A slow thaw
Flash in the Pan
Q: Dear Flash,
I’ve heard it’s best to thaw frozen meat slowly, like overnight. Is this true? And if so, why?
A: Dear Frozen,
I’ve heard that too. Sounds like it might be a good idea, although it would require more foresight than I have on most days. But I did some digging, hoping to shed light on your question, and half wondering if I might learn something to make me change my ways.
It turns out that one reason for thawing meat slowly in the refrigerator, as opposed to a warmer environment, has to do with safety. When thawed in the fridge, the meat can’t possibly warm up to temperatures at which bacterial growth or other forms of spoilage might occur.
Though interesting, this rationale doesn’t make me reconsider my standard approach, which is to drop a packet of frozen meat into a vessel of hot tap water, in which it quickly thaws. Sometimes the surface of the meat gets slightly discolored from the heat, but as soon as you cook the meat that discoloration gets covered by some real browning, so that’s not a problem. And I don’t let my meat sit around long enough to spoil.
Sometimes I’ll just toss a completely or partially frozen hunk of meat on the pan or grill and start cooking it. The outside tends to get a bit crispy by the time the inside reaches your desired level of done-ness, but I’ve never heard anybody complain about meat that was crispy on the outside and, say, medium-rare on the inside. Have you?
Whatever you do, don’t use a microwave oven to defrost your meat. Microwaves have a way of cooking the meat you’re trying to defrost from the inside out! And who the heck wants a piece of meat that’s nuked on the inside and raw on the outside?
Q: Dear Flash,
What’s up with the expression about “one bad apple?” I mean, I guess I understand what it means because I’m looking at my stash of rotten apples from last fall. But how is it that one bad apple can ruin the whole batch?
—Sister Apple Sludge
A: Dear SAS,
Ripening fruit gives off a gas called ethylene, a plant hormone that induces physiological changes in plant cells. Like yawns, colds, and other contagions, ethylene can spark a self-fueling chain reaction through fruit kept in non-ventilated spaces. For the most dramatic example of ethylene in action, wrap a banana in plastic and watch how fast it ripens itself.
You can apply the same principle to help speed the ripening of fruit you want to mature. For example, wrapping green tomatoes in newspaper traps the ethylene produced by the tomatoes and speeds the ripening process, but still allows enough air circulation to keep the tomatoes from rotting.
Meanwhile, gene jockeys have figured out how to tweak ethylene production in tomatoes to slow or speed ripening. But since most consumers don’t want GMO tomatoes, the process hasn’t caught on commercially.
Anyway, to keep your apples and other fruit fresh, you need to winnow, removing any fruit that’s starting to turn soft. Be merciless. Also remove specimens with spots and bruises, which can speed up ethylene release. Remove moldy specimens, too, which can infect their neighbors. Then keep the fruit in a cool, well-ventilated area, checking it periodically to remove the next generation of ethylene bombs.
Dear Chef Boy:
I’ve got garlic woes. My well-cared-for and properly (I thought) stored garlic is sprouting. Yes, here we are, not even halfway through winter and my big, beautiful bulbs are turning soft and shooting out lively green stems. Thing is, I kept them in a cool, dark, dry spot like I thought I was supposed to. Anyway, can I halt the sprouting process and get a few more weeks or months out of these HUGE cloves, or should I just chop them up and freeze them or put them in a jar with olive oil or something?
—I Got Big Bulbs
According to Ron Engeland in his definitive book Growing Great Garlic, bigger bulbs tend to sprout first. Beyond that, Engeland says, successful garlic storage comes down to three factors: the type of garlic, how the garlic was cultivated, and storage conditions.
In general, hard-neck varieties, which tend to be more flavorful and easier to peel—i.e., better in the kitchen—don’t store as well as soft neck types. That’s why most professional hard-neck growers try to sell their whole crop by Christmas.
It’s too late to do anything about the variety you grew, and it’s also too late to modify the growing conditions of last year’s crop. But keep in mind for next year that a crop that’s been over-watered, under-watered, nutrient-starved or left too long in the ground before harvest will have a drastically reduced shelf life.
Perhaps your storage conditions, which you described as dry, were too dry. Storage humidity should be kept between 40 and 75 percent. Also, you didn’t mention ventilation, which is an important component.
The bottom line, IGBB, is that once those garlic cloves have decided it’s time to sprout, there’s not much you can do about it, so you might as well enjoy it.
That little shoot of green poking out of your garlic cloves is beautiful, isn’t it? I like to slow-fry those sprouted cloves, with the sprout sticking out and all, in olive oil, which looks pretty cool and tastes just fine. Those sprouted cloves look good in a jar of pickled garlic, too. Or you can mince the green shoots and use them as a garnish. Sprouting won’t affect the flavor, so don’t worry, be happy, eat your garlic, and plan accordingly for next year.