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Carnivore Corner: Making Meat Go Further

May 12, 2012

Dad at the office, 2005

We are a family of butchers. Tis true. My dad has been a butcher since he was 17 and moved through retail into  ‘farm killing’ or ‘rural butchering’ (where he would kill and process whole beef/sheep/pig for the owners and give it back frozen) and now just does the death-dealing end of things– or he usually does: just now, The Truck has died, limiting his activities somewhat.

Dad in the truck

There are four kids in our family and we’ve always been absolutely aware of where our meat came from and none of us has even gone through a vegetarian phase. We’ve all helped Dad out at times and two of us (my brother and me) have worked for him for extended periods. Every time my sister comes home from overseas for a visit, she goes out for a day ‘killing with Dad’. It’s a tradition.

The Office these days

My dad and my brother both have old fashioned ideas that every evening meal has to include a large slab of red meat and that meat-and-veg is the pinnacle of manly food. Us girls have a more conservative approach. We like chicken and fish and will make vegetarian meals and enjoy them. We know that, for girls, eating more than 100g of red meat at one time is a waste of resources, as girl muscles only need that much to maintain themselves. If we were athletes or boys, we’d need more. But we aren’t. So we don’t.

I sometimes have access to lovely farm-killed meat. Sometimes I don’t. Either way, I take the same approach, ensuring nothing goes to waste.

If you want to do like I do, you’ll need to get a couple of boxes of those snack-sized GLAD zip-lock bags(or larger, if you consistently feed the same amount of people.) I like to minimise plastic use as much as the next person, but when it comes to freezing meat, you have to have no air. Plastic is necessary. You can minimise waste by turning the bags inside out after use and washing and  drying them and re-using them. That’s why I buy GLAD, not generic– they’re sturdier, and wash well.

You’ll also need digital scales. I never guess meat weight. It’s the perfectionist in me coming out. It made my dad roll his eyes a bit (or quite a lot, for all I know) when I started working for him, but he soon worked out there was no changing me and just went with it. After that, he was secure in the knowledge that if the buggers wanted 350g packets of mince, we could totally do that. But I digress…

Here’s what I do: If I’m buying from a supermarket or the Mad Butcher, everything is pre-packaged. I think this works for people because they get all squicked out about touching dripping lumps of meat. Those little trays and the cling-film add another buffering layer between the consumer and the reality of a lump of dead animal. The problem with those trays of meat is that they only come in certain sizes. There are two girls in my house, so we need 200-240g of meat for a meal (most cook books will tell you that you need to allow 20g for shrinkage in cooking per serve. Sounds like a goood idea to me). At current prices here in NZ, I look for a tray that has about 800g and costs no more than $12. I then take it home and split it up into servings between 100 and 120g and place each one in a GLAD snack bag and press it out flat, squashing all the air out and sealing it up. I always pack in single serves because I work shifts and am not always home for tea. Also, we’re not terribly organised but a flat 120g packet of meat will thaw on a cake rack in no time. I do not recommend thawing (or heating or cooking) anything in the microwave in plastic. Glass all the way, people!! Glass can mean a glass bowl or glazed ceramic, btw… just take the food out of the plastic first. Please.

In a perfect world, we would all thaw in the fridge. We’re not that organised. We thaw on the bench, on the aforementioned cake rack, to allow for air circulation. It doesn’t take long, if your house is warmer than the inside of your fridge (which, no joke, it sometimes isn’t in this country– in which case, do something about it!!) There is not sufficient time for the bacteria to multiply, as you’re not bringing it up to room temp: you’re just getting it to cold-but-flexible.

Sometimes  you come across a great special like a giant chicken or a rolled roast beef or a big lump of topside and it seems wasteful not to take advantage of these. Go ahead and grab them if you see them and can afford them. The topside you could chop up into stir-fry or casserole strips or cubes if you felt so inclined and freeze in meal lots, but you’d probably do better to cook the chicken or the rolled roast whole, and don’t forget about Pot Roast for the topside– divine!!! (see the Edmonds book for the basic idea) But then you worry about The Leftovers: You don’t want to be eating it for a week and you don’t know how many days you can keep it in the fridge without it morphing into something that will kill you and your family. In that case, you eat what you can in the first instance, and then you slice the rest up and and freeze it in clearly labeled bags– you will want to write the date, the cut and the weight. You need to ensure all the air is squashed out of the packet, and you should eat it within 3 months or so.  If you are dealing with a rolled roast, leave the stretchy stuff on it (presuming the butcher is forward-thinking enough to use it) and chill it down in the fridge before slicing. Even if the butcher uses old-fashioned string and skewers, cold rolled roast is much easier to slice for cold meat than warm.

Here are The Rules about food and freezers:

You can freeze meat- or any food- once in each state. If a supermarket is selling previously frozen stuff, it will be labeled as such. In that case, you need to cook it before re-freezing.

You can freeze cooked food, even if it has been frozen in its raw form. The key to doing this safely is to cool the food down quickly. This means stirring things that can be stirred to change what is on top and release the heat. This means positioning a fan to blow across the food as it cools. This means changing hot food onto large flat cold plates to increase the surface area. This means getting the food into the fridge as soon as it gets down to ‘warm’ (not steaming).

Air must be removed to prevent ‘freezer burn’, which affects how the food looks and tastes. I freeze in single serves, which means there is more surface area and more potential for freezer burn if I’m not careful.

Food should be frozen quickly. Freezers freeze from the walls inward. Therefore, unfrozen packets that are placed in the freezer should be touching the walls, and not stacked where possible. The cold air needs to get to the food to freeze it quickly.

Packets must be labeled and dated. You’ll need some way of organising your freezer. I just use supermarket bags and group things together once they are frozen.

Your freezer should be -18 degrees C, or very close to it. (Your fridge should be 1-4 degrees C. Warm fridge = bad bugs. Don’t. Just don’t.) Thermometers are cheap. Get one.

So. Having worked in our family business and having access to a veteran butcher, I’m thinking we might collaborate on some meat-related blogs in the future. Specifically, I’m thinking of writing about the laws in NZ about farm killed meat– or ‘cow pooling’, and how to pick a good butcher to process it. Please let me know what you want to know about. Are there any meat-related myths that need busting? We are happy to have a go at answering your questions.

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From → Carnivore Corner

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