How long to defrost?

This article is part of Epi Loves the Microwave, our exploration (vindication?) of the appliance everybody loves to hate.

Your microwave would like to convince you it’s intelligent. Or at least capable of thawing whatever food you place inside of it. All you need to do is push the defrost button and input your food’s weight, right? But if your microwave’s attempts at thawing have left you with foods that are still frozen solid, there’s still hope: Just switch over to manual power. In other words, punch in cooking times and power levels yourself.

A few FYI’s before you start pushing buttons: Always thaw food removed from its packaging, on a microwave-safe plate or bowl, and don’t skip the flipping step. Microwave ovens have a tough time thawing evenly, even at reduced power levels, so quickly repositioning the food makes a big difference. For raw meat, you want it to be thawed but still cold throughout. If only a small portion is still icy, stop thawing and start cooking. With larger cuts of meat, there’s a good chance some portions will start to actually cook while most of the meat is still frozen solid, so avoid thawing any items that are heavier than 2 pounds.

On the other end of the scale, you also want to avoid using the microwave to thaw super-light items as well—they tend to cook instead of thaw even at reduced power levels. When it comes to cuts of meat thinner than an inch, quick-cooking proteins like fish and shrimp, and loose frozen vegetables, such as peas and corn, simply place the food in a colander and run cold water over until thawed. This cheatsheet for thawing common frozen foods will get you started:

Meat

Bone-in chicken pieces, frozen together in a pack

  1. Microwave at 50% power for 2 minutes; separate the pieces and flip them over.
  2. Microwave at 30% power, 1 minute for every 1 1/2 pounds (checking and flipping every minute).

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, frozen together in a pack

  1. Microwave at 30% power for 2 minutes; separate the pieces and flip them over.
  2. Microwave at 20% power, 1 minute for every 1/2 pound (checking and flipping every minute).

Bone-in steaks or chops (about 1 1/2 inches thick), frozen together in a pack

  1. Microwave at 50% power for 2 minutes; separate the pieces and flip them over.
  2. Microwave at 30% power, 1 minute for every pound (checking and flipping every minute).

Boneless steaks or chops (about 1 inch thick), frozen together in a pack

  1. Microwave at 40% power for 2 minutes, flip over and separate any pieces that are stuck together.
  2. Microwave at 30% power, 1 minute for every 1/2 pound (checking and flipping every minute).

Ground meat, frozen in block

  1. Microwave at 50% power for 2 minutes; remove all the thawed parts that come off easily and set aside.
  2. Microwave at 30% power, 1 minute for every 1/2 pound (checking and removing thawed parts every 30 seconds).

Vegetables

Packaged chopped spinach, frozen in a block

Chat Leftovers: Freezing macaroni and cheese

Does it feel like the calm before the storm? Thanksgiving is bearing down fast, and cooks are starting to get busy. Here at Food, we’re happy to help, with two sections full of great tips and recipes: next Wednesday, Nov. 20, and again on Sunday, Nov. 24.

In fact, we’ve already started helping, with our annual rundown of places where you can order fresh, local turkeys. In case you missed it, here’s our list.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We have plenty of interesting reading to offer you right now that has nothing to do with turkey. For instance: When reporter Tim Carman found out about a local business that sells meals ready to cook, he bought one and made it — then made the same meal two different ways and compared the three for cost, time and taste. Read the results of his labors here., and tips on how to cook smarter.

Also this week, follow Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin to a famous barbecue competition in Tennessee, where he shadows a Virginia team hoping for glory and accepts an unexpected invitation. And Unearthed columnist Tamar Haspel talks to people on both sides of the debate over genetically modified foods and actually finds a patch of common ground.

And then there’s today’s Free Range chat, our weekly hour of schmoozing with you, the reader. We kick it off at noon. The Thanksgiving questions have started to come in over the past couple of weeks, but we’ll talk about anything you want. Cooking instructor Linda Carucci is joining us, providing expert advice on how to up your game in the kitchen.

Just to tide you over, here’s a leftover question from a previous chat:

I have a few favorite types of pre-made frozen macaroni and cheese, but I think I could make my own for less money and freeze them as single servings that would keep for a while. However, I worry about mushy pasta and freezer burn. Do you have any tips for cooking and packaging a serving of homemade mac and cheese that will freeze well AND warm up easily in the microwave?

First, congrats on your good idea. Homemade mac and cheese will be less expensive in the long run than store-bought frozen, even if you buy good-quality cheeses — and maybe even pricey additions such as sausage, shrimp, mushrooms, red bell pepper, shredded chicken, the list goes on and on. (Just like our storehouse of M&C recipes goes on and on, as you’ll see later.)

I just did some quick calculations using our recipe for Classic Macaroni and Cheese. With just the basics — pasta, cheese, milk and a bread crumb topping — it makes 10 generous main-course servings of about 10 ounces each and costs roughly $10 to make. Stouffer’s 40-ounce tub of frozen mac and cheese costs $5.79 at Wegmans, and you’d need 2 1/2 boxes’ worth to get ten 10-ounce servings, which would run you . . . (sound of tapping calculator keys) . . . $14.48. A respectable savings!

