipe. You start by scoring the skin and then cooking the breast slowly so the fat can render away. Just don’t skip the demi-glace—it’s the secret ingredient to this dish! Read more…

Ham Shanks and Ham Hocks

Ham Shanks and Ham HocksThe colder months of winter are the perfect time for slowly-simmered soups to warm you up. One of the easiest and best ways to punch up the flavor of any soup is to add a ham hock or ham shank into the pot. While the soup simmers the smokey flavor of the ham permeates the soup while adding a little salt. A meatier shank can also be a perfect way to add extra protein by way of the cooked meat falling off the bone. But is one better than the other?

From a culinary standpoint, ham hocks and ham shanks are essentially interchangeable with just two differences between the two. Ham hocks tend to be bonier and have less meat on them because they come from the area of the leg that is closest to the foot of the pig. Ham shanks, on the other hand, are meatier because they come from the area just below the shoulder or the hip. Both contain a considerable amount of collagen which adds richness to whatever recipe you are making. And, both require long cooking times using methods like braising or stewing to break down the tough meat into something that can be eaten.

Ham hocks and ham shanks are widely available and inexpensive—though, the shanks tend to be a little bit higher priced. Both freeze really well. They are almost always available smoked but occasionally you will see unsmoked ham shanks. If you do, grab them and throw them in your freezer for another time. You can cook the unsmoked shanks the same way you would cook a lamb of beef shank. Served alongside some creamy white beans and sautéed greens, they make for a tasty satisfying winter dinner.

Gam’s Navy Bean Soup
Yields 6 to 8 servings Read more…


PorchettaFor a show-stopping holiday meal, nothing beats a porchetta.
Porchetta was introduced to the US by Italian immigrants who brought the tradition with them when they came to the United States. At it’s most basic, porchetta is an Italian pork roast that is seasoned generously with garlic, fennel, and other herbs then rolled, tied, and roasted. Traditionally it’s made with a skin-on pork middle and roasted until the skin turns a dark brown so it breaks off into crunchy hard-to-resist pieces of pork flavor. Porchetta can be a huge piece of meat which makes it perfect for a large crowd. And, because of the high quantity of fat found in the belly section, the meat is moist and flavorful. The leftovers also make the base for some amazing sandwiches.

Making an authentic porchetta can be challenging for the average home cook for a couple of reasons. The first is that finding a skin-on pork belly at your typical store or butcher shop can be difficult. It usually requires a special order to bring on in. If you are willing to think a bit outside the box, you can still make a moist flavorful porchetta that is just as tasty bu using other parts of the pig that are more readily available—such as a skin-on pork shoulder or a boneless half leg of pork. Or, for even more variety, you can use a boned-out rabbit to make a smaller version. Turkey is also an option.

The second reason porchetta can be challenging is refrigerator space. Porchetta can require anywhere from 1 to 3 days in the refrigerator to ensure that the flavors penetrate throughout the meat. The wait is worth it but it’s is best to plan ahead. Also, even if you decide to go with a pork shoulder, remember that this is still a big piece of meat and your refrigerator needs to be able to handle it.

The traditional flavors for porchetta consist of garlic, fennel, and rosemary. But, you can definitely get creative and substitute those flavors for something more Cuban with cumin, orange zest, and pimento. A little lemon zest and thyme would be tasty as well.

If you’re up for the challenge and looking for something different for your holiday dinner, check out our recipe for Porchetta Pork Roast. It’s a simplified version of the classic.

Porchetta Pork Roast
Adapted from NY Times Cooking
Serves 8 to 12 Read more…