Sunday, November 14, 2004

Tip: Frozen foods

Cook frozen or cook fresh; DON'T THAW.

The reason is simple physical chemistry. At 32º F, when water changes from liquid to solid (or solid to liquid), it expands. Since all animal and plant cells are mostly water, a gradual change in temperature allows the water to expand, breaking down the cellular structure. The result is your food turns to mush. Most commercial ("flash") freezing processes work so quickly that the expansion is minimized, and the cell damage is also minimized. But if you then thaw that frozen item before cooking, you'll allow the expansion to rupture all the cell walls, and the cooked result will be mushy.

For home freezing, the best hope is that your freezer temperature is cold enough to freeze the food quickly. Most stand-alone freezers will do the job OK. But if your freezer, like mine, is the bottom (or top) of your refrigerator, and it's packed full to begin with, chances are your 'fresh frozen' food will be suitable for soups and stews, but not for elegant entree service.

If you must thaw before cooking, use your microwave. The more quickly the water can get through the state change, the less damage will be done.

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