Flash freezing provides a quality grass fed product while protecting the producer from demand fluctuations
SEATTLE, Wash: As more and more West Coast restaurants build their menus around locally sourced, organic ingredients, the popularity of flash frozen meats and vegetables is growing.
Flash freezing allows vegetables to be picked at the peak of their ripeness but used year around.
It allows raw milk dairies to be seasonal and only produce milk during the green season but still supply their customers.
And, it allows grass fed meat producers to take long vacations and miss seasonal flat spots without losing their restaurant and retail customers.
George and Eiko Vojkovich produce Certified Organic grass fed beef and pastured poultry in Sedro Wooley, Washington near Seattle and have pioneered flash freezing grass fed meats in their area.
“Flash freezing seals in moisture and prevents the cell damage that causes the weeping that turns off most chefs from frozen meat.”
George said despite a regular schedule of five beeves butchered every week for most of the year, 95% of the meat products they sell are sold frozen as insurance from demand fluctuations.
“There is just too much risk with fresh meat for a little guy like me to take,” he said.
TWO YEARS OF STORAGE POSSIBLE
He said combining vacuum-packaging with flash freezing allows for up to two years in storage with no decline in meat quality.
He said flash freezing paper wrapped meats is not nearly as successful.
Vojkovich’s frozen meat sales include those sold to some of Seattle’s toniest hotel restaurants.
“Chef Maria Heinz at the W Hotel in Seattle said she can tell absolutely no difference between our flash frozen beef and fresh beef.”
Vojkovich became familiar with flash freezing while serving as an Alaskan fishing boat captain.
“I learned the technique from the Japanese,” he said.
“Fish are a high omega-3 product and do not keep well fresh. The Japanese found that if you could almost instantaneously freeze a fresh fish it would eat like a fresh fish when thawed.
“This technology allowed the Japanese to buy fish from Alaska and is what made my business possible.”
He said flash freezing is also called air-blast freezing and involves using super-cold air in the -40 to -60 degrees F range to almost instantly freeze the product. “The faster you freeze meat the less damage there is. In contrast, meat frozen slowly becomes watery and mushy when thawed.”
Vojkovich said home freezers were not designed to freeze meat but to keep frozen meat frozen. Many of these have temperatures above 0 degrees F.
He said a quick test of how cold your home freezer stays is that if you can scoop ice cream out of the freezer the temperature is above 10 degrees F.
He said commercial-size freezers typically keep the temperature at -5 to -15 degrees F and allow for long-term storage.
He said you cannot store frozen meat in the same freezer it is aged in as too cold air dries out the unfrozen meat and makes it tough.
Vojkovich dry ages all of his beef for two to three weeks prior to freezing.
He said his on-farm freezing unit is a 10 X 12 foot freezer with a 3 hp compressor. He is also a member of a grass fed beef cooperative and has access to their freezing unit as well.
MEAT MUST FREEZE ALL THE WAY THROUGH
Vojkovich said that each piece of meat must be placed on the freezing rack individually and not stacked on top of one another or touching another piece of meat.
“The air must be free to flow all around the meat.”
A critical aspect of long-term frozen meat storage is that the core of the meat must be brought to 0 degrees F before boxing. Otherwise, the meat will deteriorate internally while being stored.
“My biggest setback in this business came with some meat that was frozen on the outside but not on the inside.”
He said that meat must remain in the blast freezer for one hour for every inch of thickness. He said this really become critical with thick cuts like roasts.
“I take an electric drill and drill a hole in every roast and put a thermometer in there to make sure it is 0 degrees F.”
Two other products that are difficult to freeze are sausages and fat trim.
“Sausages are very fragile. You must freeze each sausage individually (not touching each other) before packaging,” he said.
Fat trim, which is used to add fat to overly lean hamburger, is very difficult to freeze and takes a lot longer to freeze than meat.
“If you subsequently use poorly frozen fat in a hamburger, it will make the hamburger eat mushy.”
He said meat that is going to be vacuum packaged should always be frozen before packaging as this will prevent the meat from becoming squashed in the package by the vacuum pressure.
Vojkovich said to always remind your customers that meat can only be frozen once.
It cannot be thawed and refrozen as this makes the meat tough and it loses its structural integrity. Also, the meat absolutely must not be handled during the thawing process.
If handled while there are still ice crystals inside the meat, it will make the meat weep red juice and be unattractive on the consumer’s plate.
© by The Stockman Grass Farmer
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