Of course, you have to factor in your time, so if you’re a highly compensated CEO who doesn’t like to cook, it definitely wouldn’t be worth it. But if you’re just a regular Joe or Jill who enjoys spending time in front of the stove, it’ll be fun and satisfying.

Macaroni and cheese freezes very well. I ought to know; I worked on a big mac and cheese project last year and was eating the research materials for months afterwards. You don’t need to do anything special when preparing whichever recipe you choose; just make sure that when you cook your pasta, you keep it al dente. That will help stave off the mushiness you’re concerned about. Another thing: I haven’t really noticed this, but some cooks believe that the cooked pasta absorbs too much of the sauce over time and makes the dish dry. The antidote is to cut back slightly on the amount of pasta, to increase the ratio of cheese to mac. If you find that your defrosted portions are too dry, try that technique.

I hate, hate, hate freezer burn. To thwart it, I bake and cool my mac and cheese, then cut individual portions. I double-wrap them in plastic wrap, then add a single layer of aluminum foil, and for good measure I zip them into plastic freezer bags — labeled and dated, of course. Six months is the recommended freezing limit, though I have eaten mine beyond that and they’ve been fine.

Defrosting almost any food is best done overnight in the refrigerator, and that’s true for mac and cheese. But if you haven’t planned that far ahead, no problem. You can reheat in the microwave on low power, cutting the portion in half after a while to expose the center. A slightly better, though slower, option is to remove the plastic wrap and return the food to the aluminum foil, and reheat in the oven. It doesn’t seem to get as dried-out that way, and I think the flavor is better. Plus, if you have a crumb topping, you can peel back the foil for the final few minutes and get it nice and crisp.

Now, which recipe to use? Besides the Classic Macaroni and Cheese I mentioned earlier, our Recipe Finder is full of ’em. We’ve got macaroni and cheese that tastes like Buffalo wings, we’ve got mac and cheese with squash, we’ve got it with lobster, we have an Indian version, we have a low-fat version. That’s enough to keep you busy, and to keep your freezer full.

FSIS

Sheep is the oldest domesticated meat species. Sheep have been raised by humans beginning about 9,000 years ago in the Middle East. In many countries, lamb (a young sheep) is the major source of protein. Many Americans think of lamb as a springtime food, but it can be enjoyed year round. The following information answers many questions callers have asked the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline about lamb.

What is the difference between lamb and mutton?
Sheep (Ovine) carcasses are classified as lamb, yearling mutton, or mutton depending on their age as evidenced by their muscles and bones. For the purpose of this fact sheet we will be discussing lamb. The flavor of lamb is milder than mutton. Lamb is produced from younger animals, typically less than a year old, and mutton is produced from older animals. Most lambs are brought to market at about 6 to 8 months old. A lamb weighs about 140 pounds and yields approximately 46 to 49 pounds of edible lean retail lamb cuts, semi-boneless.

If the phrase “Spring Lamb” is on a meat label, it means the lamb was slaughtered between March and October. The term comes from olden times when lambs born in harsh winter weather would have little chance to survive until the next year. Today with more protected animal husbandry conditions, enjoying “lamb” is not confined to a particular season of the year.

How are lambs raised?
Lambs are nursed by their mothers and when they are weaned, they gradually begin feeding on pasture or coarsely ground grain. They are fed hay and feed consisting of corn, barley, milo (a type of sorghum), and/or wheat supplemented with vitamins and minerals. Lambs are usually “finished” (grown to maturity) in feedlots where they are fed specially formulated feed. While most lambs are finished on grains, some lambs are raised on pasture and are finished on grass instead of grains. Grass-finished lamb is usually distinguished on the label.

How is lamb inspected?
All lamb found in retail stores is either USDA inspected for wholesomeness or inspected by state systems which have standards equal to the Federal government. Each lamb and its internal organs are inspected for signs of disease. The “Passed and Inspected by USDA” seal insures the lamb is wholesome and free from disease.

What does the grade mean?
Grading for quality is voluntary. A processing plant may request to have its lamb graded for quality based on traits such as tenderness, juiciness and flavor. USDA-graded lamb sold at the retail level is Prime, Choice, and Good. Lower grades (Utility and Cull) are mainly ground or used in processed meat products.
Lamb quality grades take into consideration maturity (lamb, yearling mutton, and mutton), conformation, and the palatability-indicating characteristics, such as fat streaking within the flank and firmness of the lean. Most of the graded lamb sold in supermarkets is USDA Choice; 80% of the American lamb supply is USDA Prime or USDA Choice. The protein, vitamin, and mineral content of lamb are similar in all grades.

