Whether you’re readying yourself for a busy week ahead or prepping meals in advance for a big dinner party, our ability to freeze food adds a lot of convenience to our lives. But if you’re going to, quite literally, put some meals on ice, it’s critical that you know how to defrost them properly when the time comes. Why? Because if you go about this process the wrong way, you could not only compromise the quality of the food, but you could also land up subjecting yourself and your guests to food-borne illnesses.
The number one rule when it comes to thawing anything other than pastries or bread is to avoid doing so at room temperature. Potentially harmful bacteria thrives between 4֯ C and 60 ֯C, so you don’t want to let food sit within this “danger zone” for too long. That means you should stay away from leaving meals out on the countertop to thaw – an approach that many of us default to. Instead, use one of the below methods to ensure that you defrost your dishes thoroughly and safely.
How to safely thaw frozen meals
1. The refrigerator method
The best way to thaw food without the risk of negative consequences is to remove it from the freezer and place it straight into the refrigerator. This approach keeps meals at a safe, sufficiently cold temperature (assuming the fridge is set to below 4֯ C) while they defrost, and food thawed this way can easily be refrozen or left for a little while before it’s cooked – ground meat, chicken and seafood can safely sit in the fridge for another day or two after defrosting is complete, and red meat will last an additional three to five days. Unfortunately, this is also the slowest defrosting method – a whole chicken, for example, can take over 24 hours to thaw – so you need to plan well in advance, which is not always that easy to do.
2. The cold water bath
If done properly, this approach is as effective as the refrigerator method, but significantly faster. For this reason, it’s a good option if you want frozen meat to be ready for cooking within the next hour or so. It’s important that you wrap the food in leak-proof plastic or place it in a Ziploc bag prior to fully submerging it in a bowl filled with cold tap water. In order to ensure that the water remains below room temperature, you’ll have to change it regularly (about every 30 minutes) – if you can’t commit to keeping an eye on the defrosting process, then this is not a suitably safe method for you. Once fully thawed, food should be cooked promptly, and only then can it be refrozen if necessary.
3. The hot water bath
It’s important to note that this method is only really appropriate for thin cuts of meat, and it’s important that the water temperature is at or slightly above 60 ֯C. Meet these two conditions and you can successfully defrost frozen steaks, chops, fillets and other compact cuts in under 10 minutes – fast enough to prevent significant bacterial growth. Needless to say, this is a good option if you need to thaw meat fast. Just remember to keep adding fresh hot water and to stir it regularly to prevent a cold zone from forming around the food. And like with a cold water bath, it’s essential you cook the products immediately after defrosting.
4. The microwave method
Your microwave’s defrost function should be a last resort, but the option is there for you if you need food defrosted right this minute (although, a hot water bath is a safer, only slightly slower solution). Remember to use a microwave-safe bowl and to watch the food closely while it thaws – it’s not uncommon for microwaves to start cooking the outer edges of a meal, while its core remains frozen. The trouble with this method is that it tends to heat a dish unevenly, so food should never stand for a while after thawing is done – it needs to be cooked then and there.
When it comes to food preparation, there are lots of little mistakes you can make fairly easily without even realising it. For this reason, if you’re hosting an event of any kind, your safest option is to work with a details-orientated custom catering company that has expertise in everything from serving multi-course meals to safely defrosting frozen food. At Food Matters, we cover the meal- and drink-related aspects of all sorts of corporate and private events (weddings, too), and we do so with flawless precision and a smile on our faces. Plus, we can even bring waiting staff with us if necessary.