“So she buys an instant cake, and she burns a frozen steak” is a lyric that has been rattling around in my head for about 30 years. The song, which I’m sure you’ve heard, touches on two topics that I talk about a lot: convenience food and the horrors of the nuclear family. (The former can help partially alleviate the suffering caused by the latter.)
Though they don’t have the ability to keep late-50s housewives off of valium, baking mixes and the invention of the freezer are two things that helped housewives cut down on labour and costs. Buying food in bulk can help save money, but things can get a little tricky when you’re dealing with meat. This is (obviously) where freezing comes in.
A steak that has been frozen and then cooked won’t taste quite as good as a steak that was cooked immediately after the cow was slaughtered, but it can still taste pretty good, especially if you skip the thawing and cook it directly from frozen. But before we get to the cooking, let’s talk about the freezing.
How to freeze a steak the right way
You want to start out with individual freezing, and place the steaks on a sheet pan — ensuring they don’t touch — before placing them in the freezer overnight. According to Cook’s Illustrated, this can help drive off moisture, which means less splattering when you go to cook your steak (it also keeps them from sticking together in the bag).
Wrap each one in plastic wrap — or vacuum seal them if you have the technology — then place the wrapped steaks in a freezer bag and label the bag with the date (Frog Tape can help make sure your markings don’t freeze off). Steaks will keep in the freezer for four months to a year, depending on how cold your freezer is and how much it “cycles.”
How to cook a frozen steak without thawing it
Great news: There’s no reason to thaw a frozen steak before cooking it, unless you have a marinade you desperately want to use. In fact, Cook’s Illustrated found that not thawing actually resulted in a more evenly cooked piece of meat. To determine that, they cooked two steaks — one that had been frozen and thawed, and one straight from frozen — measured them before and after for moisture loss, and visually inspected their cross-sections. The not-thawed steak retained more moisture during cooking and had almost no “grey band” around the perimeter. According to Cook’s Illustrated, the colder temps helped the outside of the meat brown without overcooking the interior:
Because a frozen steak is so cold, its surface can reach the very high temperatures necessary for browning reactions before the interior overcooks. As for the difference in moisture loss, we know that when meat is cooked to temperatures higher than 60 degrees, its muscle fibres begin to squeeze out a significant amount of moisture. As its slightly thicker grey band indicated, the steak that had been thawed had more overcooking around the edge, so it made sense that it also had greater moisture loss.
To cook a steak from frozen, you need two sources of heat: Direct and indirect. If you’re cooking inside, use your stove and oven; if you’re cooking outside, set up a direct heat zone (over the hot coals or flames) and an indirect heat zone (a side with no coals or lit burners).
You’ll start by searing the steaks. For indoor cooking, Cook’s Illustrated recommends adding 1/8th-inch of neutral oil to a pan and heating until it shimmers. Cook the steaks for about 90 seconds each side until browned, then transfer to a 135°C oven and cook until the centre reads 50°C on an instant-read thermometer for medium-rare. (Season with salt as soon as it thaws enough to be sticky. Salt won’t stick to a frozen steak, so just apply it once the frost has melted just enough to make the surface moist.)
The procedure for grill cooking is pretty similar. Sear over the coal or flames until you have a nice crust, then transfer to the coal-less or flame-less side and close the grill, cooking until you reach 50°C on an instant-read thermometer. (This will ensure your steak does not overcook, unlike the ill-fated meat in the early Stones banger.)
Lead image credit: Stock
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