Sunday, August 12, 2012

Breaded and frozen

I tweeted about this a few minutes ago, but it is perhaps worth a bit more than two dozen words.

When I was a kid, one of the few frozen foods my mother kept in the house was breaded fish sticks (I wonder what they were made of back in the 1950s and ’60s). They were a favorite of mine, charred to a cinder and laid three abreast onto white bread for an appallingly dry sandwich. I liked dry sandwiches in those days.

I thought of this a couple of weeks ago, when I’d breaded a couple of slices of excellent Tamworth-breed pork with a view to a schnitzel dinner. Just before I put the frying pan on the fire, Jackie and I looked at each other and simultaneously said, “Not tonight. A meat dinner is too much to contemplate, so let’s just have spaghetti with some of those ripe tomatoes.” Or words to that effect.

So, wondering whether breaded food could be frozen at home, I put the schnitzels onto a sheet pan lined with waxed paper and slipped them into the freezer. When they were frozen solid I sealed them in a bag with a sheet of plastic between them to keep them from sticking to each other.

Some days later we were able to face a pork dinner with equanimity, so I unwrapped the breaded schnitzels and put them on a rack to defrost, which didn’t take long, given their 3/8-inch thickness – I hadn’t pounded them too thin. Happily, almost no breading fell off as they thawed and there was no sign of moisture beneath the rack: good signs, I felt. 

I then cooked them in the normal way, in abundant neutral oil with a little clarified butter for flavor. They behaved very much like freshly breaded schnitzels in the pan. 

On the plate they were convincingly crisp and tender too. I felt that the flesh had a very slightly “steamy” quality to it, presumably owing to water artifacts in the defrosted meat, but I doubt that I’d have noticed this if I hadn’t been looking for it. It could be that industrial pork would have exuded enough moisture to spoil the crispness, and I wouldn’t do this with meat from anyone but a trusted farmer or butcher.

So, at least with high-quality meat, you can indeed freeze pre-breaded schnitzels / escallops / cutlets without any special ingredients or techniques. Useful to know. Maybe I’ll try making frozen fish sticks next time. Or maybe not.