Preserving smoked meat?
March 11, 2009 6:11 AM   Subscribe

What to do with smoked meat?

Recently had some smoked deer and trout while I was in the Patagonian Andes. My girlfriend bought me some smoked wild boar and some smoked trout for my birthday. The boar is about a kilo, and there are about 4 filets of trout. They seem to be vacuum packed, or at least very tightly wrapped in plastic, and they are in the fridge. Someone told her to slice the boar thinly, and to remove the skin from the fish and to store them in oil in a jar. Does this seem like good advice? It seems it would make it really greasy. Is it necessary? If I don't do this, how long will it last once I open it?
posted by conifer to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The oil will work if you can ensure sterile packing, but I don't see why you couldn't just freeze them.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 6:22 AM on March 11, 2009

They ought to keep a while in the fridge. After all the whole point of smoking is to preserve the meat, so smoking + cold ought to allow you to keep them for several weeks. Freezing, more.

But the best thing to do with smoked meat is to eat it.
posted by musofire at 6:29 AM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Smoking is done to preserve meat. Removing some of the moisture makes it take a lot longer to go bad. The vacuum packing will ensure minimal air exposure, so for the filets, you can freeze them if you won't get to them too soon, but they should be good for a while, or a few days after you open them.

With the boar (is it ham once it's cut up and smoked?), if it's all one bit, invite some friends over to share it, as a kilo is a lot of meat. If you're not up for having friends over, cut it into smaller pieces, wrap tightly, and freeze that which you won't be able/want to eat in the next 1-2 weeks.
posted by explosion at 6:42 AM on March 11, 2009

Best answer: Properly smoked meat that is vacuum packed should keep upwards of a month under 40 degrees F. I'm assuming these aren't prepared in hygenic food manufacturing conditions, which means they would probably keep even longer (i.e. bacon, ham, lox). I'm not an expert, but I sure have eaten enough of it. I wouldn't freeze anything simply because it will taste better when eaten otherwise. Any curing activity, like in oil or salt, is best left to the experienced as a small slip up in prep can mean bad wee-beasties in your food. I say sandwiches for the boar and water crackers for the trout. Share as you see fit.
posted by mrmojoflying at 7:03 AM on March 11, 2009

I'd like to clear something up: smoke itself is not really a preservative. It does provide some minor acidity to the surface of a smoked item, but it's not something that really preserves it.

Also, smoking doesn't really remove that much moisture. The reason smoked foods stay edible longer (and also the reason some of them are less moist) is that smoked foods are almost always cured with salt, sugar and curing salts before they are smoked. This is because a cold smoking environment is an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive. (Also because curing makes things delicious.) It's not actually cold when you're cold smoking, just not hot enough to cook the food, unless of course you are smoke roasting at a higher temperature. You wouldn't do that with fish.

Anyways, since these foods are probably cured, they will last a while tightly wrapped in the fridge - maybe 2 or 3 weeks. You'll also be fine with freezing portions of them, although I think the boar would freeze better than the trout. Again, they should be tightly wrapped.
posted by Jupiter Jones at 7:20 AM on March 11, 2009

A few things:
About refidgeration:If its just wrapped tightly and isn't vaccum sealed, and/or dependant on the pourous nature of the plastic material, you may have air and vapor exchange between the dried meats and your refridgerator. Here's the thing, fridges are bad with moisture control and this will eventually aid bacteria growth. With cured meats though, the salt content (and preserves) help suck moisture out, helping prevent bacteria from gaining a foothold on the product. Root cellars are geared to be dry and cool to prevent and limit bacteria growth; Fridges are designed to be cold. The trick is though, in general once you start something in a fridge, you really can't remove it from the fridge because you will have condensation issues, and that will be a problem. From this point, the safest thing to do is to freeze the meat that won't be consumed in the 1-2 week timeframe like explosion indicated above. With the remainder which was in the fridge, throw the sealed packages back in the fridge in a tuperware container with a sealed and separate silica package and/or some dried rice.

About The oil: Oil acts like a physical barier preventing an oxygen and water vapor exchange between the air and the meat, while yes it makes the meat slimy, and you may associate fat left out with rancid fat (and acting like a petri dish) it does actually inhibit some level of growth in the product. Duck Confit (there's an askme thread recently on it) was historically stored in the oil from which it was cooked. Putting it in a jar does provide an additional level of protection. Removing the meat from the oil, patting it dry, and letting it rest should allow for most of the oil to vacate (probably patting it a few times).

