Frozen chicken breasts: Treasure or poison?
May 29, 2008 9:48 PM   Subscribe

Frozen chicken breasts and other frozen meats: Are they worthwhile?

I'm considering a membership to one of those "wholesale club"-type stores. While I can see there's great savings to be had on paper products and toiletries, I'm not so sure about the food. (Also, the lines.) I did notice that they have what look like good deals on frozen meats. I saw a ten-pound bag of chicken breasts for $22. I eat a lot of chicken breasts, so that looks like a good deal.

However, the only frozen meats I have experience with is fish. I don't know how frozen chicken breasts (especially ones containing 15% retained water) hold up in terms of taste and nutrition. How have you guys' experiences with frozen chicken breasts been? How different are they from fresh ones?

Are there any other frozen meats that are worthwhile?
posted by ignignokt to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I buy fresh chicken breasts and freeze them. You should be fine.
posted by SansPoint at 9:57 PM on May 29, 2008

Personally, I think that frozen chicken tastes unpleasantly "chickeny" (in the way that not-fresh fish smells "fishy"). It's not a deal-breaker for me in terms of eating food, but I can definitely tell the difference (unless the cooked result is really heavily sauced/seasoned). My friends think I'm crazy, though.
posted by phunniemee at 9:59 PM on May 29, 2008

I constantly have a supply of frozen chicken that I defrost and cook. I don't notice any difference between that and fresh chicken, although if I start to cook it when it's still a little frozen it can get dry. Just make sure it's fully thawed, and all will be well and delicious.
posted by ORthey at 10:09 PM on May 29, 2008

I'm no gourmet, but frozen chicken breasts taste fine to me, even after a month-plus in the freezer. I wouldn't argue that they're as good as fresh, but you can use a small portion of the money you'll save to buy some sauce to mask whatever transient bad-flavor particles might offend your palette.
posted by erikgrande at 10:10 PM on May 29, 2008

There's a noticeable difference in texture, but frozen chicken breasts are fine. Just fine. But don't put them on the counter or under warm water to thaw them quickly. Put them in the fridge to defrost. Slow thawing allows meat to reabsorb much of the moisture from the melting ice crystals, so there’s less “drip out.” I've noticed that chicken thawed quickly tends to be chewier and tougher, as well as dryer.

You also have to make sure the center of the meat has sufficiently cooked. If you put frozen meat in the oven, it will take longer for the center to cook, but the surface will often get overcooked by the time the center is done.
posted by HotPatatta at 10:14 PM on May 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

They've always tasted fine to me. Most of the time, you're marinading them or covering them in sauce anyway, right?
posted by chrisamiller at 10:14 PM on May 29, 2008

I did this for a while in Uni, and noticed that the 10-lb bag of frozen chicken breasts were a really heavily processed product. Really salty, weird artificial color to look appetizing, etc. At least that's what was on offer at mine as bulk frozen.
Frozen meat of most kinds is fine, providing it was good meat to begin with and you don't freeze-thaw-freeze it. But I grew wary of eating chicken meat that was designed from before birth to end up in a 10-lb bag of identical frozen parts.
If the wholesale club also has a fresh meat butcher of some kind, you'd perhaps be better off buying fresher meat in appropriate portions and then freezing it yourself.

As for other meats, I've found it handy to keep a bunch of mild and/or spicy "Italian sausages" in the freezer. Usually a good answer to "hm, that's good by itself, but could use some meat and spices in it" when cut up into pieces or stripped of the casing and crumbled. Pretty cheap fresh or frozen; flash-thaw by boiling, then cook /brown as desired.

(If it's relevant, it's also tasty and familar enough that including it will get picky eaters to eat something unfamiliar - a nephew in the "only eating brown or white foods" phase got so hooked on couscous with small pieces of sausage, me slowly sneaking in veggies, that he didn't notice what was happening until after we went out to dinner and he shared the grownups' lamb tajine without batting an eye because it was essentially his favorite food now.)
posted by bartleby at 10:29 PM on May 29, 2008 [4 favorites]

I prefer frozen meat for the same reason I prefer frozen fish. I may be wrong but I think it is fresher. Hopefully it is flash frozen once. These days some fish is frozen at sea, shipped to China, thawed, processed, frozen again, and shipped back to the U.S for sale. I read this in the monthly Trader Joe's flyer so it must be true. There seems to be a lot of "previously frozen" stickers on all types of meat in the stores.

Here in Los Angeles I buy meat at a store that processes the meat themselves and then they immediately flash freeze it. They sell no meat that is not frozen. Thawed slowly by moving it to the refrigerator a day or two before it is needed seems to work great. It didn't sit around the store for a day or two waiting for me to buy it. Fresh frozen, fresh thawed. I just don't wait months to eat it.
posted by snowjoe at 10:39 PM on May 29, 2008

Three staples in my freezer are Costco's frozen chicken tenderloins, beef patties, and "normandy mix" vegetables.

