Frozen Cache Transcript

The Kitchen

    [AB completely cleans out his freezer] Welcome to your freezer. Bet you've never seen it from quite this perspective. You know, if it looks a little ramshackle, it may be because millions of Americans—including, perhaps, yourself—treat it like a trash can tossing in bits and pieces of leftover this and surplus that, which disappear into the darkness and are eventually forgotten, like all those crates at the end of "The Raiders of the Lost Ark." It's a shame, too, because this is probably the most potent food preservation device ever devised. And the items placed herein can, with proper prep and packaging, rank with the very best ...

["Good Eats" theme plays]

The Kitchen

    The practice of preserving food by way of freezing is, well, at least 3,000 years old. I mean, we know that the Chinese were stashing food in ice caves back in 1000 B.C. The Greeks and the Romans stored snow in straw-lined holes in the ground. Though in those climates, refrigeration was probably the best that they could manage. The Egyptians and the Indians dabbled with cooling systems based on evaporation. In 1864, Ferdinand Carré patented an ammonia compression freezer in France. But the real big breakthrough came in 1930, when a fur trader and biologist named Clarence Birdseye started using brine-chilled metal plates to freeze blocks of cooked vegetables.
    Freezing got a huge shot in the frosty arm during World War II, when Japanese forces took over much of the world's tin supply sending the price of cans through the roof and the U.S. Government skittering around looking for ways to feed the troops. As Napoleon said, "Armies march on their stomachs." Pretty soon, frozen foods were being designed for consumption on airplanes, tanks, even submarines. Post-war innovations, like the TV dinner, promised to free housewives forever from the drudgery of the kitchen. The problem was, most of the preparations were positively pukey.
    If we are to produce quality frozen foods in the home environment, we most grapple with several physical foes. The first is found in the food itself. The universal ingredient: water. [AB pours a pitcher of water onto the floor, but as the camera cuts to the floor, the water has turned into blue plastic soldier] Now just pretend that all those little blue guys are water molecules, okay? Now when they're in liquid form, they mill around, making and breaking random bonds with each other. But if we remove the heat, that is, if we chill them, they slow down, and eventually they line up like the good little soldiers that they are. We call this process "crystallization". Now if the temperature drops quickly, small crystals result. But if we drop the temperature very, very slowly, we get big, gigantic crystals. What's the effect on food? Let's find out.

    [at the table] Consider this beef strip steak, which has spent the last eight hours in the freezer. Deep inside, we can see a great deal of the meat's moisture has become bound up in crystals.

Inside The Beef Strip Steak

GUEST: Bacterium

    Now that means that any present bacteria are going to have a devil of a time finding the moisture they require to live, breed, survive. Since they themselves contain a considerable dose of H2O, freezing halts bacterial activity altogether, though some of the little beasties can survive to decompose another day.

BACTERIUM: [walks around and begins to chew on a meat molecule, but turns to ice as the meat freezes]

The Kitchen

    While it is in this frozen state, the meat will remain unspoiled for years. But there's a problem. You see, home freezers work very slowly. That means that as those little H2Os start to line up inside, they'll create huge, sharp, jagged crystals that will rise up, slicing and dicing their way through cell walls, muscle fibers, and pretty much anything else that gets in the way.

    Now while frozen, you won't notice this damage. But when it comes time to thaw, all of those perforated cells will start to leak out moisture all over the place. It's called drip loss and it's not a sign of good eats.

Leftovers like lasagna, should be cut into single
portions before wrapping and freezing.

    One good way to prevent drip loss is to freeze the target food very, very quickly to a very, very low temperature. So that instead of creating huge, jagged, nasty ice crystals, you get very, very tiny little ice crystals.
    Now big commercial freezing operations sometimes use massive blast chillers to move heat away from the food with frigid winds. There are other ways of doing it, however. If the food in question is small and relatively uniform—say, like a pea—then they float the food in liquid nitrogen, which just so happens to boil at 320.5 degrees below zero. Hah hah hah hah hah hah. [demonstrates] Now them's some frozen peas.
    All right. I admit most of us don't have blast chillers in our garages or Dewars of liquid nitrogen hanging around the kitchen. Well, I do, but I'm kind of strange that way. It doesn't mean that we can't effectively freeze foods in our relatively warm home freezers. We just have to have some strategies.
    Now let's say for a second that your butcher went insane and decided to sell you an entire beef strip loin subprimal at $2 a pound. Now you would be a fool not to take it. But you can't eat it all at one time. The strategy, of course, freeze it. But here's the thing. We want to increase the surface-to-mass ratio so that the freezing will happen as quickly as possible. Of course, that means steaks.
    Evenness is always the major issue with steaks. I like mine an inch and a half. That is perfect for the freezer. And it's almost the same as the width of the ruler, so I'm just going to use that as a guide. And here's my 14-inch scimitar. You don't have to have one of those, but I like mine. The ruler is clean. And just use as few slices as possible. Now I would say that these could be anywhere from 12 to 16 ounces, but that isn't nearly as important as, again, the surface area, and that should be perfect if you stick to an inch and a half.
    [at the freezer] Ah. Once your steaks are cut, chill them on a rack over a pan, unwrapped, for one hour, okay? Now the colder the meat is when it enters the freezing phase, the faster the freeze will take place, and that'll mean smaller ice crystals. The rack will enhance air circulation, thus drying the meat's surface. Reducing surface moisture reduces surface ice which reduces the reduction of quality in the final product. Where are the other steaks? Hey, I got a date with the grill.

