Monday, June 18, 2012

Boat Galley: Vacuum-Sealed Meats

This week's Boat Galley article looks at the best way to take meat on board...

Guest blog by Carolyn Shearlock
Carolyn Shearlock, author of The Boat Galley, appears weekly on the Daily Boater with tips for getting the most out of your boat's kitchen.

Boat Galley Vacuum Sealed Meats
Photo: Carolyn Shearlock, theboatgalley.com

Heading out for a weekend and wondering about the best way to take meat? Wondering if there’s any possible way to take meat if you’re using a refrigerator?

Today’s Topic: Vacuum-Sealed Meats...

Boat Galley frozen meats
Photo: C. Shearlock, theboatgalley.com
WOW. Talk about a galley dream come true! My local grocery has just recently started carrying a HUGE selection of commercially vacuum-sealed meat and fish.

It used to be that you could only find commercially vacuum-sealed meats at specialty butchers or places like Omaha Steaks. Nice, but expensive. But in the past few weeks, my Wal-mart Supercenter (the "big" grocery store in town) suddenly has a huge selection - and at "normal" prices! (Bacon and hot dogs have been available for years, and have long been a staple for weekend boaters and campers.)

These are fantastic in the galley, whether or not you have refrigeration. Yes, even if you just use a cooler, you can have fresh meat. Well, at least while you have ice. Depending on the outside temperature, your cooler or ice box and the availability of ice, you could conceivably have fresh meat for 2 to 4 days, possibly even longer.

Note that I'm talking about vacuum-sealed meats that were commercially packed that way. Meats that are home-sealed are not processed the same way and this article doesn't apply to them.
Many of the same benefits apply whether or not you have refrigeration:
Boat Galley frozen meats
Photo: Carolyn Shearlock, theboatgalley.com
  • There's almost no excess packaging and generally no bones. You don't have to repackage, saving time, hassle and the cost of additional bags... not to mention trash! 
  • Single-serving portions make it easy to take out just what you need for a meal. For example, while chicken breasts are packaged three or six together, each one is separately vacuum-sealed (as seen in the photo at the top of the article). Ditto for steak, pork chops and fish fillets. 
  • Brands may differ, but the vacuum-sealed meats at my store don't have any preservatives. And the chicken does not have that "up to 15% brine added," making the sodium levels much lower. And the sodium is definitely lower than in any canned meat I've seen.
If you have a freezer or refrigerator on board, you can just remove the outer packaging and toss the meat in. That saves a lot of space.

If you don't have a refrigerator or freezer on the boat, I'll give some basic tips but you'll have to use your own judgment as every situation is different. Be sure, though, to cook the meat to the FDA recommended temperature to kill any bacteria that might be present. And if you're ever in doubt about meat being good, err on the side of caution and don't eat it!

Either way, don't take the meat out of the vacuum seal pouch until you're ready to cook it.

The FDA states that unopened commercially vacuum-sealed pouches of meat can be kept unfrozen for up to two weeks if constantly kept below 40° F. If you have a good cooler and plenty of ice, you can tuck the vacuum-sealed pouches right into the ice just as is and they'll stay below 40° F. for several days, until the ice melts too much. The little brochure that comes with Omaha Steaks (which also commercially vacuum seals their meat before shipping) states that "as long as the meat is cool to the touch, you may cook or refreeze it with confidence."

Even better - if you don't live aboard full time and are heading out for a few days - freeze the pouches at home before putting them in the cooler or ice box and again, tuck them right down into the ice. If you use block ice, there's usually a gap between blocks or between the block and the side of the cooler where you can put the meat. Remember that the coldest area of a cooler or ice box is at the bottom (heat rises, cold falls), so keep the meat as low as possible. Because it's vacuum-sealed, you don't have to worry if it sits in the cooler water (unless, of course, a pouch gets punctured).

Tucking frozen meat down in the ice, I've had meat stay frozen for 4 days - in fact, I had to cook it from frozen as I had expected it to have thawed by then and was rather surprised when I discovered it wasn't! Depending on your cooler and how often you can get ice, as well as the outside temperature, you could conceivably have fresh meat for even longer.

For health reasons, Dave and I eat a lot less meat than we once did. But we still eat it three or four times a week, and these little pouches make it so easy to keep... and I love that they don't have all the preservatives and brine, too. And the frozen fish fillets are fantastic for times when the "catch of the day" just doesn't appear!

Related Boat Galley article: Keeping Cold Food On Board

Carolyn Shearlock is author of The Boat Galley, with over 300 FREE articles to get the most out of your boat kitchen with galley tips, insights & equipment recommendations. A few recipes, too - plus an active Facebook community to ask questions and share tips with other readers!

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