One of the best secrets to delicious Greek food is that we try to use the freshest ingredients as possible. When in Greece, we get our seafood from our neighborhood fishmonger. Our vegetables and fruits we get from our own garden or from the neighbor’s.
But having a Greek restaurant in another continent can be rather tricky. We try as much as we can to use the freshest ingredients, but there are factors, like weather and seasons, that adversely affect this desire and we are given no choice but to compromise on the process, but never on the quality.
It means we still go for quality and freshness, but we have to employ other means like freezing and vacuum sealing our ingredients. These two are different processes of food preservation, but for the best means of having longer shelf life, these two have to work hand-in-hand.
THE ISSUE OF FRESHNESS
Freshness is not a result of any magic or voodoo done in the freezer or vacuum sealer. Remember, these processes just seal in what is already there in your product. In short, if you vacuum seal and freeze a rotten tomato, it will still come out as a rotten tomato. In the same vein that if you vacuum seal and freeze a fresh tomato, it will come out as a fresh tomato.
When fruits and vegetables are frozen at its freshest, studies show that they retain their nutritional value.
Aside from freezing, there are other ways of preserving food – by putting additives and preservatives. But these methods are less healthy options, and not recommended. Besides, we Greeks like it fresh so additives are a definite no-no.
Foods spoil due to chemical changes, and one of these is rancid oxidative flavors caused when the food product comes in contact with air. Therefore, to preserve the food, remove air. This is the process of vacuum sealing.
Vacuum sealing uses a machine, the vacuum sealer, that suctions air out of the bags then seals it. You will then have a package that is tightly wrapped. You can vacuum seal any food – fruits, vegetables, cereals, grains, meat, fish, and even cooked foods.
Types of Vacuum Sealers
- Retractable nozzle – has a built-in nozzle which is attached to the container that needs to be vacuum sealed;
- External vacuum-sealer – this is the more common type, and is also called countertop. This is the preferred kind for household needs, like canning or preserving produce from the farm;
- Chamber – this is the recommended sealer for restaurants as it is able to do more than just seal. It can also do a quick marinade and can be used for the sous vide method, which is employed to have tender and juicy steaks.
Understandably, we have our excellent chamber vacuum sealer – VacMaster VP210, and we are not parting with it.
What you need to Vacuum Seal
- Vacuum bags are pre-size and pre-cut plastic bags that come in different sizes. Recommended if you vacuum seal items of same size so you know for certain what size of bag you need.
- Vacuum rolls need to be cut and made into plastic bags. It may take some effort, but if you are vacuum sealing different sizes, this is the more economical choice. You can go as big as the width of your vacuum sealer and as small as you want.
- Mason jars or containers are used to vacuum seal items that may easily break, like pasta. To do this, you need a nozzle attachment if you are using a countertop vacuum sealer.
Vacuum Sealing Tips
- Wash hands, but try not to handle the food with your bare hands. Use tongs or spoons. Use different spoons for cooked items and uncooked items, and also for meat;
- After vacuum sealing, freeze. Dry foods like nuts and grains may be stored in the pantry or in room temperature;
- Pack according to the size you usually use. That way, you won’t have to reseal. Freezing, thawing and refreezing foods is also unhealthy so pack them per serving;
- Label with the name of food and date vacuum sealed;
- DO NOT VACCUM SEAL the following: mushrooms, garlic, soft cheese;
- BLANCHE BEFORE VACUUM SEAL the following: cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts). Blanche them in boiling water very briefly, let cool, pat dry with paper towel, then vacuum seal;
- If you think your seal has a leak, do it all over again. Don’t wait for the food to spoil;
- Use the recommended brand of bags. In most cases, the manufacturer of the vacuum sealer wants you to use their own bags and rolls, too. And they might have programmed their vacuum sealer to reject or not work with other brands. You can buy a few different brands and experiment, but to be on the safe side, heed their recommendations. For example the number one brand in the market is Foodsaver brand, the Foodsaver models only work effectively with Foodsaver’s bags; this too has been authenticated from foodsaver reviews of users (Read more at http://vacuumsealeradviser.com/food-saver-reviews);
- Unless you have a chamber vacuum sealer, to vacuum seal liquids, like soups or sauces, freeze them first into a solid state so that the liquid will not be suctioned out of the container;
- If you are sealing in meat with some bones, wrap the sharp edges with a paper towel so it would not pierce through your bag.
Bacteria cannot thrive in freezing temperature, which is why we put our foods inside the freezer to prevent spoilage.
Is putting food in the refrigerator enough? If you plan to consume it in the next few days, refrigeration may do the job of preserving it. Like, raw meats will last only 2 days and left-over’s for 4 days. However, if you want it preserved longer, you have to freeze it. Is the freezer in the refrigerator enough? While it does the job of freezing, because of the constant opening of the refrigerator, the temperature inside does not remain constant. Fluctuating temperature is not good for the food. The best equipment to use is a freezer which comes in upright model and chest freezers.
Here is a basic guide as to how long you can keep foods in the refrigerator or freezer. It shows the comparison between VACUUM SEALED foods and those that are not.
NOT vacuum sealed VACUUM SEALED
Meats, big cuts 6 mos 2 – 3 yrs
Meats, ground 4 mos 1 yr
Fish 6 mos 1 yr
- Label and label, just like the tip under vacuum sealing. And remember, portion to per use or per serving;
- First in, first out. That’s why it’s important to put dates in your labels;
- In the freezer, put the meat products in the bottom. They are heavier and just in case the seal has a leak, the meat water will not wet the other foods;
- Make big batches, and then freeze the portion that will not be consumed. Don’t cook, just freeze it already mixed. This works with cookie dough and meatballs;
- Use freezer-friendly food-grade bags that are safe to use;
- If you are freezing cooked food, let it cool in room temperature before putting it inside the freezer;
- I keep a list of the items in my freezer on its door to make sure I don’t buy what I already have in there;
- Thaw in the refrigerator, and not in room temperature;
- Do not refreeze. If the food is from the freezer and you have heated it, do not return to freezer anymore;
- Food that you are NOT to freeze: uncooked eggs in shells, hard-boiled eggs, egg-based sauces that will separate and curdle yoghurt and cheese.
Vacuum sealing and freezing go together to preserve the foods the best possible way. Vacuum sealing properly packages the food, getting rid of air, and freezing stops any bacterial growth. You can also vacuum seal and keep in the refrigerator or pantry, it depends on the food. You can also freeze without vacuum sealing, but it will spoil fast. Vacuum sealing extends the shelf life of the food up to five times.
When you have a restaurant, be it Greek or Chinese, more than your passion for food, you also have to think about your bottom-line. We are able to save more if we purchase raw ingredients by bulk. It also saves on trips to the supermarket, saving us time and gasoline.
Meanwhile, I have to go see a man about an octopus. How about some octopus marinated in oil and vinegar? Enjoy!