Thawing and repackaging (vacuum sealing) a huge frozen block of chicken
April 18, 2020 9:49 AM   Subscribe

I have this huge block of frozen raw chicken (over 6 pounds). It looks like it is all boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I also have a vacuum sealer (it's like this one, but an older model). What I want to do is thaw all the chicken, separate it out into individual pieces, re-seal them, and re-freeze so I can pull out and cook one portion of a time. What's the best way to approach this? Trying to figure out the least wasteful and most efficient method.

Raw meats have to be pre-frozen before they can be vacuum sealed (you can't have liquids in there or the vacuum will suck them up), so I think what I have to do is:

1. Thaw the big raw chicken ice block in the fridge (it's been there for about 36 hours so far... still a pretty solid block).
Question here: should I take it out of its current package - would that help it thaw out faster?

2. Separate the chicken into portions and freeze the separated portions.
Many questions here. Originally I was thinking I would just wrap each individual piece in plastic wrap to re-freeze, but important question: do I need to include some of the liquid that I'm sure is going to come off this frozen chicken ice block? Is it bad to vacuum seal chicken without extra liquid in there? If I need the liquid, I was thinking maybe I'll have to place each piece of chicken into its own zip-lock bag to re-freeze it.

3. Vacuum seal them individually, return to freezer, proceed with life.

My main goal is just getting this portioned out, but I would like to minimize waste as much as I can. I know I'm going to be using and wasting some plastic either way. :(

Final question: anything else I need to consider as I'm doing this?

Bonus question: any guesses how long it's going to take this giant block to thaw out enough for me to be able to separate pieces??

Thanks everyone for your help.
posted by pupstocks to Food & Drink (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The texture of fully thawed then refrozen chicken breasts is going to be pretty grim, so I would try to get the pieces separated as quickly as possible without thawing them on the inside. I think the best way to do that is running water over the block, pulling the pieces out as they thaw. Then portion into bags and freeze as quickly as possible, e.g. in a single layer, in the coldest part of the freezer / next to the vent.

There are two reasons there's ice on chicken. One is that it's already there during processing and frozen chicken is legally allowed to have some processing water in it. The other, if there's a bunch of individual pieces in a single bag, is to keep the pieces from getting freezer burn by enclosing them in a protective layer of ice. If you're individually bagging you won't need much water but a bit wouldn't hurt to protect against freezer burn.
posted by wnissen at 10:01 AM on April 18, 2020

Still frozen - I would saw it like a piece of wood with a serrated knife. Then I'd put in packages the right size for casseroles and soup.
posted by ReluctantViking at 10:18 AM on April 18, 2020 [5 favorites]

I'm not saying I never rinse raw chicken in my sink, but it is a food safety risk. Under COVID-19 circumstances, you may want to be extra cautious to avoid the chance of needing treatment for serious food poisoning.

I'd be patient letting it thaw in the fridge and use a sturdy metal spoon to pull it apart to separate and refreeze as soon as you possibly can to mitigate the "danger zone" problems for the same reason.

Casseroles and soups are a great idea, because I agree that the texture will be compromised.
posted by juliplease at 10:27 AM on April 18, 2020

Ye, defrost the chicken as little as possible. A butter knife makes a good chisel for splitting apart partially defrosted people. Two butter knives can be used in the same crack as wedges to split pieces more effectively. The more hacking and pounding you have to do because the chicken is still almost completely frozen the more likely the chicken is to not deteriorate.

Cold water, so cold it hurts your hands will help with the defrosting. Taking it out of the package will help. Depending on the block you might be able to break it into a couple of several big pieces and you might consider refreezing those, or at least putting them back in the fridge while you hack at and run cold water over the bit you are working on now. Try a sink full of icy water with something on top of the chicken to keep it under the water level so it says as cold as possible while it defrosts. A roasting pan full of icy water might work to keep the main block of chicken underwater. You have to make sure you don't have any chicken that becomes and stays at room temperature even if the lower three quarters of the chicken is still frozen. If the surface gets warm you have a problem.

The other thing to consider about repackaging the chicken is that if you cook it before freezing it you reduce the risk of wrecking the texture with multiple freezing and thawing, and probably reduce the risk of food poisoning.

If I were you I would actually put the frozen chicken into a big roasting pan in the oven and cook it until it was just cooked and then freeze the pieces. I might only do this with part of the chicken, such as by taking off as many pieces as I could from the outside and only roasting the centre pieces. I'd also make up some big batches of rice and sauce while the chicken was in the sink being hacked at and bobbing in ice water and. Then I would repackage the pre cooked chicken so that it was in meal sized or dish sized packages. If the chicken is re-frozen in sauce and rice you can still cook up vegetables and combine it with that on the day you want to eat it. I would make a ginormous batch of chicken fried rice and freeze servings of that. I'd make curry sauce for more of it.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:31 AM on April 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm also on team don't thaw. Use a serrated knife to saw into portion sizes, thaw what you need and leave the rest frozen.

Alternately, thaw it all, cook it all, then freeze unused cooked chicken for later consumption. The texture will be awful if you thaw and refreeze the raw meat.
posted by gnutron at 12:34 PM on April 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

I don’t think the hit to texture will be as bad as everyone else does. Like, the texture/quality will change, for sure. But I think “awful” is overstating it, especially if you’re going to cook it a lot (like for stew, pulled chicken, etc.). I guess my advice would be to consider the final destination of the chicken. If you want delicate cutlets for chicken Marsala, maybe don’t. But if you cut up the cube you won’t have cutlets that way either. Would you rather have intact breast fillets with some texture changes it chunks of random sizes?
posted by mskyle at 2:28 PM on April 18, 2020

I would not thaw and refreeze any species of previously frozen meat for safety reasons, but especially not chicken.

You could cook all of it and freeze the cooked meat. Chicken breast fillets are really not the optimal meat for this, but it should be possible to convert them into some kind of bulk product which is palatable when frozen.

Sawing or hacking it into pieces while it's frozen also sounds like a promising avenue to explore, but I'm concerned that you'd need to defrost it partially to make it soft enough. You could chop bits off the sides whenever you want chicken. Like a frozen Chicken Little (the one from The Space Merchants).
posted by confluency at 5:10 PM on April 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your input! The block ended up being still frozen/icy but able to be separated into individual pieces when I checked it after a few of you had responded. I quickly separated the pieces and vacuum sealed. Hopefully the texture won't be an issue - I've had previously frozen/thawed/refrozen/thawed/cooked chicken before that I thought was fine and in fact, still great! I see that is not a popular opinion or common experience. I'll keep an eye out as I ultimately thaw and cook these and if they need to be destined for stew, so be it. Thank you again!
posted by pupstocks at 11:54 AM on April 20, 2020

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