How is ungraded lamb different?
All lamb is inspected for wholesomeness; however, since grading is not mandatory, the overall quality of ungraded lamb is unknown—it may be higher or lower than USDA-graded lamb found at retail. Since the quality of lamb varies according to the age of the animal, it is advisable to buy lamb that has been USDA graded since age is taken into consideration.

Can hormones and antibiotics be used in lamb raising?
Yes. Hormones and antibiotics approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are permitted to be used in lambs slaughtered for meat. Antibiotics may be given to prevent or treat disease in lambs and hormones may be given to promote efficient growth. A recommended withholding period is required from the time antibiotics are administered until it is legal to slaughter the animal. This is so drug residues can exit the animal’s system. FSIS samples lamb carcasses at slaughter and tests for residues. FSIS laboratory results above the tolerance limit set by FDA is considered a residue violation and are investigated by FDA or the State.

What to Look for When Selecting Lamb
When shopping for lamb, look for meat that is fine textured and firm that has red coloring and white marbling (white flecks of fat within the meat muscle). The fat trim should be firm, white, and not too thick. The USDA quality grades are reliable guides.

Retail Cuts of Fresh Lamb
There are five basic major (primal) cuts into which the lamb carcass is separated: shoulder, rack, shank/breast, loin, and leg. It is recommended that packages of fresh lamb purchased in the supermarket be labeled with the primal cut as well as the product, such as “shoulder roast” or “loin chop.”

What is a rack of lamb?
The “rack” is the primal cut, more commonly known as the rib. The rack contains 9 full ribs and can be split (along the back bone) into two lamb rib roasts. A “lamb crown roast” is made by sewing two rib roasts together to form a circle or crown.

What is a lamb chop?
Chops can come from various primal cuts. “Loin” chops come from the loin and “rib” chops come from the rack (or rib); these are the most tender and most expensive chops. “Blade” and “arm” chops (from the shoulder) and “sirloin” chops (from the leg) are less expensive but may be just as tender.

How much lamb is consumed?
According to USDA’s Economic Research Service, each American eats about .7 pound of lamb yearly.

What does “natural” mean?
All fresh meat qualifies as “natural.” Products labeled “natural” cannot contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, chemical preservative, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient; and the product and its ingredients are not more than minimally processed (ground, for example). All products claiming to be natural should be accompanied by a brief statement which explains what is meant by the term “natural.”

How and why is some lamb aged?
Lamb is aged to develop additional tenderness and flavor. Usually only the higher quality, more expensive primals, such as racks, ribs, and loins are aged, and these are mainly sold to restaurants. Aging is done commercially under controlled temperatures and humidity. Since aging can take from 10 days to 6 weeks under controlled conditions, the USDA does not recommend aging lamb in a home refrigerator.

Why is lamb called a “red” meat?
Oxygen is delivered to muscles by the red cells in the blood. One of the proteins in meat, myoglobin, holds the oxygen in the muscle. The amount of myoglobin in animal muscles determines the color of meat. Lamb is called a “red” meat because it contains more myoglobin than chicken or fish. Other “red” meats are beef, veal, and pork.

Additives
Additives are not allowed on fresh lamb. If it is processed, additives such as MSG, salt, or sodium erythorbate must be listed on the label.

Dating of lamb products
Product dating is not required by Federal regulations. However, many stores and processors may voluntarily date packages of raw lamb or processed lamb products. If a calendar date is shown, immediately adjacent to the date must be a phrase explaining the meaning of that date such as “sell-by” or “use before.”

Except for “use-by” dates, product dates don’t always refer to home storage and use after purchase. “Use-by” dates usually refer to best quality and are not safety dates. But even if the date expires during home storage, a product should be safe, wholesome and of good quality if handled properly and kept at 40° F or below. If the product has a “use-by date,” follow that date. If the product has a “sell-by” date or no date, cook or freeze the product according to the recommendations in the “Storage Times” section of this publication.

Rinsing Lamb
There is no need to rinse raw lamb before cooking because this creates a cross-contamination hazard and is not necessary. Any bacteria which might be present would be destroyed by cooking.

How to Handle Lamb Safely
Raw Lamb. Select lamb just before checking out at the register. Put packages of raw lamb in disposable plastic bags (if available) to contain any leakage which could cross-contaminate cooked foods or produce that will be eaten raw such as salad.

Take lamb home immediately and refrigerate it at 40 °F or below. Use ground lamb or stew meat within 1 to 2 days; lamb chops, roasts, and steaks within 3 to 5 days or freeze at 0 °F or below. If kept frozen continuously, it will be safe indefinitely.

It is safe to freeze lamb in its original packaging or repackage it. However, for long-term freezing, overwrap the porous store plastic with storage wraps or bags to prevent “freezer burn,” which appears as grayish-brown leathery spots and is caused by air reaching the surface of food. Cut freezer-burned portions away either before or after cooking the lamb. Heavily freezer-burned products may have to be discarded for quality reasons. For best quality, use frozen lamb roasts, steaks, and chops within 6 to 9 months; ground lamb, 3 to 4 months.

