ON COOKING: Chef Dez on the cool way to thaw meat

Leaving meat to thaw on the countertop all day is the most dangerous method

Send your cooking questions via email to Chef Dez at: dez@chefdez.com

Send your cooking questions via email to Chef Dez at: dez@chefdez.com

by Chef Dez

Most of us all lead very busy lives, or at least we claim to. We also freeze meat for future dinners because we either bought too much, it was on sale and so we stocked up, or we just plainly don’t want to grocery shop any more often than we must. Perhaps you have freezing meat down to a science, such as airtight bags, labels, freezer stock rotation, etc. But what about the thawing process?

There are a couple of thawing processes that I cringe at the thought of, a couple more that are questionable, and two that are ideal depending on how far advanced you are in your meal planning process.

We have all been there: You come home from work, you have little time to prepare dinner, and there is no meat thawed to cook with. If you are vegetarian, vegan, or it is the first day of the work week and you celebrate “Meatless Monday”, then you are in luck. For the rest of us meat-loving carnivores, what are our options?

One of the worst things we could do is leave meat out on the counter all day to thaw. Food born bacteria growth happens at a fast rate between temperatures of 4 degrees Celsius and 60 degrees Celsius (40F to 140F) and food should be kept out of this danger zone as much as possible. Leaving your meat on the counter is not an ideal climate as chances are your kitchen temperature is never below 4 degrees Celsius.

Some claim that small portions of meat that have been frozen in a flat manner (a thinner mass and more contact with the thawing surface area) can be thawed faster at room temperature if placed on an aluminum pan. Supposedly the aluminum will conduct the heat in the air faster to the meat, and thus providing faster thawing. However, I still believe that this would not be fast enough for safe temperature stabilization.

Thawing in the microwave (you know we have all tried this) will bring parts of the meat into the danger zone, but for very little time in contrast to the all-day exposure to room temperature. However, this is still not ideal and microwave thawing also adds the undesirable effect of cooking the outer parts of the meat during this so-called thawing process.

Some insist that leaving the meat in a sink of cold water is best, but I still have to disagree. This is also an uncontrolled environment. Eventually the water temperature will change, albeit slowly because of the chunk of frozen meat submersed in it, because the surrounding air is still room temperature.

The two best options in my opinion are as follows:

Think ahead and transfer meat from the freezer to the refrigerator for 24 to 72 hours (depending on the mass size of the meat) before you intend on cooking it. This will keep the meat in a safe temperature controlled environment while it thaws. Keep in mind you will want to practice food safe measurements by keeping the meat well contained and in the lower levels of your refrigerator so as to less likely transfer raw meat bacteria to your fridge or other foods.

The other option is to make sure the frozen meat is completely sealed in bags with little air. Transfer to a large container that will fit in your sink, but also will not block the flow of water through the drain. Fill the container with cold water, and then reduce the flow of water to a slow trickle (or slightly more). Let the water continuously overflow over the sides of the container and run down the drain until the meat is thawed. This is very fast as long as the meat has been frozen in individual sized portions (not a bunch of chicken breasts stuck together for example). The continuous cold water will keep the water cold and the movement of the flowing water will also aid in the thawing process.

Take note: this is to be done while you are at home and staying focused on the situation – not while you are away from the home. Prepping other parts of the meal while this is happening is a good habit to get into. I have thawed chicken breasts in this manner in less than 30 minutes, and seafood in even less time. The obvious downside would be the waste of water.

So as contained in all good advice of meal planning, retirement savings, and countless other situations and topics: plan ahead for best results. Happy cooking!

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– Chef Dez is a food columnist and culinary instructor in the Fraser Valley. Visit him at www.chefdez.com. Send questions to dez@chefdez.com or to P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, B.C. V2T 6R4

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