The freezer, one of the most beloved kitchen appliances, perfect for freezing ready-made meals, soups, or meats. Recently there has been a lot of chatter and debate around what really is the safest way to thaw meats. Not only does thawing have an effect on the meat, the actual process of freezing has an effect on the physicality of the meat.
What exactly does freezing do to meat?
When raw meat freezes, the ice crystals that form from the moisture in the meat expand and punch through the soft cell membranes causing holes. So when the meat is thawed and those crystals melt away exposing the holes they've made, in the muscle cells and skin tissue. Through these holes, a liquid rich in salts, vitamins, proteins, and pigments leeches out when cooked. Freezing the meat rapidly minimises the damage caused to the cell membranes, as the quicker the moisture freezes, the smaller the crystals are. And the colder the temperature the meat, the less the crystals can grow in size.
Thawing is a key aspect of the cooking process and its importance is often overlooked. Humans like things that are quick and easy, but doing the quick and easy way when defrosting meat can lead to a nasty surprise. Leaving the meat on the kitchen counter, although it is convenient is not safe as the meat thaws at room temperature which sees the explosion of bacteria breeding.
- Refrigerator Thawing is considered the most effective and safest thawing option. To do refrigerator thawing take the meat out of the freezer, pop on a dish to catch the condensation and place it into the fridge until its thawed. Although it is the safest option the thawing process might take longer than youd like. A smaller portion of meat like mince can take an entire day to thaw. For large cuts like a whole turkey or ham, youll be expecting a wait time of 48 hours or more. Once defrosted in the fridge meats like poultry, fish and minced meat can keep for 1 to 2 days in the refrigerator before needing to be cooked as where beef, pork, lamb and veal will keep in the fridge about another 3 to 5 days before needing to be cooked.
- Cold Water Thawing can offer quicker results yet it requires you to be more hands. Start by submerging the bag with the meat in cold water. The water will need to be changed every 30 minutes sure it stays cool enough. If the water becomes too warm it can create an environment for bacteria breeding while the core of the meat is still frozen. Sitting the meat in hot water is a no, no. Not only can it begin to cook the meat, it heats up the outer layers which is bacteria breeding friendly. Larger cuts will take at least 3 hours depending on their size yet smaller cuts can be thawed within an hour or two. The catch with cold water thawing is that the meat should be cooked immediately after.
- Microwave Thawing is seen as an iffy, labour-intensive method of thawing that is not as safe as the two options above. Although the microwave, allows you to defrost meats at super speeds, it is not a recommended way to thaw meats. Get familiar with your microwaves overall and defrosting settings to see its capabilities and recommended lengths of cooking time. To microwave thaw, make the meat from its package then put it into the microwave on a clean plate. Using the setting best for your microwave, continually check the meat especially around the edges about every 45 seconds or so. Pieces that have defrosted or warm will need to be removed while the rest continues to defrost. If you have a large piece of meat, once the edges become warm, remove the meat allow it to cool then continue to microwave it. You'll need to cook the meat immediately after its thawed.