Scoop cookie dough onto a sheet pan and freeze.
Then transfer to a ziptop bag for long-term freezer storage.

The Kitchen

GUESTS: Enzymes
              Vitamin C

    The early frozen food industry had a devil of a time with fruits and vegetables. Not because of ice crystals, but because of what won't go into an ice crystal.

    Now let's say for a moment that we had a big old mess of peas. And let's say for the sake of demonstration that we pulverized these peas into a large, mushy goo. We'd be left with something like this. Sugars, salts, vitamins, amino acids, lignin, and chlorophyll, all awash on a sea of water. Well, let's say now that we wanted to freeze this. Well, here's the problem. Only the water will technically freeze. And as the waters start joining up to form crystals, all the other stuff gets pushed out until it forms a syrup that is so concentrated that it could never actually freeze.

Amino Acids


    This can be a good thing. It's the reason that ice cream isn't as hard as a rock. It's because there's always a liquid phase. But when it comes to fruits and vegetables, there's a problem, because these foods contain chemical agents called enzymes.

ENZYME: [sock puppet appears].

    Now enzymes set various natural changes into action, such as decomposition and ripening. And unlike bacteria, enzymes are impervious to the cold.

  E: [disappears and reemerges wearing a coat]
AB: Oh. Hey, nice coat.

    Anyway, what's really bad is that these little guys go into overdrive in this concentrated environment, which is why fruits and vegetables turn brown and mushy in the freezer.

AB: [turns to E] Luckily, we know how to neutralize the likes of ...
  E: [attacks AB]

    [at the stove] High temperatures, like those delivered by boiling water, can shut down the enzymes' engine of destruction. Problem is, high heat can also turn the target foods, like these fresh peas, to mush. So we will use the blanch and shock method.

    Now I have a pound of fresh peas here, and that will require one gallon of water at a rolling boil. You can see I've got a steamer basket here for quick retrieval. I like it for that. We will also add one teaspoon of kosher salt, both to enhance flavor and texture. Don't skip that. I have my timer set for one minute, and the peas go in. We hit the button.

1 Gallon Water

1 tsp. Kosher Salt

1 Pound Fresh Green Peas

    Now in the meantime, make sure that you have an ice bath standing by. We have two quarts of water here, plus about 24 ounces of ice. And then I have a sheet pan here layered with about four layers of paper towels so that we can thoroughly dry them when they come out. Now we wait.

2 Quarts Water +
24 Ounces Ice

    A minute exactly. Time to evacuate the peas to the ice bath. Just carefully, slowly come up and straight into the ice. There we go. Set the timer for another minute.
    Sixty seconds later and the peas are thoroughly chilled. But we also need them to be thoroughly dry. So just spread them out on some paper towels and kind of roll them around to pat them dry. And then move them into the refrigerator. No, they don't need to be chilled more. But an hour in here will remove almost all of the surface moisture. And the drier, the better when it comes to freezing.

Liquid alcohol freezer thermometers are more accurate than dial models.

    Seasonal eating is all fine and good, but there is no reason not to set aside a little something for the winter. Take my favorite stone fruit, for instance: peaches. Traditionally, very pesky freezers. Why? Enzymes, again. Especially oxidative enzymes that are responsible for browning. They tend to run rabid at freezer temperatures.

E: [more pop up and one is foaming at the mouth]

    And unlike green vegetables, boiling fruit doesn't really help because it downgrades the quality so much. What we need is a chemical hero willing to get in there and react with the oxygen connected to the pigment cells thus blocking the enzymes' evil plan. Why, look! It's vitamin C! [flies overhead]

VITAMIN C: [flies in]

    That's right, good old ascorbic acid. That powerful antioxidant can neutralize those enzymes. If only we can figure out a way to get him inside the fruit.
    Oh, here he comes now.