Ready-Prepared Lamb. For fully-cooked, take-out lamb dishes such as Kabobs, Gyros, or Chinese food, be sure they are hot at pickup. Use cooked lamb within 2 hours (1 hour if the air temperature is above 90 °F) or refrigerate it at 40 °F or below in shallow, covered containers. Eat it within 3 to 4 days, either cold or reheated to 165 °F. It is safe to freeze ready-prepared lamb dishes. For best quality, use within 2 to 3 months.

Safe Thawing
There are three safe ways to thaw lamb: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave. It’s best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. Ground lamb, stew meat, and steaks may defrost within a day. Bone-in parts and whole roasts may take 2 days or longer.

Once the raw product thaws, it will be safe in the refrigerator before cooking 3 to 5 days (for roasts, steaks, and chops) and 1 to 2 days for ground lamb. During this time, if you decide not to use the lamb, you can safely refreeze it without cooking it first.

To thaw lamb in cold water, do not remove the packaging. Be sure the package is airtight or put it into a leakproof bag. Submerge the lamb in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes so that it continues to thaw. Small packages of lamb may defrost in an hour or less; a 3- to 4-pound roast may take 2 to 3 hours.

When thawing lamb in cold water or in the microwave, plan to cook it immediately after thawing. Never thaw on the counter or any other location at room temperature. Leaving food out too long at room temperature can cause bacteria (such as Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella Enteritidis, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Campylobacter) to grow to dangerous levels that can cause illness.

Foods defrosted in the microwave or by the cold water method should be cooked before refreezing because they may potentially have been held at temperatures above 40 °F, where bacteria multiply rapidly.

It is safe to cook frozen lamb in the oven, on the stove, or grill without defrosting it first; the cooking time may be about 50% longer. Do not cook frozen lamb in a slow cooker.

Marinating
Marinate lamb roasts, steaks, or chops in the refrigerator up to 5 days. Lamb cubes or stew meat can be marinated up to 2 days. Boil used marinade before brushing on cooked lamb. Discard any uncooked leftover marinade.

Storage Times
Since product dates aren’t a guide for safe use of a product, how long can the consumer store the food and still use it at top quality? Follow these tips:

  • Purchase the product before the date expires.
  • Follow handling recommendations on product.
  • Keep lamb in its package until ready to use.
  • Refrigerate lamb roasts, steaks, and chops 3 to 5 days (ground lamb or stew meat, 1 to 2 days); and 3 to 4 days after cooking.
  • If product has a “use-by” date, follow that date.
  • If product has a “sell-by” date or no date, cook or freeze the product by the times recommended above.
  • Once a perishable product is frozen, it doesn’t matter if the date expires because foods kept frozen continuously are safe indefinitely.
  • For best quality, use frozen lamb roasts, steaks, and chops within 6 to 9 months; ground lamb, 3 to 4 months.

Safe Cooking
For safety, the USDA recommends cooking lamb patties and ground lamb mixtures such as meat loaf to a safe minimum internal temperature of 160 °F as measured by a food thermometer. Cook all organ and variety meats (such as heart, kidney, liver and tongue) to 160 °F. Cook all raw lamb steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures. For approximate cooking times for use in meal planning, see the following chart.

Times are based on lamb held at refrigerator temperature (40 °F). Remember that appliances and outdoor grills can vary in heat. Use a food thermometer to check for safe cooking and doneness of lamb.

Approximate Lamb Cooking Times °F
Cut of Lamb Size Cooking Method Cooking Time Minimum Internal Temperature & Rest Time
Lamb Leg, bone in 5 to 7 lbs. Roast 325° 20 to 25 min./lb. 145 °F and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
7 to 9 lbs. Roast 325° 15 to 20 min./lb.
Lamb Leg, boneless, rolled 4 to 7 lbs. Roast 325° 25 to 30 min./lb.
Shoulder Roast or Shank Leg Half 3 to 4 lbs. Roast 325° 30 to 35 min./lb.
Cubes, for Kabobs 1 to 1½” Broil/Grill 8 to 12 minutes
Ground Lamb Patties 2″ thick Broil/Grill 5 to 8 minutes 160 °F
Chops, Rib, or Loin 1 to 1½” thick Broil/Grill 7 to 11 minutes 145 °F and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
Leg Steaks ¾” thick Broil/Grill 4″ from heat 14 to 18 minutes
Stew Meat, pieces 1 to 1½” Cover with liquid; simmer 1½ to 2 hours 145 °F and allow to rest for at least 3 minutes
Shanks ¾ to 1 lb.
Breast, Rolled 1½ to 2 lb. *Braise 325° 1½ to 2 hours

*Braising is roasting or simmering less-tender meats with a small amount of liquid in a tightly covered pan.

Microwaving.
Refer to the microwave’s oven manual for microwaving lamb, and check it with a food thermometer.