Removing skin: Bacteria growth for meats generally starts at the surface and works its way in (excluding parasites and bacteria already present in the meat - the curing process should have killed anything inside it). With fish, you've got scales, you've got edges, you've got a distinct separation between the outside and the inside which can separate, crack, and or otherwise provide a different haven for growth. The good part about fish is that its natural oils do provide it a little bit of extra protection, but yeah - I'd scrap the skin quickly once the package is opened..
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:49 AM on March 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nanukthedog: Root cellars are geared to be dry and cool to prevent and limit bacteria growth

Slightly off topic here, but there's only a very few storage veggies that can tolerate dry. Most root cellars are actually very damp -- up to 80% humidity, even. Potatoes, for example, will shrivel up and rot if it's dry. Also, the vegetables that do tolerate dry generally don't need it to be particularly cold either.
posted by rusty at 8:30 AM on March 11, 2009

Yeah, good point rusty. In fact, root cellars are a good place to hang drying meat like pancetta or cured sausages or ham, because drying meats actually need humidity to dry properly. If the air is too dry around your drying meat, it will dry out too fast and develop a hard outer crust that will prevent the inside from drying out and allow it to become rancid.

However, once your meat is cured and dried (not so that it is hard, but so it's firm - we're not talking about jerky here), you don't want to store it at room temperature. Tightly wrapped in the fridge is definitely best. If you're concerned about condensation, it can be wrapped in a kitchen towel or cheese cloth.
posted by Jupiter Jones at 8:51 AM on March 11, 2009

My SO hunts for wild pig every year. We have the meat cured, vacuum-sealed and store it in our box freezer. The butcher who cures our boars told us the meat would stay in peak flavor if properly stored frozen up to 3 months. We've also had a few packages that got lost in the freezer and they still had great flavor and texture when we finally found them 6 months later. This is all predicated on having a proper seal on the packaging (if you see ice crystals forming on the meat, it's going to taste gross) and having a stable temperature in the freezer (a top-loading freezer will do better than most fridge/freezer combos.)

I've also had trout & salmon I caught smoked, vacuum-packed and frozen from these guys. It's good for a year in a box freezer.
posted by jamaro at 9:00 AM on March 11, 2009

Nthing that root cellars are inherently humid.

Also, refrigerators are quite good at keeping humidity down. Moisture condenses out of the air in the freezer, and then the RH drops as the same air circulates in the warmer refrigerator section. To check this I just stuck my el-cheapo digital hygrometer in the fridge and got a reading roughly 10% lower than in the room. RH in my unfinished basement, however, is about 10% higher than the upper floors, because it's cooler but not artificially refrigerated.
posted by jon1270 at 9:59 AM on March 11, 2009

A moment to rephrase, or remove the foot from my mouth... however you wish to think it...

With a freezer, you prevent a great deal of moisture change. Yes, over time you will freeze-dry a product if placed in a fridge; however, in a 6 month time frame with previously dried meats, a freezer should maintain the water content. Now, place a piece of meat in the fridge, and you will see the moisture content of the fridge change and the content in the meat adjust to an equilibrium different from where it went in. The biggest place I see this effect is with bakery products. Lets take a white cake with a fine crumb (think wedding cake). Clearly fresh is best, but, wrapped tightly in saran wrap and placed in the fridge, it will stale, wrapped tightly in saran wrap and placed in the freezer, the water content will stay mostly fine until one were ready to decorate (or eat the cake on their anniversary). This holds true for any product. When it comes to a fully cured meat, unless the humidity is completely controlled specifically for that product (a la meet locker), I'd be hesitant to store it in there.

In regards the root cellar, just smack me with a sack of potatoes... that I deserve.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:13 AM on March 11, 2009

A fridge and a freezer are the same thing, they just deal with different temperatures. A freezer will also adjust to an equilibrium, as it is also subject to thermodynamic laws. The fact that the materials have changed state to frozen makes a difference, certainly, but things still obviously dry out in the freezer. A cake left in the freezer will dry out. It will dry out more slowly, however, because the water is frozen and as such is not as mobile.

You cannot freeze dry in a fridge. I think that's fairly self-evident.

The point here, to answer the question, is that for the short term (ie a few weeks), your goods will be preserved nicely in the fridge tightly wrapped to prevent them from drying out much and from taking on flavors from the fridge. For a longer term, freezing them will do nicely as long as they are wrapped tightly to prevent freezer burn (which is caused by dehydration due to sublimation of water and by oxidation, both of which are caused by air being able to reach the food).

Also, I should point out that the meat here is cured and smoked, not dried. It has a lower moisture content due to the curing, but that is not the same as drying.
posted by Jupiter Jones at 11:43 AM on March 11, 2009

I'd just like to point out that I've learned a lot here, not the least of which how hungry I am for a good prosciutto.
posted by mrmojoflying at 12:33 PM on March 11, 2009

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