Jack Knott offers some experienced advice.
Now that the season has started you’ll hopefully be bringing plenty of game home. Of course you won’t be able to eat it all at once, so the best solution is to freeze it. But how can you keep it tasting good and in the best condition? There are a few rules to freezing game to make sure you have a good supply throughout the spring and summer months and they apply whether you have a chest freezer or something smaller. Read on and find out more.
Always clearly label your game even if you tell yourself confidently: “Oh, I’ll remember they’re pheasant breasts.” It saves you from cooking up the wrong meat and game will look very different once it’s frozen. Particularly if you’ve made a game casserole. Write down what the game is and how much it feeds; for example four pheasant breasts, venison casserole for six. Use a good, indelible marker pen and proper freezer labels – ordinary labels won’t stick for long.
Along with name and the number of items, make sure the date is also included on the label. You don’t want to guess how old your frozen pheasant is. Cameron Sinclair-Parry, owner and director of Colstoun Cookery School stresses that everything put into the freezer should be used within a year: “After a year there is no stopping the freezer burn and the degradation of the meat – you will certainly start losing the taste.”
As the new season approaches make a concerted effort to use up all the game in your freezer – ring the changes by using game on your barbecue. Then when you go out into the field again you can start afresh with freezing pheasant and other birds.
Wrap and pack securely
Don’t expect a single layer of cling film to do the job. Once it freezes it becomes brittle, cracks and breaks resulting in freezer burn.
Chef Lee Maycock warns: “Freezer burn destroys the flesh and it never tastes the same afterwards. Furthermore it looks unappetising and creates dry spots.”
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.”
A vacuum packer is highly recommended, it removes all the air before completely sealing the packed game, while the pouches it uses are strong enough to prevent the microscopic cracking that will occur in conventional polythene freezer bags, leading to tainting.
If you use ordinary freezer bags double wrap your game and remove all the air you can before sealing.
Organise your freezer
Keeping tabs on what and where in your freezer your goods are has multiple benefits. This is easier said than done, especially with the larger chest 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. Using a lot of game will result in a lot of carcases. 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.
Further tips for freezing game
- When freezing game first prepare it to the condition in which you will be taking it to the kitchen. Pluck and draw it to an “oven-ready” state for roasting, taking care to remove any damaged or bloody meat. Alternatively, you can bulk pack game bird breasts and legs. Some cooks recommend you skin and cut out the whole breasts on the bone, as the breast meat keeps better that way.
- 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 is all about packaging — if you store things well wrapped in the freezer, with no or very little air in the packaging, things keep exceptionally well.
- 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 wrapped in a container for compact storage and stacking. For example four 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.
Some game chefs suggest three months for venison and pheasants for a maximum of six months. Some people stretch this out to 12 months though.
Tim Maddams advises: “There isn’t a hard and fast limit to how long meat can be frozen if it is well packaged to exclude the air and protect the meat. However there are some guidelines I would stick to. Aim to never have anything frozen for more than six months, and ideally three months, as after this period of time things can have deteriorated by a surprising amount. ”
Meat in freezer safety
From a safety point of view, it’s important not to poison yourself. The Food Standards Agency offers little advice on the subject but it does state: “The cold temperatures of a domestic freezer (-18°C) delay chemical reactions within foods and put any bacteria that may be present on pause.
“The bacteria are still alive, but they stop growing or producing toxins, in effect pausing reactions. The important thing to remember is that because the bacteria haven’t been killed, they may be revived as the food defrosts.
“Make sure the food never enters the danger zone because the bacteria may grow and make you ill. This is why you should defrost food within a fridge. It is also the reason why we advise that foods can’t be refrozen if they are accidentally defrosted, unless they are first cooked. If the food has been defrosted it must be cooked before being eaten to be safe. Once defrosted, foods should be treated as if they are fresh and consumed within two days.”
What’s the best way to defrost game meat?