Partial Cooking
NEVER brown or partially cook lamb to refrigerate and finish cooking later because any bacteria present wouldn’t have been destroyed. It is safe to partially cook or microwave lamb immediately before transferring it to a hot grill or conventional oven to finish cooking.

What is the yield of cooked lamb?
After cooking bone-in lamb leg or roast, one pound of raw weight will yield 8 to 9 ounces of edible meat. Ground lamb or boneless cuts will yield about 10.5 ounces of edible meat.

Cooking Tips

Freezing and Thawing Meat

Before freezing, beef or lamb should be sufficiently aged, as meat does not continue to tenderise while frozen.

Meat should be well trimmed (fat can become rancid on long storage).

The ends of bones that may pierce the wrap should be shielded with foil or plastic before packaging.

Frozen large cuts will keep better and longer, with less flavour change, than frozen smaller cuts, thin slices or mince.

It is important to make sure temperatures don’t fluctuate by more than 0.5° C. Big temperature changes can mean a partial thaw which damages the structure of the meat.

Thawing

If at all possible, plan ahead when you intend on using frozen meat. The best way to maintain the quality of frozen meat is by slow thawing in the refrigerator. All it takes is a bit of time!

When you are thawing

  • Ensure liquid from the thawing meat does not drip onto and contaminate other foods. Thaw meat on tray if there is a chance that packaging may leak.
  • Thaw frozen meat in its original freezer wrapping
  • Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator or chiller for best results.
  • Thawing meat at room temperature is not recommended. The surface of the meat may reach warm temperatures which encourages spoilage.

Approximate thawing times in the refrigerator

  • Large roast: 4 – 7 hours per 500g
  • Small roast: 3 – 5 hours per 500g
  • Steak, 2.5cm thick: 2 – 4 hours

Thawing Options

If you need to hurry thawing there are some options.

  • Leave the meat in its sealed freezer wrap or vacuum-pack for all the following “speed-thaw” methods:
  • Place meat on a tray
  • Use a microwave
  • Place meat on a tray in a relatively cool room for one to two hours before completing thawing in the refrigerator.
  • Use a microwave oven set on defrost.
  • Place sealed vacuum-pack in a sink of cold running water. Note: the pack must be watertight.
  • Never place frozen meat which is not in a sealed vacuum-pack, in water in an attempt to speed thawing. This will cause flavour and colour loss and may encourage bacterial growth.
  • Meat which has been thawed using a “speed-thaw” technique, should be cooked straight after thawing.

The best way to store thawed meat

Remove freezer packaging or vacuum bag and blot meat dry with clean paper towels if necessary. Place meat on a tray (one with sides to prevent drip onto other foods). Loosely cover it and return to refrigerator.

Do not store raw meat above food that will not be cooked before it is eaten (for example, cooked meat, salad vegetables).

Do not allow meat to sit in a pool of meat juices in the tray. The juices will go off faster than the meat itself and can taint the flavour of the meat.

Thinly sliced meat will lose more liquid than large pieces. Slicing may introduce microorganisms onto meat surfaces, so it is best to cut slices or steaks shortly before cooking.

Avoid refreezing thawed meat

Refreezing thawed meat is not recommended. Each time meat is frozen there is some deterioration of quality; the ice crystals tend to rupture the muscle fibre, breaking down texture and letting juices escape.

Meat that has been partially thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen. It will be safe to eat, if not at its best eating quality.

Never refreeze meat that has been thawed and held at room temperature.

Do not expect poorly frozen, badly stored and roughly thawed meat to give top quality eating results.

Cookbook:Lamb

Cookbook | Recipes | Ingredients | Basic foodstuffs | Meat and poultry

Lamb cutlets marinated with ginger and rosemary (uncooked)

Lamb is meat from sheep less than 1 year old. Most are brought to market at about 6 to 8 months old.

Lamb is usually tender because it is from animals less than 1 year old. However, look for good marbling (white flecks of fat within the meat muscle), and meat that is fine textured and firm. In color, the meat should be pink and the fat should be firm, white, and not too thick.

Cuts

There are five basic major (primal) cuts into which lamb is separated: shoulder, rack, shank/breast, loin, and leg.

The “rack” is the unsplit primal rib (sometimes called the hotel rack) of the carcass which includes ribs 6 through 12. The rack is split to make two primal lamb rib roasts. A “lamb crown roast” is made by sewing two rib roasts together to form a circle or crown.

Chops can come from various primal cuts. “Loin” chops and “rib” chops are the most tender. Less expensive “blade” and “arm” chops (from the shoulder) and “sirloin” chops (from the leg) can be just as tender, but they are not as visually attractive because the meat is separated by bands of connective tissue.

Fell

The fell is the thin, paper-like covering on the outer fat. It should not be removed from roasts and legs because it helps these cuts retain their shape and juiciness during cooking. The fell has usually been removed at the market from smaller cuts, such as chops.

