Eid ul Adha or as most of us call it Bakra Eid is around the corner. Also known as ‘the Feast of Sacrifice or the Greater Eid’, this Eid is the celebration of the willingness of Prophet Ibraham (peace be upon him) to sacrifice the person he loved the most, because it was Allah’s command which he had to obey no matter what! Also this Eid marks the end of the period of Hajj (the 5th pillar of Islam).
Since most of us will be sacrificing an animal to commemorate and remember Prophet Ibrahim’s trials, the next big question on our minds during these hot scorching summer days will be how to preserve the leftover Qurbani meat. Before we understand how we can preserve the meat we will recieve from friends, neighbours and relatives and prevent it from spoilage, let us first understand some basics about meat preservation and why meat spoils if not preserved properly.
Meat can spoil or go bad due to a large number of factors, but the most common is microorganisms, such as mold and other bacteria. Microorganisms present in meat cause proteins and fats to break down, spoiling the meat, or breed and reach levels that are unsafe or unsavoury for humans to eat. Bacteria that were either living in the flesh of an animal while it was alive or that found a new home after the animal was butchered can spoil meat for consumption. Mold likes moist, warm places with lots of food sources and meat makes a great home for a mold colony. Mold can spoil meat by spreading over the surface in fuzzy or colourful patches that change the taste and texture of the meat in a way that most people find unsavoury and consider spoiled. Besides these two, Improper packing techniques can also cause a chemical reaction in the meat called oxidation. The fats in the meat react with oxygen molecules and cause the meat to go rancid, producing discoloration and a rotten, sour smell and taste.
Now that we know a little more about why meat goes bad, let us see how we can preserve it and keep it for longer durations. Before any kind of preservation, one needs to understand about the shelf life of that product. Shelf life is simply the length of time for which an item remains usable and fit for consumption. Most bacteria can’t survive at lower temperatures which is why the preferred temperature for storing various meats is between 3 degrees Celsius to 1 degrees Celsius, the coldest setting on your refrigerator. However even then, it isn’t possible to store the meat indefinitely in the refrigerator as the texture and taste will end up changing with time because every time the door of the refrigerator is opened, the warm air from the room circulates into it causing temperature fluctuations. Ideally, ground meat can be stored for only 1 or 2 days in the refrigerator before either cooking or freezing it. Roasts, steaks and chops can be kept refrigerated for 3 to 5 days before cooking and after cooking, they can be kept refrigerated for 3 to 4 days more. For best quality, cooked meat and raw ground meat can be frozen and used within 3 to 4 months. Raw steaks, roasts and chops can be kept frozen for 6 to 9 months. However, any frozen meat is safe indefinitely. It is only the quality (flavour, texture, moistness) that decreases during longer storage.
How to make your meats last longer
How to freeze your meat:
- The best way to store the meat is to thoroughly clean it and put it into small ziplock bags of half a kg, flattened them a bit and freeze them right away. The flattening makes it easier to thaw the frozen meat when we need to use it.
- Another method is to place the cleaned meat pieces on a plate and keep them under a fan overnight after covering with a muslin cloth. This will dry out a little moisture from the meat and make it easier to freeze it.
- Yet another way can be by marinating the meat pieces along with the herbs of your choice and oil and leaving them in the freezer to freeze after putting into a zip lock bag. This will also save you the hassle of having to add a ton of spices while cooking it later on and the flavour from the herbs will incorporate well into the meat.
- The most important part before freezing any meat however is how to pack it. Never ever freeze the meat in readymade polythene bags from the market or a newspaper. The polythene bags will result in freezer bites and the ink from the newspaper will soak into the meat making it quite harmful for consumption. While the ideal way to pack the meat is in freezer safe zip lock bags that can be purchased from any supermarket store, you can make a makeshift wrap from aluminium foil if you don’t have any ziplock bags available at hand.
- You can also mince the boneless cuts, make them into ristas and kababs and freeze them. Minced mutton can easily be frozen for up to 3 months or more.
For folks who don’t have access to a freezer, there is no need for an alarm as it is possible to store meat for long without freezing it. After all the ancient folks didn’t always have freezers.
- For preserving meat without a freezer, the best way is to dehydrate it. You can rub the mutton with salt all over, heat it over water for 10 mins. After 24 hours heat the meat in water again for 15 mins. This way you can easily use the meat for 3-4 days without having the need to put it into a refrigerator.
- If you want to preserve your meat for longer than just a few days, then after slicing the meat into thin cuts, rub them with salt and leave them hanging on a wire hook in sun. The salt and sun will dry out the moisture from the meat and prevent it from spoilage.
It is always best to consume the frozen meats as early as possible. To thaw the frozen meat, simply leave it out on the counter top in the bag it was frozen in till it de-freezes, discard all the liquid that will ooze out from the meat while thawing and cook it as you would normally. Since this is Kashmir and we are prone to the occasional electricity woes, if the frozen meat de-freezes, never ever refreeze it. Instead try cooking it and freezing the cooked meat. Your body will definitely thank you for it.
Hopefully after reading this, you are now a little less worried about your meats and a little more excited about Eid and spending the special day with your loved ones. For nothing brings more joy than showering your friends and family with appreciation on a special day and letting them know the importance they hold in your lives. Eid Mubarak to all you readers out there!
Exclusive Chef’s Tip:
To preserve any kind of meat for a longer duration, just put the meat in a container and cover with a layer of sea salt. This will help dehydrate the meat and allow it to stay fresh for longer durations” – Sumant Dadhwal, Executive Chef, Vivanta by Taj, Srinagar