So you want to make an amazing meal and realize you forgot to defrost the chicken or beef. Now what? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with the best methods for quickly and safely thawing your frozen food. Whether you need to defrost something in a pinch for dinner tonight or want to get a head start on tomorrow’s meal by marinating some meat, these techniques will ensure you end up with a delicious result.
Defrosting and marinating may seem like an afterthought, but using the proper methods can make or break your cooking. Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to becoming a kitchen pro in no time. Ready to get started? Let’s dive in.
Safe Ways to Defrost Food in the Kitchen
The safest ways to defrost food in your kitchen are:
Slow defrosting in the refrigerator is best for most foods. Simply place the item on a plate to catch any juices as it thaws and allow one day for every 5 pounds of weight. Meat, poultry and seafood can last 1-2 days once thawed; ground meat and poultry must be used within 1-2 days.
Cold water defrosting works well for small items like chicken breasts or steaks. Make sure the food is in an airtight bag and submerge in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until it’s thawed. Cook the food immediately after thawing.
The microwave using the defrost setting and stopping periodically to flip the item is another option. Microwaving can start cooking the food so you must cook it right away once it’s thawed. Be very careful removing items from the microwave as they will be extremely hot!
For quicker defrosting, you can place the item in an airtight bag and submerge in a bowl of cold water in the sink. The water will thaw the food in about an hour per pound. Change the water every 30 minutes. Make sure the bag is properly sealed so no water seeps in. Cook the food immediately after it’s thawed.
Never thaw food on the counter at room temperature or in standing water. This can allow bacteria to grow rapidly and contaminate the food before you even start cooking. When in doubt, thaw in the fridge! It may take longer but will ensure your food remains safe to eat.
With some planning, you can safely thaw just about any food in your kitchen using these methods. Be mindful of proper food handling and cooking temperatures to avoid the risk of foodborne illness. When done right, defrosting and marinating food at home can lead to delicious results.
Speed Up Defrosting With Water
When you’re in a hurry to cook something frozen, speeding up defrosting can be a lifesaver. One of the fastest ways is to submerge the item in cold water.
The water method
For small items like chicken breasts, fish filets or shrimp, place them in a leakproof bag and submerge in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until thawed. For larger cuts of meat like roasts or whole chickens, keep them in their original wrapping and place in a container or sink filled with cold water. Make sure the item is in a leakproof bag before submerging.
The water will thaw the food quickly because the water transfers heat and circulates around the item. As a general rule, thawing in water takes about 30 minutes per pound. So a 3-pound chicken breast may take 90 minutes to thaw. Be sure to cook the food immediately after thawing in water.
Some tips for water thawing:
- Keep food in its original wrapping or place in a leakproof bag before submerging. This prevents water from seeping in.
- Change the water every 30 minutes until the item is thawed. This brings the temperature of the new water back to a safe level.
- Cook the food immediately after thawing in water. Bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature.
- Don’t thaw items with a high water content like ground meat or stew meat in water. It can become mushy. Defrost them in the refrigerator instead.
- Avoid thawing in standing water at room temperature. Use cold, running water for the quickest and safest thawing.
Using the water method, you can get dinner on the table in a flash even when you forget to plan ahead! With a little attention, it’s a great trick to have up your sleeve for hassle-free home cooking.
Marinating Meat, Poultry and Seafood
Marinating meat, poultry or seafood is a great way to add flavor and tenderness. The marinade will infuse the food with the flavors of the herbs, spices and acidic ingredients it contains. The longer the food marinates, the more flavor it will absorb. However, be careful not to over-marinate, or the food can become mushy.
For beef, pork or lamb, thinly slice or cube the meat to allow for maximum absorption. Place in a resealable plastic bag or shallow dish and cover with your marinade of choice. Turn the meat occasionally so it’s coated evenly. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours to overnight for more flavor. Discard the used marinade instead of reusing.
Chicken and turkey also benefit greatly from marinating. Use boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thighs or turkey cutlets and pierce them with a fork before marinating to allow the flavor to penetrate. Marinate poultry in the refrigerator for at least 4 to 6 hours. For food safety, discard the used marinade.
Fish and shrimp are ideal for fast marinating since they absorb flavors quickly. Aim for 30 minutes to 2 hours for most seafood. Use a non-reactive dish like glass or plastic and turn the seafood occasionally. For shrimp, peel and devein before marinating. Discard the marinade after use.
Some popular marinades include:
- Teriyaki – soy sauce, rice wine or sherry, sugar, ginger and garlic. Great for beef, chicken, fish or shrimp.
- Citrus – orange juice, lemon or lime juice, olive oil, herbs like rosemary. Excellent for chicken, fish and shrimp.
- Chili-spice – Chili peppers, cumin, oregano, garlic, olive oil. Perfect for beef, chicken, shrimp or fish like tilapia.
- Mediterranean – Olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, basil, garlic, red wine vinegar. Amazing with chicken, lamb, fish or shrimp.
- BBQ – Ketchup, brown sugar, chili powder, paprika, garlic, onion, mustard. Great for beef, pork, chicken or shrimp.
Marinating is an easy way to boost flavor in your cooking. Experiment with different combinations of ingredients to create custom blends for your favorite meats, poultry and seafood. Your taste buds will thank you!
Quick Marinating With Acids Like Citrus and Wine
Quick marinating with acidic ingredients like citrus juice, wine, or vinegar is a great way to boost flavor in a short amount of time. The acid in these ingredients helps break down the cell walls of the meat, allowing it to absorb more of the marinade.
Citrus juices like orange, lemon and lime are perfect for tenderizing and flavoring fish, chicken, shrimp or sliced beef like steak or flank steak in under 30 minutes. Simply squeeze the juice from 2-3 citrus fruits and pour over 1 pound of meat or seafood in a resealable plastic bag or shallow dish. You can also add a bit of olive oil, chopped garlic, and fresh or dried herbs like rosemary or thyme for extra flavor. Turn the meat occasionally as it marinates.
Both red and white wines make excellent quick marinades. The acidity in wine helps break down the meat, while the alcohol kills any surface bacteria. Use 3/4 to 1 cup of wine to 1 pound of meat. You can also add olive oil, chopped shallots or onions, and herbs. Wine marinades are great for beef, pork, duck or mushrooms. Turn the meat occasionally and marinate for at least 30 minutes to 2 hours for more robust flavor.
Distilled white, rice or cider vinegars are very acidic and work quickly to tenderize and flavor meat or vegetables. Mix 3/4 to 1 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, 3-4 cloves minced garlic and 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary or thyme. Pour over 1 pound of sliced or cubed beef, pork, mushrooms, carrots or cucumbers. Marinate for at least 30 minutes, turning occasionally. Vinegar marinades are bold, so sample the food as it marinates and remove when it reaches your desired flavor.
Using these acidic marinades, you can have a flavorful meal on the table in under an hour on a busy weeknight. The quick penetration of the marinade will make even the toughest cuts of meat fork-tender and packed with flavor. Your family and friends won’t believe you pulled it all together so fast!
So there you have it, the best ways to defrost and marinate your food so you can become an expert home chef. Whether you want to quickly thaw some chicken breasts for dinner tonight or get a flavorful marinade going for tomorrow’s barbecue, you now have the knowledge and skills to do it right.
Defrosting and marinating may seem like minor tasks, but using the proper techniques can make a world of difference in how your food turns out. Put these methods to use in your kitchen, experiment with different flavors and foods, and before you know it you’ll be creating memorable meals that your friends and family will be talking about. Happy cooking!