Filet mignon is one of the choicest and costliest of all beef steaks, so when you see filet or full beef tenderloins on sale, you may be tempted to fill your cart and load the freezer with them for months of happy grilling. Like other cuts of beef, filet freezes well if it's handled properly. Ensure that it's packaged as well as possible and freeze it quickly.
Some Quick Freezing Basics
When it's done properly, freezing should cause little deterioration in the quality of your meats. Most of the damage comes from the effect of water freezing inside the filet's muscle cells. Like ordinary ice cubes, those minute droplets swell when they freeze into ice crystals. If the crystals are large, they'll rupture the cell walls and release the steak's juices when it thaws. That causes some deterioration in the filet's texture, and the cooked steak won't be as juicy as it was before freezing. If the packaging has air pockets, molecular pressure will cause moisture in the filet to migrate to the surface and evaporate. That spot will become tough, grey and freeze-dried, an effect called "freezer burn." Good packaging can defeat the burn.
Packing Your Filets
Filet mignon is cut from the middle sections of the full beef tenderloin, where the meat is relatively uniform in size and shape. They're relatively small medallions, typically 3 inches across and 1- to 2-inch thick. The best filets are relatively light in color and fine-grained, which works in your favor when you freeze them. Smaller muscle fibers lose less moisture to ruptured cells. Seal the filets individually in plastic wrap, or in ones and twos in heavy-duty freezer bags or a vacuum food sealer. For added storage life, over-wrap that first layer of packaging with aluminum foil or a second freezer bag.
Freezing and Thawing
To maintain the best possible quality, your filets should freeze as quickly as possible. The faster they freeze, the smaller the ice crystals in their cells, and the less damage will result. Scatter the packages throughout your freezer in a single layer, rather than stacking them, so they'll freeze faster. Use a chest freezer, if you have one, rather than your refrigerator's freezer compartment, because chest freezers are colder. The filets will last up to a year but are better within the first three to six months. Label and date them so you can keep track. Slow thawing also helps maintain quality, so thaw the filets overnight in your fridge whenever possible rather than water-thawing or using your microwave.
A Few Other Points
Sometimes filets are sold already frozen, shipped from the processing plant in tightly sealed, airtight packaging. Commercial blast freezing is very fast, and the airtight seal is excellent, two significant advantages. The downside is that it's harder to judge the quality of the filets without buying and cooking them. You might also opt to purchase a whole tenderloin and cut your own filets. If you host a massive once-a-year barbecue and could use a large quantity of filets at once, you can purchase a whole tenderloin in its airtight packaging and freeze it whole. Otherwise, it's best to trim the tenderloin and cut it into medallions before freezing.
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
- National Center for Home Food Preservation: Freezing Animal Products
- Beef Innovations Group Culinary Innovation Center: Beef Flavor Factors
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