The advice from the nanny state would be that you must defrost meat in the fridge over a 24-hour period until thoroughly thawed. This was obviously written by someone who had never tried it, as you may find it will take nearly three days to defrost a 5kg bag of meat in a fridge.
I tend to pack meat flat in vacuum bags as this helps it defrost evenly and quickly in the fridge — if I remember to take it out in time — or in a tray on the kitchen side, away from any heat sources. Always defrost meat on a tray or in a dish as this will catch any fluid that may escape. Fluid is released due to the freezing process — the water expands within the meat cells and then leaks out when you defrost it. This is why frozen meat is not as good as fresh, in many cases, though the difference can be marginal as long as the meat is frozen quickly, well-packaged and handled carefully for defrosting.
Once defrosted, you must not refreeze raw meat, but it is fine to freeze batches of cooked food made using previously frozen meat. If you are in a hurry, many microwaves and nearly all fan ovens have a defrost setting, but I think the best way to rapidly defrost meat is to place it in a sink full of cold water. Change the water once it chills and do that two or three times. That will defrost the meat quickly without raising its temperature too much. Using a microwave or an oven could lead to uneven defrosting, resulting in undercooking, which can lead to problems.
The best way to freeze pigeon
Q: I have a lot of pigeon breasts that I want to freeze. I have done this before, with the whole lot getting freezer-burned, so I wondered if you had any advice to make it go a little better this time?
A: There is one simple rule with freezer burn: no air. If there is air touching the surface of the meat, there is a real risk of freezer burn. The best way to store raw meat in the freezer is to vacuum-pack it. If you do not have the necessary kit, then you can simply wrap the pigeon breasts carefully in freezer bags. You can even wrap them in oiled baking parchment first and then bag them or wrap them to be extra safe. Further advice is to make sure you freeze them in batch sizes that are best for you and the most useful for your likely uses. Also, clearly label and date them. We all love a game of freezer- meat tombola, but it’s not an everyday kind of fun.
Shopping list for freezing game
1.Innoveem Freezer Labels Easy Peel Off – Frozen Food Storage Labels That Leave No Sticky Residue After Use – Perfectly Sized (6 x 3cm) Easy to Write Surface with Any Pen or Biro. [100 Pack] £3.99
With a useful date and contents section, these labels will help you to keep your frozen game organised. They’re easy to write on and easy to remove, without leaving a sticky residue on your container.
No need to look at frozen ingredients and puzzle what they are when you’ve used this permanent pen especially designed for freezer use. It’s water resistant, smudge proof, quick drying and doesn’t smell odd either.
3. Vacuum Sealing Machine, Automatic Vacuum Air Sealing System for Food Savers, Double Pump, Dry & Moist Food Modes, Compact Food Vacuum Sealer with 10 BPA-Free Seal Bags for Meat, Vegetable, Fruit £39.99
Easy to use, this vacuum sealer has four modes and can be used for dry or powdery food, wet or oily food and is perfect for meat, beef, salmon, fruits, vegetables and snacks.
4. 40 x Premium Food Storage Freezer Bags by XupZip™ | Large UK Gallon Size 4.55L, Reusable, Heavy-Duty Plastic | Airtight and Leakproof Bamboo Seal | BPA Free £9.99
Each of these bags will hold a gallon of liquid (and there are more sizes available). They are suitable for meat, game, venison, vegetables and soup. The zipper closure gives an airtight, leakproof seal and the plastic is strong and thick.
5. 24-Piece Superior Glass Food Storage Containers Set – Airtight BPA-Free Locking Lids – 100% Leakproof Borosilicate Glass Meal Prep Food Containers With Lids – Freezer to Oven Safe Takeaway Lunch Boxes £39.99
These containers will store raw uncooked game or you can use them for casseroles and other prepared dishes, freeze, defrost and then put in the oven to cook. The glass containers won’t absorb smells or stains and glass is more environmentally friendly than plastic, and free of chemicals. You transfer hot foot directly into the containers. The locking lid gives an airtight seal. If you’re short of space you’ll be pleased to hear that the containers are stackable inside one another.