Last Friday I was invited as part of a group of food bloggers to visit the Iceland Kitchen at their head office near Chester. The purpose of the visit was to have a tour of their new test kitchens (over which I now have serious kitchen and photography studio envy!), to taste some of their Christmas treats (including a Christmas turkey cooked on a BBQ) and to bust some of the myths that exist about frozen food.
Heading in to the kitchen
It was a really informative (and tasty) day and there are so many things I could share with you about it, so I’ve narrowed them down to my top few…
Iceland take their recipe development and product testing very seriously
Our day started with a tour of the Iceland test kitchens. They have several kitchens in their new purpose-built building (which is only 8 weeks old) in which they develop new products and test the quality of existing ones. They employ 24 full time quality testers (across the Chester site and a number of main depots) whose job it is to randomly sample a selection of products to ensure that what is being sold in the stores matches the product as originally specified (i.e. nothing unexpected has happened in the manufacturing process). They also check the packaging to make certain that all of the product details and cooking instructions are correct as well as ensuring that each product has been stored correctly before arriving in store.
Head of Product Development, Neil Nugent showing off one of the smaller kitchens
Frozen food isn’t cheaper because it’s poor quality, it’s cheaper because the process of getting it from where it starts into your home is more efficient
Throughout the afternoon we were shown some videos (which apparently will be shared with you all in the New Year) presenting the process of getting frozen v fresh food from where it starts its life into your homes.
One example we were given was for fish.
Two stores are selling the same fish – Iceland and Store X (any random store you wish to choose). Iceland freezes theirs, Store X sells it fresh.
Iceland buys the fish wherever it’s caught, prepares it while it’s still fresh and then freezes it. They then ship it over to the UK still frozen and distribute it to their stores to sell.
Store X buys the fish wherever it’s caught, packs it in ice and then ships it across to the UK as quickly as they can to ensure it doesn’t go off. When it reaches the UK, they then prepare it and send it out to their stores.
No one way is better that the other, you still get great fish, but the frozen way is more efficient because Iceland can wait to send the fish over in big shipments rather than having to transport the fresh fish as soon as they can to stop it going off. The same great quality fish but a cheaper process to get it to you.
I can definitely confirm that Iceland frozen fish is excellent quality (and this has been confirmed by independent testing too) as I eat it regularly and I’ve shared a couple of recipes in the past using their salmon. However, to really prove the point we were served it raw at the event both as a Poke and Sashimi and they tasted absolutely amazing (although a lot of credit for that should also go to the chefs that prepared it for us too!).
Not only is frozen just as good as fresh, but quite a bit of “fresh” food has been frozen before you buy it and you probably don’t even realise
The process I described above works fine if the fish starts its life somewhere near the UK, but for something like red snapper it’s not practical to ship it over fresh (it takes 45 days to get to the UK!). So all of the red snapper you find in the shops has been frozen, even the ones in the fresh counters (they just defrost it first). All that freezing and defrosting (and the reduced shelf life after defrosting) means it’ll cost more even though it’s exactly the same.
The same goes for prawns – apparently you can’t buy a fresh prawn in the UK (unless you’re picking live ones up from a dock somewhere), they’re all frozen at some point. We tried some gorgeous hay-smoked Argentinian Red Prawns which will be on sale in store in the new year and they were absolutely amazing.
It’s not just fish and seafood, apparently quite a lot of “fresh” ready-meals (or component parts of those meals) are frozen. Nothing wrong with them at all, they can taste delicious, it’s just important to recognise that there’s no need to favour fresh over frozen when what you’re buying may not be as “fresh” as you first thought anyway.
Apparently if you take a quick peek at the small print on the back of packets you can start to spot little notices that the product (or bits of the product) have been previously frozen.
After our frozen food myth busting it was time to get festive with our Christmas turkey.
You should be brining your Christmas turkey…
… and if that seems like too much effort then buy an Iceland frozen one and they’ll do all the work for you!
I don’t know if it’s just me paying more attention to these things, but brining Turkey seems to be a bit of a “thing” this Christmas. I’ve not really heard anyone talking about it before and then all of a sudden it’s in the Good Food Magazine, then pretty much every food blogger I know is talking about it after learning it at the River Cottage, and now Iceland are in on the act too.
For anyone who’s not in the know (like me until a few weeks ago), brining is where you soak the meat in a salt water solution before cooking it. Not only does it help to flavour the meat, but it also keeps the meat lovely and moist (and we all know that turkey can have a slight tendency to go a bit dry).
Head of Product Development, Neil Nugent showing us how their frozen turkeys are prepared.
Unlike most stores, Iceland’s Christmas turkey (their British Whole Brined Turkey with Orange and Thyme Butter to be exact) is ready-brined, saving you a big job. It’s much easier for Iceland to sell ready-brined turkeys as their turkeys are frozen. Brining a turkey reduces its shelf life and so it’s much trickier/more expensive for stores selling fresh turkeys to ready-brine them for you.
Iceland’s Head of Product Development, Neil Nugent, then went on to show us how their Christmas turkey is flavoured (there’s something reassuring about actually seeing the process of preparing frozen food from fresh – I think there’s a bit of me that assumes that it’s full of artificial goodness knows what, but that’s not what I saw going in at all, everything was fresh and looked delicious).
Now, while we’re on the subject of turkeys…
Don’t tie your turkey’s legs together
Apparently it cooks more evenly if you don’t. You want to to be able to go like this…
Then we were shown how to cook the Turkey, including not tieing the legs together so it can go like this…
— Sarah Trivuncic (@MaisonCupcake) November 18, 2016
Go on, tag me in your videos of you doing this on Christmas day 🙂
…and don’t bother with the oven, head outside to BBQ your turkey instead
Have you ever noticed at Christmas that oven space is something of a premium, especially if you’re cooking a massive turkey? Not only that but to ensure your turkey is lovely and moist you want to be cooking it at a lower temperature than your roasted vegetables and pigs in blankets.
The solution to this is to BBQ it. If you’ve got a BBQ with a lid then pop it in there instead (with a low heat to either side rather than directly underneath). You just need to pop out every now and again to give it a little baste and let out a little heat if the temperature is getting too high.
I’m still in two minds if I’m going for it or if I’m going to chicken (or should that be turkey) out and save oven space with a turkey crown instead – what do you think I should do?
If you fancy a change from turkey then we also tried a rack of lamb and lobster thermidore that were both simply delicious.
Iceland sell some yummy festive desserts
Not a lot more to say than that really. They’ve got a big range and we sampled a couple (which involved a lot of chocolate-iness) and they tasted gooooooood…
…and don’t forget the mince pies (like I did!)
They’re also incredibly proud of their mince pies which are Good Housekeeping recommended beating many “fancier” (and more expensive) brands to the title.
In a shocking oversight I accidentally missed out on the mince pies on the day (as I was too busy chatting and photographing 🙂 ), but I’m happy to say that I’ve now fixed that after picking up a box when I was getting some other bits and pieces in my local store and I can confirm that they are indeed very good.
Well that’s all from my visit, I hope I’ve whet your appetite to try some frozen treats this Christmas and don’t forget to look out for those incredible Argentinian Red Prawns in the New Year.