They all cook up great, and taste very fresh. I prefer the tenderloins to breasts because they are smaller and thinner, and cook up better without thawing first. Breasts are a bit thick to cook all the way through from the frozen state in the recipes that I use.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 10:40 PM on May 29, 2008

Frozen tastes fine and keeps reasonably well, but check out the label, because often they inject water (and other things) into the chicken breasts, time and time again they've found that other things get injected as well, there was a big stink when they found pork protein inside chicken breast, which I think forced Europe to ban the practice but not North America (I'm going off memory here so take this with a grain of salt). Anyhow, the packaging won't flat out say it was injected if there's a list of ingredients and water is the first one then you know the drill.
posted by furtive at 10:42 PM on May 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'll emphasise what other people have said about thawing: pulling something out in the morning and leaving it in the fridge is ideal.

Second point is that it depends what you're making. The main things we make with frozen meat in our household tend to be things like casseroles, bolognese, and other dishes that were designed to be make from cheaper cuts anyway, or roasts and, again, casseroles, which have long, slow cooking times. I wouldn't e.g. freeze a beef fillet or porterhouse steak. I'm happy to use frozen blade steak, pork mince, beef mince, lamb shanks, etc.
posted by rodgerd at 1:21 AM on May 30, 2008

We use a lot of chicken breasts and sometimes freeze them and haven't noticed any difference between the never frozen and the once frozen stuff. Here's something useful though, when the breast is half defrosted it's easier to slice thinner because it's still hard. Also, can you eat ten pounds of chicken at once? Remember that it's not a good idea to refreeze unless you cook the item.
posted by b33j at 1:26 AM on May 30, 2008

The "frozen" part is not a problem. But 10lb bags from a wholesale store are pretty sure going to contain heavily processed meat from mass factory farming - that's the part that would put me off.
posted by uncle harold at 1:31 AM on May 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Frozen chicken is great for stirfrying. You can slice them really thin if they're still somewhat frozen. Thinner than you'd be able to do if they were raw. Personally, I prefer chicken thighs over breasts— more flavor, less expensive, usually smaller than breasts, so easier to portion out. Also good for jambalayas, curries and things... any dish where you can cut it into 1/2 inch cubes and simmer it in a saucy liquid for half an hour.

Are there any other frozen meats that are worthwhile?

I've never seen a big sack of flash-frozen steaks or pork chops, but we used to buy the big relatively inexpensive "Family Pak" sized shrink-wrapped styrofoam trays of sirloins and chops for the supermarket and then freeze 'em individually. Again, when only slightly thawed it's really easy to slice them paper thin, so that they cook real fast. Perfect for Mongolian Beef, Bulgogi, etc.

Frozen shrimp are awesome to have around, but I buy it less and less as I come to feel more and more guilty about it. Almost everyone who speaks on issues of food safety and sustainability seems to say that those < $10 bags of frozen jumbo shrimp from SE Asia are the product of pure toxic evil, poisoning the land, the sea, and the unfortunates whose only choice is to work for the shrimp farms. Pity, because they're delicious.
posted by mumkin at 1:34 AM on May 30, 2008

This kind of food is very unhealthy, and though it may be cheap, in the long run you're body won't thank you for it. Cheap Chickens are basically biological freaks created to make as much meat for as little cost as possible. Because of this the meat is rich in fat, salt and whatever else went into them during the freezing/preservation process (from and made of parts unknown) and absolutely nothing else, certainly not taste.
posted by munchbunch at 2:45 AM on May 30, 2008

An alternative to the pre-bagged frozen chicken is to just get a flat of the not-frozen breasts at the warehouse store and immediately freeze them when you get home. One or two per freezer bag works well.
posted by Stewriffic at 5:07 AM on May 30, 2008

the 10-lb bag of frozen chicken breasts were a really heavily processed product. Really salty, weird artificial color to look appetizing, etc.

Ditto. We bought a bag at Costco one time and had the exact same experience. It seemed like they were trying really poor quality chicken palatable. It didn't work and we ended up throwing much of it out. Now I just buy fresh chicken and freeze it myself. I wrap them separately so I don't have to thaw out a whole brick of chicken just to cook for two people. And also ditto the suggestion to thaw any meat in the fridge if at all possible. In my experience, it really does make a significant difference.
posted by boomchicka at 5:24 AM on May 30, 2008

As an aside, I found that going on weekday evenings really helped avoid the long lines at Costco.
posted by inigo2 at 6:52 AM on May 30, 2008

Yeah, the way to roll is finding a source of fresh meat and then freezing it yourself. You could go all out and vacuum pack it yourself if you are paranoid about freezer burn.

