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Wrap the Meat

Soon we will celebrate the first days of spring, and in spring a young girl’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of … meat.

Well, meat’s an appropriate topic all year round, actually.

We’ve been buying spiral hams at Costco – they last us for weeks with all kinds of meals: ham and eggs, ham sandwiches, ham in salads, and of course just plain ham. (That’s my husband’s dinner.)

We’re still trying to figure out how best to dissect the thing when we get it home. Last time, my husband cut all the spiral part off immediately, put it in a lock ‘n lock in the fridge, cut the rest of the dribs and drabs of meat (quite a lot, actually) off the bone, then put the dribs and drabs in another lock ‘n lock in the freezer, and the bone in the freezer in a ziplock bag as well.

We make sure to use the bone, too – it makes good soup. I put the bone in a crock pot with two cups of soaked navy beans (two cups when dry, much more when soaked), two chopped carrots, a chopped onion, a very little salt (ham’s salty!), pepper, and some appropriate herb (I like a little thyme), and voila!, bean soup. (Stir or blend for your preferred texture – we need to talk more about blending!) If there are any bits of meat left on the bone after all the cooking I pick them off and toss them in the final product too. Check the seasoning and add a little more salt or pepper if it needs it.

I recently took the dribs and drabs out to heat them through and add them to my meal.

One piece of ham especially had that dry look that you often get on meat quicker than anything else in the freezer. I’m sure you know what it looks like and you probably know: it’s freezer burn. If you want to see what it looks like, check out this page which not only shows clearly a bunch of freezer-burnt chicken breasts, but gives a great recipe for how to turn them into Mexican-style shredded meat for enchiladas or burritos.

You’d be surprised how few pictures people seem to have posted to the internet of freezer-burnt meat. I guess no one is proud of having it.

Freezer burn is dehydration, primarily. The meat is perfect safe to eat (though eventually it won’t be – meat only lasts 6 months to a year in a freezer, tops, freezer burn or no freezer burn) but it often has a nasty dry texture. That’s why the above recipe is such a good idea for resuscitating the freezer-burned chicken breasts – it rehydrates them as well as cooks them.

Freezer burn happens when there’s air next to the meat in the freezer. Moisture condenses out of the air and forms ice, and draws moisture out of the meat. There’s a simple way to prevent it: remove the air from the package.

Now a vacuum sealer is great for this purpose, and that’s why you see a lot of commercially frozen and sold meat vacuum packed, especially fish, which is a delicate flesh. But a vacuum sealer is an expensive tool and we can’t always invest in one or store one.

Somewhere along the way (my grandmother?) I learned as a kid how to freeze meat. I still do it the same way, and I’ve never had a problem.

When I bring home bulk meat (ground meat or chicken breasts especially), I divide it up into cooking-size servings (whatever I will use for a meal) and wrap them in plastic wrap. This isn’t as tough to do as it seems: I tear off big squares of the plastic wrap and lay each one on the counter or stove or wherever I can, then portion the meat into each one.

Then I wrap the plastic tightly around the meat.

Then I wrap THAT package in foil, also tightly wrapped around the meat. I fold the ends of the foil together and then down to make an envelope, push all the air out the ends of the envelope, then roll up the ends. (I should make a video of this, maybe.)

Pushing all the air out twice, and giving it two layers to help it be impervious to evaporation (and yes, things can evaporate in the freezer – it’s really dry in there!) seems to do the trick. I use a Sharpie permanent marker to write the date and the contents on the package (since this method renders, say, ground beef indistinguishable from chicken breasts) and put them immediately in the freezer.

Anything you want to put in the freezer should have as little air in the package as possible. If it’s leftovers, see if you can put it in a baggie and press the air out before you seal it. The longer you expect to keep it, the better job you need to do at getting the air out and keeping the moisture in the meat in.

Very irregular hard things, like a ham bone, just will not wrap tightly enough to prevent freezer burn. So use them relatively quickly and as is and just don’t worry too much about it.

And make sure you riffle through your freezer to the back or the bottom at least once a month, and use things from the bottom. Check the dates and make sure that when something’s getting old, it gets used!

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