Lamb as red meat

Oxygen is delivered to muscles by the red cells in the blood. One of the proteins in meat, myoglobin, holds the oxygen in the muscle. The amount of myoglobin in animal muscles determines the color of meat. Lamb is called a “red” meat because it contains more myoglobin than chicken or fish. Other “red” meats are beef, veal, and pork.

How to Handle Lamb Safely

Raw Lamb

Select lamb just before checking out at the register. Put packages of raw lamb in disposable plastic bags (if available) to contain any leakage which could cross-contaminate cooked foods or produce. Lamb is kept cold during store distribution to retard the growth of bacteria.

Take lamb home immediately and refrigerate it at 40°F for use within 3 to 5 days, or freeze (0 °F). If kept frozen continuously, it will be safe indefinitely.

It is safe to freeze lamb in its original packaging or repackage it. However, for long-term freezing, overwrap the porous store plastic with storage wraps or bags to prevent “freezer burn,” which appears as grayish-brown leathery spots and is caused by air reaching the surface of food. Cut freezer-burned portions away either before or after cooking the lamb. Heavily freezer-burned products may have to be discarded for quality reasons. For best quality, use lamb within 6 to 9 months.

Ready-Prepared Lamb

For fully-cooked, take-out lamb dishes such as Kabobs, Gyros, or Chinese food, be sure they are hot at pickup. Use cooked lamb within 2 hours (1 hour if the air temperature is above 90 °F) or refrigerate it at 40 °F or below in shallow, covered containers. Eat within 3 to 4 days, either cold or reheated to 165 °F (hot and steaming). It is safe to freeze ready-prepared lamb dishes. For best quality, use within 2 to 3 months.

Safe Defrosting

There are three safe ways to defrost lamb: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave. Never defrost on the counter or in other locations. It’s best to plan ahead for slow, safe thawing in the refrigerator. Ground lamb, stew meat, and steaks may defrost within a day. Bone-in parts and whole roasts may take 2 days or longer.

Once the raw product defrosts, it will be safe in the refrigerator 3 to 5 days (for roasts and chops) and 1 to 2 days for ground lamb before cooking. During this time, if you decide not to use the lamb, you can safely refreeze it without cooking it first.

To defrost lamb in cold water, do not remove packaging. Be sure the package is airtight or put it into a leakproof bag. Submerge the lamb in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes so that it continues to thaw. Small packages of lamb may defrost in an hour or less; a 3- to 4-pound roast may take 2 to 3 hours.

When microwave defrosting lamb, plan to cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving. Holding partially-cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn’t have been destroyed.

Foods defrosted in the microwave or by the cold water method should be cooked before refreezing because they may potentially have been held at temperatures above 40 °F.

It is safe to cook frozen lamb in the oven, on the stove, or grill without defrosting it first; the cooking time may be about 50% longer. Do not cook frozen lamb in a slow cooker.

Lamb recipes

Recipes featuring lamb as a main ingredient can be found in the lamb recipe category.

See also

  • Mutton

The Best (And Quickest) Ways To Thaw Frozen Food

Freezing food is an incredibly convenient way to save it, but thawing it is such a hassle. Here are the best (and quickest) ways to thaw just about any food.

Photos by NokHoOkNoi (), Waifer X, Robert S. Donovan, stu_spivack, Steven Depolo, Chris Corwin, Hajime Nakano, StateFoodSafety

Before we get to thawing, you should know some of the best practices to freeze food. If it’s not frozen right in the first place, the thawing process will be inconsistent and there’s a higher chance of developing bacteria. The Kitchn claims to have a foolproof method that keeps frozen meats good for three months:

When packaging meats for the freezer, the most important thing is to protect them from exposure to air. Wrap meats very tightly in either plastic wrap or freezer paper, pressing the wrapping right up against the surface of the meat. Next, wrap another layer of aluminium foil around the meat or seal it inside a zip-top freezer bag. Packaged like this, meat can be kept frozen for at least three months.

Now that you have your meat, you need to know how to thaw it correctly for the best taste.

Avoid Room Temperature

The first rule of thaw club is that we don’t talk about room temperatures. Just keeping your frozen food out on the countertop for a long time is asking for trouble. But it’s a common cooking mistake that you can fix easily:

Remember, the “danger zone” for bacterial growth in food is between 40°F and 140°F (5°C and 60°C), and sitting right in the middle of that is “room temperature,” around 68°-70°F (20°-22°C). A couple of hours at room temperature will certainly make sure that the meat is thawed, but it’s a field day for bacterial growth as well, especially as the deeper parts of your cut begin to come up to temp while the outsides have been room temperature for hours.

If you are going to thoroughly cook it later, there’s a good chance that bacteria like E. Coli will get destroyed in the process. But as a general safety practice, it’s better to avoid thawing at room temperature. So what are your alternatives?

The Old Faithful: Pop It Into The Fridge

Works with: Meat, fruits, some vegetables, frozen foods

The most common thawing technique, and one of the safest, is to take your frozen food out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator. This takes longer than any other process, but you are assured that since it is confined to the cold environment of your fridge, it won’t develop bacteria.

