Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Salting and Freezing Chicken

A question came up in the Poultry class the other week:
If you are planning to freeze the chicken, is it better to salt it for 24 hours first and then freeze, or is it better to salt for 24 hours after defrosting?
I was wondering that myself and decided to set up a little experiment. But first, let me give you some background on salting. Salting proteins far in advance (1-4 days) is a technique I learned from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers. It has all the benefits of a wet brine (increasing tenderness and juiciness) without any drawbacks of a wet brine (spongy texture, slightly artificial flavor, and skin that burns, but stays flabby). I find this technique most useful on poultry and pork and got into the habit of always salting them in advance.

The question is how to proceed if the chicken will be frozen for a period of time and then defrosted? I saved the breast/wing roasts from 2 whole chickens my students cut up in the Poultry class and froze them for 2 weeks, then defrosted in the fridge for 2 days and cooked. One roast was dried, vacuum sealed, and frozen immediately. The other roast was salted for 24 hours in the fridge, then dried, vacuum sealed and frozen. The roast that was not salted before freezing was salted for 24 hours in the fridge after defrosting. Both roasts were cooked the same way.

After defrosting both roasts and getting them out of the vacuum sealed bags, I had a little discovery. The roast that was salted before freezing left way less liquid behind. The roasts were roughly the same size (if anything the roast that left more liquid was actually smaller because it was missing a wing).

I can't say I was surprised. There must be a reason why shrimp are often brined before freezing.

The one that was salted before freezing tasted a bit juicier, but it was hard to tell without having them side by side. We cooked them on two consecutive nights, and both were quite good. In other words, freezing chicken is not a culinary catastrophe like freezing lean fish. So, freeze away! If you can vacuum seal it, it will last longer. If you can salt it before freezing, it will be a tad juicier. As always, make sure you label everything in your freezer, or 3 months later you'll have no idea how long the chicken was in there and if it was salted or not.


Anonymous said...

do you vacuum seal with a device, or just by squeezing all the air out of a baggie?

Helen said...

I vacuum seal with a device. It's a Foodsaver brand for about $100.