AB: Oh, you're in big trouble.
VC: [brandishes a hypodermic needle]
AB: Hey, hey, hey, wait a second, wait a second. Vitamin C, a hypodermic? Don't you think that's a little drastic? Why don't we try a nice syrup or something. What do you think?
VC: [goes ballistic flailing away with the needle]

AB: No, hey, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh. Ow, that ... I quit.

When shopping for frozen foods take a cooler
along to prevent thawing on the way home.

    Grind enough chewable vitamin C tablets to render one teaspoon of powder. Then add to that half a teaspoon of smoked paprika if you can get it. Trust me on this, it's good. And four ounces of granulated sugar. And you can combine by grinding in your mortar and pestle or in a food processor. And move that to a ziptop bag. And then add one pound of fresh peach slices, sliced half an inch thick.

1 tsp. Ground Children's
    Vitamin C
½ tsp. Smoked Paprika
4 Ounces Granulated Sugar
1 Pound Fresh Peach Slices

    Within mere moments, the sugar will pull enough moisture out of the peaches to create a flavorful and concentrated syrup which will be partially soaked back up by the peaches during freezing. Now the last step is to suck out as much air as possible. I'll tell you why later.
    Now I know what you're thinking. The bag plus all the moisture is going to slow freezing resulting in large crystals which will make the peaches mushy. But keep in mind, sugar is hygroscopic. So it's going to hold on to as much water as possible helping to keep those crystals nice and tiny.

When freezing poultry, buy a whole bird and cut
into parts for fast, efficient freezing.

The Kitchen

    [AB has a cutaway model of a freezer and draws lines demonstrating the following text] This would be a good time to take a look at the parts of a freezer. Now a freezer's really nothing but a large, insulated box with a heavy door and some bins and shelves inside, right? And all of this is connected to what is essentially a souped up air conditioning system.
    Now the first part of this system is an electronic thermostat which monitors the temperature inside your freezer—usually the refrigerator, too. And I know, that's a thermometer. But I don't know how to draw a thermostat. There. Now this thermostat is connected via electronic wires to a device called a compressor, which is usually on the bottom or the top of the unit. And it's just a small, little device. Usually looks kind of like a tank. And it compresses what is called a refrigerant, usually R134A or something like that. Systems used to use ammonia, which is very, very dangerous. Anyway, it compresses it until it becomes extremely hot, and condenses into a liquid form. It's usually a gas in nature.
    So it's so hot that the heat needs to be dissipated. So it goes through this big set of coils on the back of your unit. And it slowly gives off its heat, getting cooler and cooler all the time. But it's still a liquid, okay? And that is important, and it's under pressure, okay? Then, this coil basically punches through to your freezer, and the refrigerant goes through something called an expansion valve, which releases all of the pressure, and that makes the refrigerant immediately evaporate back into a vapor form. Well, this is called a phase change. And as this changing vapor moves through the coil inside the freezer, it absorbs a huge amount of heat from your food, thus freezing it. It's just that simple.

When freezing any liquid based food,
remember to leave enough space for expansion.

ApplianceSmart - Smyrna, GA: 2:13 pm

GUESTS: Appliance Salesman

    Most refrigerator-freezers are essentially the same. That means we can generalize our approach. For instance, since the door bins spend a good bit of time swinging out into your nice, warm kitchen, only store items up here that you'll use quickly, or that are less likely to sustain damage from partial thawing and refreezing. Good examples would be nuts, coffee beans tightly wrapped, of course, butter, and bread.
    Now for inside the main vessel ... [cuts out a in the back of the freezer compartment so we can see him better inside] Ahh. There. That's better. Now, the first thing I want you to promise me is that you will always keep a freezer thermometer inside here [freezer] so that you will know that your box is sticking to zero or colder. That is crucial.
    Now unlike refrigerators, freezers work best when they are full. But if you just pack stuff in here, you'll never really be able to use the space. And you'll never be able to find anything. So you need some organization. What I do is I use organizational tools that I get at hardware and office supply store, wire shelving and what-not, so I can place things in different parts of the freezer and move things around. I also like to stash two to three water bottles in here, to take up space, and act as heat sinks in the unlikely event of a power outage. If I need more room, I just move these down to the refrigerator. All this means [is] that I can move stuff around and quickly get to the coldest spot, which is usually dead center in the bottom. That way, I can always slide in items to freeze, like our unwrapped steaks, which will fit right in on a pan. Now since the pan is aluminum, and aluminum is a great conductor, it will quickly pull the heat out of the steaks.
    Now if your freezer isn't already on its very lowest setting, put it there now. If the doors stay shut, these steaks should be ready to package in four to six hours.