The other benefit is that a fridge’s temperature is controlled, so your thawing process is more even. You do need to make sure that the temperature is 4 degrees Celsius or below. Additionally, there isn’t a rapid cool-down from the freezing temperature so again, you get some uniformity. The USDA adds that the freezer-to-fridge process also keeps thawed food safer for longer and retains the ability to refreeze:

After thawing in the refrigerator, items such as ground meat, stew meat, poultry, seafood, should remain safe and good quality for an additional day or two before cooking; red meat cuts (such as beef, pork or lamb roasts, chops and steaks) 3 to 5 days. Food thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking, although there may be some loss of quality.

But the freezer-to-fridge method takes a lot of time. Depending on the size of your food, you might have to leave it in the fridge for anywhere from 8-24 hours. Not everyone plans their meals that far in advance.

Quick & Quality: Use A Cold Water Bath

Works with: Meat, fruits

If you plan on cooking the food immediately and need to thaw it quickly, a cold water bath is a good option. It does take attention though, so it’s not going to be as simple as “put it and forget it” that you get in the fridge.

You will need to wrap your food in a sealed plastic bag. Make sure there are no leaks. If your frozen food is already in a plastic bag, still throw it into a Ziploc bag as a precaution. Since we are going to submerge this in water, you’re better to be safe than sorry.

Grab a bowl in which your frozen food can fit and fill it with cold tap water. Submerge your sealed food into this water. You will need to change the water whenever it comes to room temperature — on average, this is about 30 minutes, but it could vary depending on your climate, so pay attention.

If that seems like too much trouble, The Kitchn says that you can also keep it running under a rapidly dripping tap as long as the water is cool to the touch. But that will use up a lot more water and seems shamelessly wasteful.

Depending on the size and nature of your food, it will defrost in an hour or lesser, but larger frozen foods (like a whole turkey) can take up to 3 hours.

The USDA makes one good point on this topic: you need to cook the food after a cold water bath. It can’t be refrozen.

Last-Minute For Thin Cuts: Use A Hot Water Bath

Works with: Meat, fruits

When you need your meat thawed as quickly as possible, your best bet is probably a hot water bath. But you will need water that is at least 60 degrees Celsius. Two studies back this up: The USDA tested the method with beef steaks, while the Utah State University used chicken breasts.

The hot water bath is meant for thin cuts only though, so your large roasts and whole turkeys are still left best in the fridge. But for a quick steak, it’s a great last-minute solution.

In the tests, the beef thawed in 11 minutes at 40 degrees, while the chicken thawed in 8.5 minutes at 60 degrees. Both studies found that not only did a hot water bath speed up the process over refrigeration, but tasters could not tell the difference between fridge-thawed and hot-water-thawed meats later.

But as The New York Times warns, your results will vary and this method isn’t for everyone:

Quick-thawing is easy to adopt in the home kitchen. But don’t expect your thaw times to match the lab times I’ve quoted unless you have an immersion circulator or another method to keep the water in motion and at a constant temperature. If the water is still, a cold zone develops around the food and insulates it from the remaining warm water. And without infusions of hot water or heat from a burner, the icy food cools the water bath.

To avoid the still water, it’s best to stir it occasionally, or run a steady drip of hot water in the bath. And yeah, like the cold water bath, you need to cook this after thawing, there’s no refreezing.

Immediate Cooking: Microwave It

Works with: Meat, fruits, some vegetables, frozen foods

This isn’t a method you should use unless you want to cook immediately. Chances are, you need to prep other things so the half-hour needed for the cold water bath is a reliable option in most cases. But just in case you need your fix right now, then turn to the microwave and its defrost setting.

There are a few things to keep in mind here. The biggest problem with thawing in the microwave is that ovens have hot spots which heat your food unevenly and can even start cooking your food. So you need to be ready to cook as soon as thawing is done.

Of course, for the microwave process, you need to remove all plastics and keep the meat in a microwave-safe bowl or plate. You will also need to be careful not to handle the meat after you have thawed it in the microwave, says the USDA:

Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn’t have been destroyed and, indeed, the food may have reached optimal temperatures for bacteria to grow.

As with the hot water bath method, this is best left for thinner slices than large meats. If you do need to microwave larger meats, then follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the back.

Speed It Up: Pour Some Vinegar On It

Works with: Meat

To fire it up if you can’t get enough, Lifehackery suggests you pour some vinegar on it. This is a two-in-one trick since it speeds up the process while also tenderizing the meat. you can quicken the thawing time while also making the meat tender. The vinegar lowers the freezing temperature while its acid breaks down connective tissues. And it can be rinsed off later if necessary.

