We should all eat what we shoot but sometimes we're in the happy position of having too much game to eat at one time. The answer is to freeze your pheasants, partridge and venison. Jack Knott offers some experienced advice.
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.
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 with wire ties.
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 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.
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.
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.”