I don’t buy frozen meat. In fact, I buy almost nothing that is pre-frozen. My freezer contains things I have frozen down myself, such as produce from the garden that I can’t use right away (if the pigeons and slugs have left anything), leftovers or cook-in-quantity meals portioned up for later use, stock and perhaps carcasses waiting to be made into stock, an emergency loaf waiting to be toasted straight from frozen, ice cubes and maybe a bottle of vodka and a pack of coffee beans. I do buy frozen peas, as, unless you grow your own or know someone who does, they are usually better than fresh, and I also occasionally have spinach and sweetcorn kernels.
My dismissal of frozen foods is so ingrained that I never even think of glancing in the freezer cabinets at the shops: my subconscious just does not consider anything in there to be food. There is the economy issue, I know, but my long-standing argument is that if the quality is poor, then you are wasting rather than saving your hard-earned money. Recently, fellow food blogger Jenny Eatwell and I corresponded about this very issue in the comments section of my post “Mugged by Chicken…” that you can find here.
However, I do have a theory that you should occasionally put your prejudices to the test; apart from the fact that things change and move on, and technology can improve, our own tastes and opinions can modify with time and ongoing discovery – one example was my recent conversion to the use of a cafetiere, which, for a long time, I thought was only the third-best way of making real coffee: now it is my preferred method, once I’d learned the trick (plunge immediately – coffee doesn’t need to brew).
I had an unexpected chance to test the “fresh chicken is better than frozen chicken” belief last week: for reasons far to complicated to explain, and to my great displeasure, a colleague on a catering job ordered some chickens a week early (!) and, as they couldn’t be used anywhere else, the only option was to freeze them down for a few days, and then defrost them ahead of the job.
These were chickens from the good butcher that we usually use, identical to those I cook frequently: plump, high-quality free-range birds that produce a wonderful roast.
Defrosted, they looked fine. Being good quality in the first place, they hadn’t gone soft or watery. I gave them my usual treatment, which involves a good rub with a well-seasoned, herby butter, and roasted them as normal – legs off, breast side down for the first part of the cooking, removed from the oven as soon as they reached the safe temperature (75C/170F), then rested in a warm place before carving.
The result? Poor quality chicken. They looked like roast chickens, even smelled like roast chickens, but the taste was, for want of a better word, weak. Effectively, the flavour was greatly diluted. The texture, also, had suffered: the breast meat, when carved, took on that slightly fluffy, fragile, even stringy quality that you get with overcooked chicken – except that this chicken was in no way overcooked (I promise).
So, the moral of this story is that my prejudices had been put to the test, and confirmed. Bearing in mind that this was originally chicken of a very good quality, one can only imagine the result from anonymous poultry parts from the freezer counter.
Don’t do it, people: buy fresh.