I buy organic meat straight from the farmer and either he preps it himself or I do the freezing myself. The other option is find a decent grocery store that has a reliable butcher shop on premises or buys straight from a coop of farmers like the Amish. I find that if you 1) wash any meat your going to use; 2) dry it real well if you plan to sear to get maximum fond; 3) date your purchases and 4) salt poultry and meat you intend to grind the night before; and 5) most importantly, source your meat well, you should have some fine tasting meat.

I notice you are from Illinois, find where the Amish farmers are selling their meat and poultry which is as good, if not better, than official organic products. You are worth a few cents more per pound. Try out the local product.

I am a fan of Costco. I travel to Costcos in other countries. But do not be blinded by bargains.
posted by jadepearl at 7:10 AM on May 30, 2008

In my experience, frozen chicken breasts have been pretty bland. Not exactly poison but not exactly gourmet eating either.

The exception to this are the organic chicken breasts I get from Trader Joe's, all of which have managed to remain tasty even after freezing and thawing.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:16 AM on May 30, 2008

Just an FYI - we get chicken to freeze from BJs, and they (at least in our area, RI) offer large packs of natural chicken, and not "natural" in the way that Purdue puts "natural" on their packages. I can't remember the chicken's qualifications, but I read labels pretty carefully and it's good (like, ethically raised and fed) chicken. They have breasts and deboned thighs.

We store it in the freezer and ideally put it in the refrigerator the day before we plan to eat it to defrost. I've found that one day doesn't get it completely defrosted, then you start running into the dryness issues others have mentioned. Two days to defrost = yum.

Also, you'd be surprised what you can buy in bulk and not waste. For example, we buy peanut butter, jelly, nuts, pasta, 1 lb. packs of organic baby spinach, fruit, frozen fruit, frozen shrimp, yogurt, toothbrushes, allergy medicine, etc. etc. Most of those items are multi-packs of the regular size, which cuts down on staleness/spoilage.
posted by robinpME at 8:35 AM on May 30, 2008

These have all been very helpful answers. I kind of went crazy with the Best Answer marking, so much so that it's no longer helpful, but I don't really want to go back and reevaluate.

I think what I'm going to do is sign up for Costco, but not get the 10-pound bag of frozen Perdue chicken. I'll look for fresh chicken deals there or elsewhere that have labels that don't raise suspicion.

jadepearl: The Amish farmer chicken sounded good, but unfortunately, they operate more than five hours away from me.
posted by ignignokt at 8:52 AM on May 30, 2008

Costco near me offers frozen Wild Alaskan Salmon, sometimes it's Sockeye, sometimes Coho, which is just a shade cheaper than Trader Joe's and much cheaper than fresh wild Alaskan anywhere here, and tastes just wonderful, and I am a Salmon snob.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:26 AM on May 30, 2008

Frozen meats from Costco are usually alright. You do need to check the label, as mentioned. It is very common for frozen chicken to be "enhanced" with a saline solution that, in my opinion, tastes very nasty. Chicken injected with this will say something about added water or injected saline solution.

At our local Costco, they are now breaking up their jumbo packs of fresh chicken thighs and breasts into packets big enough for a 4-person meal. They are pretty much begging to be frozen and the packets are the standard size for most recipes. Foster Farms doesn't usually alter their chicken so they are a label to look for. Costco brand seafood is hit and miss but their frozen tail-on shrimp is pretty much unadulterated.
posted by Foam Pants at 9:31 AM on May 30, 2008

All in all, I find chicken breast is like white bread, not too flavorful and only worth eating as a base to layer a lot of other flavors on.

Look around for boneless chicken thighs. They have a bit of fat on them, but you can trim them. Squeeze a lemon over them, sprinkle a little fresh tarragon, stick in a 350 oven for 45 minutes, and enjoy.
posted by beagle at 9:38 AM on May 30, 2008

The other nice thing about thighs for freezing is that they're damn near impossible to overcook.

That means you can take a couple of frozen chicken thighs, drop them straight into a pan of simmering broth/tomato sauce/wine/whatever, and cook 'em until they're done. Even once the inside's cooked, the outside will still be tender and juicy. If you did that with breasts, they'd be tough and stringy on the outside before the inside even thawed.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:18 AM on May 30, 2008

If you're buying fresh breasts and freezing them, we like wrapping individual chicken breasts in plastic wrap and then putting all the little packages in one big freezer bag. That way you don't have heaps of little packets rattling round the freezer, and you can simply date the outer bag.
posted by slightlybewildered at 3:05 AM on May 31, 2008

« Older Nom de Femme de Guerre... on Wheels   |   Ah cannae' stop eatin'!! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.