Boil It: Don’t Thaw Vegies, Cook Them

Works with: All vegetables

Contrary to what you may have heard, most frozen vegetables don’t need to be thawed. You are better off putting them directly in boiling water. Vegetables are usually flash-frozen directly after picking, which means they retain most of their nutrients. The thawing process can release these nutrients. The National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP) notes a few exceptions that should be partially thawed:

Most frozen vegetables should be cooked without thawing first. Corn on the cob should be partially thawed before cooking in order for the cob to be heated through by the time the corn is cooked. Letting the corn sit after thawing or cooking causes sogginess. Leafy greens, such as turnip greens and spinach, cook more evenly if partially thawed before cooking.

The cooking process is up to you. The NCHFP recommends putting them directly in boiling water, with a ratio of ½ cup of water to a pint package. The Kitchn finds that boiling frozen vegies makes them icky, so they recommend popping them into the microwave with the water going 1/3rd the way up the side of the vegetables.

With either method, you want to remember one thing. Frozen vegetables will release water rapidly, so take that into account when adding your own water. It’s easy to have a mushy mess by not factoring in the water from the vegetables themselves.

When Can You Refreeze Thawed Food?

This is a simple rule to follow: Unless you have opted for the refrigeration method of thawing, you should never refreeze thawed food as is. You can cook the food and freeze it again, though.

Sometimes, you may be halfway through the thawing process when you decide you don’t need the frozen food and want to pop it back in. How do you tell if the food has completely thawed or not? The safest way is to use an appliance thermometer and check if it has hit 4 degrees Celsius. If it’s still below that, you can safely pop it back into the freezer. Above that, don’t risk it.

I’m totally going to blow your mind with this kitchen tip. Ha, ha. Actually, this tip is pretty much a no-brainer! But, even so, it is really helpful in the kitchen. I do this – water bath defrosting – to defrost frozen cheese, lemon/lime cubes, hard ice cream, frozen fruit, frozen fruit puree, and more!

If the food is in a freezer bag or container, nest it inside a larger bowl of cool water. If the food is not in a bag or container, put the food in a bowl that will nest inside the bowl of cool water. Keep changing the water periodically until the food is defrosted. I transfer the whole operation to the refrigerator if the defrosting will take more than an hour.

There are times when I fill the bigger bowl with warm water – like for a quick defrost of lemon juice ice cubes. But for larger quantities of food, such as a turkey, or a block of cheese, or a quart-size bag of frozen fruit, the water really should be cool and should be changed frequently, for food safety.

I know, I know. Exciting.

Do you have any tips to share about defrosting? Please do!

I would like to share what you know with the great and inspirational readers of traditionalcookingschool.com. Send your favorite kitchen tip(s), accompanying photos, and your website address (optional) to: tips at gnowfglins dot com. You’ll be credited as the author/owner of the information submitted. Please understand that I may not post all tips. By sending me your tips, you are granting me permission to include them in traditionalcookingschool.com publications. Of course, you may revoke your permission at any time.

Your Questions Answered

Can You Freeze Cheese Successfully?

Question: My local grocery store is currently running a special on cheddar cheese. Is it a good idea to stock up and freeze it?

Answer: You can freeze cheese successfully if you’re planning to use it for cooking purposes.

Frozen cheese will remain safe to consume, but it will typically change texture and often become crumbly once thawed, says the National Dairy Council.

For that reason, you shouldn’t count on serving the frozen cheddar at your next cocktail party. But it should be fine for use in cooked dishes like sauces, soups and casseroles.

While you can freeze just about any type of cheese, the firmer varieties — such as cheddar, gouda and Swiss — tend to come through the freezing process with the least damage to texture and flavor. For best results, keep cheese frozen for no more than 6 months.

When freezing cheese, cut it into portions no larger than 1/2 pound each, and wrap tightly in airtight wrapping or place inside a heavy-duty freezer bag. You can also grate cheese before freezing and place it in a freezer bag.

Be sure to thaw the frozen cheese in your refrigerator, and plan to use it within two or three days.
See Also:
Is it OK to Eat Cheese That Has Mold On It?

How Long Can Cheese Sit Out Before It Becomes Unsafe To Eat?

Freezing Cream Cheese

To find out, we placed several blocks of cream cheese in the refrigerator and freezer. Two days later, we thawed the frozen samples and began our comparison.

As we unwrapped the defrosted cream cheese, the first thing we noticed was its crumbly, grainy texture, which stood in stark contrast to the smooth, dense, refrigerated cream cheese. Why the grittiness? Since cream cheese is about half water, it is especially sensitive to the formation and melting of ice crystals that happens during freezing and thawing. When ice crystals form, the previously emulsified water separates from the cheese curds, causing the thawed cheese to turn grainy and ricotta-like.

With its unappealing texture, spreading thawed cream cheese on bagels was out. To see if it might work for baking, we used it in pound cake, biscuits, and cheesecake. While the pound cake and biscuits turned out fine, the cheesecake was flawed, with a gritty texture.

Our conclusion: If you’re going to freeze cream cheese, use it only in applications in which its grainy texture won’t stand out.