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Kevin Hunt - The Bottom Line
The Bottom Line
5:27 PM EDT, August 20, 2012
How much meat, discolored and dehydrated, have you tossed from the freezer in the past year?
Probably enough to pay for a vacuum food sealer, which preserves frozen meats, vegetables and fruits up to three years. Hunters use food sealers. So do fishermen. And so does Carol Murdock of Classic Cakes in West Hartford, a dedicated sealer for 20 years.
"My dad had gotten one and I started using his," says Murdock, who teaches two courses in icing artistry in the Manchester Community College culinary department. "We'd use it for the house for different things, if we had leftovers or if I had vegetables for something that I was growing. We'd blanch them, put them in the FoodSaver and throw them in the freezer.
A vacuum sealer removes oxygen and prevents oxidation, which changes the flavor and color of food. Nothing stops freezer burn like a vacuum food sealer. FoodSaver, the brand Murdock's family used 20 years ago, is still acknowledged as the pre-eminent food sealer. The Bottom Line, late to the movement, purchased a FoodSaver V2840 earlier this summer to prolong the life of the weekly harvest from the local Community Supported Agriculture program.
I must have been living in a vacuum because I never realized how much a sealer could preserve and protect food while, with its compressed, airtight packaging, freeing space in the freezer. Food sealers vary widely in effectiveness and cost. The cheaper handheld models, powered by batteries, usually don't have enough suction power to preserve food for much more than a month. Bags also can be expensive.
A countertop model like the V2840 has more suction power and more features, but it's also much bigger. The V2840 measures almost 17 inches wide, 15 deep and 10 high, which would take up too much space on our counter. So it has a convenient space in the cabinet, which ultimately allowed us to save money on the FoodSaver.
Amazon.com offers the V2840 in trendy stainless steel and black trim for $178, but the same machine in stainless steel and red trim for $100. Guess which one TBL bought? A sealer bag is like a printer's ink or an electric toothbrush's refills — that's where the manufacturer cashes in.
"You want something that you can make your own bags," says Murdock, "especially when you're doing portions of meat, where you can seal it and then cut around the seal so you can individually portion out things. You don't want the ones that are one shot and you have to throw the bag away."
Exactly what I was looking for. The V2840's bag cutter bar allows users to make their own bag, so I bought two16-foot rolls (for 11-inch-wide bags) for $19 and started rollin'. All it takes is pulling out as much bag material needed, sealing one end and, after filling the newly created, sealing the other end.
The V2840 has two suction-speed settings for different-size bags and settings for normal seal times (dry food) and longer seals (most or juicy food). Aside from a manual seal button — also useful for sealing a store-bought (MyLar) bag of potato chips — the V2840 also has a one-touch vacuum/seal function.
FoodSaver also sells sealable containers and jar sealers for Mason jars, though it's no replacement for traditional canning.
Some things the rookie sealer should know:
>> Freeze fish or meat for up to two hours before sealing to retain the shape and juice.
>> Blanch vegetables before sealing. Otherwise, the vegetables could lose flavor or texture. "I always blanch," says Murdock. "It keeps a good, bright color, too."
>> Place berries, dry and unwashed, on a cookie sheet and freeze until solid before sealing.
>> Be careful with liquids. Freeze first in a loaf pan or ice-cube tray. "We did blood oranges one year," says Murdock. "It was really messy. We just put them in bags and sealed them. Don't do that. It was really terrible. It was icky."
>> When making a bag: The V2840 needs about 3 inches of extra material to reach into the vacuum trough inside the machine. That becomes wasted space, so measure accordingly.
>> FoodSaver bags are reusable, but be careful with bags used for raw meat or fish.
We've sealed just about anything sealable: uncooked filet mignon bought in bulk, cooked hamburgers, blanched string beans, pesto, chunks of fresh ginger and even bread.
Within months, about the time it takes for our frozen food to expire, the FoodSaver will pay for itself. It also changes the way we'll shop.
"Honestly," says Murdock, "the way I see even wholesale prices going now, I'm thinking about going out and getting an extra roll because vegetable prices and everything are just going to go through the roof. We have three freezers — hopefully, we won't have a storm like we did last year, when I lost everything in my freezers."
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