Freezing game at the end of a day out in the field is the ideal way of making sure you have something delicious to look forward to during the summer months. However, to keep game tasting good and in top condition whilst it's in the freezer you have to follow a few rules. Knowing these simple techniques can save you money, time and avoid the not-so-pleasurable taste of tainted meat. The same applies - whether you have massive chest freezer or something more modest. By Jack Knott of The Countryside Alliance.
I’ve made a few mistakes freezing game in my time. The first mistake was made by not knowing if the frozen bag of pheasant was diced meat or just breast and legs. Obviously once defrosted I realised it was the wrong type and the meal plan had to be changed quickly. The second incident was slightly more embarrassing, for when friends arrive expecting a delicious roast grouse, it is certainly a surprise when the meal turns out to be a completely different species, in this case partridge. I am sure there are plenty of readers out there who have had to play lucky dip when reaching into the freezer for some game. I just hope that I have finally learnt my lesson, and with a few extra tips and tricks you can too.
A simple label will not take you long to complete, but has the potential to save your skin. For example, if you have a number of game breasts in a freezer bag, it will enable you to know what type of game it is and how much there is, saving you from over producing, under producing or even worse cooking up the wrong thing. There is nothing more annoying or as previously witnessed embarrassing, than looking in the freezer and not having a clue what frozen goods are within it.
Along with name and the number of items, make sure the date is also included on the label, again you run the risk of disaster if you have to start guessing at how long your frozen goods have indeed been frozen. Cameron Sinclair-Parry, owner and director of Colstoun Cookery School stresses that everything put into the freezer should be used within a year, he says: “After a year there is no stopping the freezer burn and the degradation of the meat – you will certainly start losing the taste.”
When it comes to game though this is easier to remember. As the Glorious 12th approaches make sure there are no game birds what soever left in the freezer. Then as the new season begins you can be sure everything in the freezer is fresher and tastier. In the past I have witnessed game birds in freezers that challenge the tin of beans in the back of your cupboard in age.
Freezer organisation is key
Keeping tabs on what and where in your freezer your goods are has multiple benefits. For example, knowing what you have in the freezer will result in you hopefully not forgetting about it. Furthermore, knowing exactly which compartment it is in will reduce the amount of time the freezer is open and gaining temperature. Understandably this is easier said than done, especially with the larger chest freezers, but as they say, every little helps, and even a small amount of organisation will go a long way. With larger freezers plastic crates come in very handy – each crate can be used to hold a different type of game so you can go straight to the right one – this will lead you to always knowing the quantity of game left. Along with good organisation comes learning a few tricks of the trade. For example using a lot of game will result in a lot of carcases, you should definitely make the most of them by producing game stock. They can then be frozen down in ice cube trays and when you need them you can just crack them out.
There are a number of packaging techniques; and people will always tell you that their way is the best. All that we can do is to let you know the ways that work and the ways that don’t! Starting with how not to do it – one layer of cling film will not last, for once it freezes it becomes brittle leaving it susceptible to cracking and breaking. Any breakages will once again result in useless meat. Lee Maycock, vice chairman of the Craft Guild of Chefs and Game to Eat development chef says: “Freezer burn destroys the flesh and it never tastes the same afterwards. Furthermore it looks unappetising and creates dry spots.”
Vacuum packing is the obvious answer; however it is an expensive bit of kit. Lee recommends wrapping game well in cling film: “I tend to wrap longways, cut and then wrap sideways to ensure double protection. If wrapping in the feather I wrap in newspaper then cling film.”
Further tips for freezing game
- Plastic take-away containers can come in very handy for any soups or stews. You will know exactly how much will be in each container and they stack well.
- If freezing a number of birds, wrap individually. Birds that touch are more likely to get freezer-burn. If you have a number of oven-ready birds wrap them individually in bubble wrap.
- It might sound painful but keep rotating the freezer goods, it keeps the freezer clean and you will have less forgotten and wasted goods at the bottom.
- To save time, trouble and space freeze the game in the way you are aiming to use it. For example, if you are going to make a rabbit stew, dice it up before freezing.
- If you have multiple loose items then put them in a cardboard box for compact storage and stacking, for example 4 grouse fit nicely in a shoe box – and then you know exactly where they are.
- Do not eat January’s pheasant when you have November’s still sitting there!
- Keep a note on the freezer of what it contains… and keep it updated.
- If you cannot be bothered to make your stock right away then put the bones in a bag and freeze them. You can always come back to them later.
I discovered these techniques the hard way, as I was fed up with making mistakes and having to chuck away good quality meat because of freezer burn. You don’t have to have OCD to enjoy a functioning and well-looked after freezer, and I highly recommend you give it a go.
Jack Knott works on the Countryside Alliance Game to Eat campaign.
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