SALESMAN: [picks up AB's sawzall] Uh, is this yours?
AB: I've never seen that before in my life.

    [cuts another bigger hole in another unit] Ahh. Where were we? Oh, yes, our peas. To freeze the peas, remove the now moist paper toweling and freeze uncovered in the pan, on the floor of the freezer if at all possible. If you can't get to the floor of the freezer, as is often the case with a side-by-side model, just keep in mind that a single layer is the most important thing. So divide them into two smaller vessels and layer them on the lowest shelves that you can access. Now when these are rock hard in about two hours, we'll talk about storage.

Uh, sir, if you're not going to purchase, we're going to have to ask you to stop cutting holes in the appliances.
AB: Oh, bother.

When buying frozen goods in bags, give ‘em a squeeze.
If they're chunky they've probably been thawed and refrozen.

The Kitchen

    If you've ever opened your freezer to find a cloud of hovering fog, then you have walked in on the defrost cycle which keeps the inside of your freezer from looking like Ice Station Zebra. Have you ever wondered, though, "Where's the moisture coming from?" Well, unfortunately, at least some of it is coming out of your food.
    Now you wouldn't think that water would be able to evaporate straight out of frozen food, but it can. You see, freezer air is so dry that it can literally rip water molecules off of frozen food, in a process called sublimation. The result? Frost on the sides of your freezer, and freezer burn on your food. This is especially a bad thing for meat, which can become so leathery and dry, that basically it becomes unpalatable. There is, however, one way to prevent this: proper packaging.
    Freezer-bound meats such as chopped steaks, fillets and cutlets, should be wrapped in at least two full layers of plastic wrap, and then that should be sealed inside at least two full layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil. And you might want to crimp in the ends just to ensure that no air can get in there. And, of course, you want to label that with a magic marker, the name of the product, and, of course, the freezing date.
    By freezing our peas on a pan loose like this, we have created what in the industry would be called I.Q.F. peas, or Individual Quick Frozen. They are convenient because, if properly kept, we can just dose them out at will for however many we need, whenever we need them. So I'm going to put these all into one heavy-duty ziptop bag. Now a lot of companies sell freezer bags. You don't need those. No real difference. What is important, however, is that we remove as much of this air as possible. Anytime air comes in contact with frozen foods, it is a bad thing. We're going to suffer moisture loss, so again, I'll employ the straw. There.
    Now if you will remove the air every time you get out some peas, you'll be able to keep these garden fresh for up to a year.

Date and label all freezer entries and practice FIFO (first in first out).

    [in the freezer] Believe it or not, how you choose to bring your frozen cache back to culinary life greatly affects the quality. Now a slow thaw in the fridge is best because it allows time for the food to reabsorb some of the moisture that might be lost due to internal ice crystallization. And, of course, the cold environment will help prevent any reawakening surface bacteria from running rampant.
    Now since condensation usually leads to dripage, always, always thaw in clean, watertight containers such as these. Now the downside to this system, of course, is time. It can take 12 to 24 hours for a couple of steaks to thoroughly thaw. Luckily, we've got some ways around that.
    [at the sink] If you've seen our award-winning duck episode [What's Up, Duck?], you'll no doubt recall that cold water is a very efficient thawing medium, especially if it's moving a little, has a little convection going for it.
    Now the peaches can thaw exactly as they are. The steaks—which should be in a separate container, of course, from fruits and vegetables—should be taken out of the foil and moved into ziptop bags, and then submerged with something nice and heavy. I just like to use a little rock there. As for the water, if you don't want to leave it running, you're going to want to replace it with cold water every 20 minutes or so. Of course, in the case of the peaches, I doubt that it's going to take more than that to thaw a bag. In case of the steak, well, depending on thickness, maybe up to an hour. As for the peas, well, just dose them out straight from the bag into whatever you're cooking. They will thaw quickly enough.

    [at the freezer] Well, America, I hope that we've inspired you to cast a new gaze upon the powerful ally that is your freezer. Think of it as a bank account that you can load up with assets, which are frozen and yet earn interest at the same time. Learn to keep the right things on hand in here, and good eats will never be more than a few steps away. See you next time.

Special thanks to Birds Eye Foods, Inc.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

Hit Counter

Last Edited on 08/27/2010