Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring is Coming up Meatballs

Sale prices on super-lean hamburger were great at Fresh Market this week, so I've been canning hamburger. The photo at left is of some hamburger patties and meatballs I canned last week. Here is a link to the current USDA guide 5, Preparing and Canning Poultry,
Red Meats, and Seafoods
with detailed instructions (page 5-2 has the instructions for ground meat). Please make sure to adjust the pressure to what is needed for your altitude – where we live, it’s 13 pounds. If the canner goes below the required pressure for even a few seconds, start the processing time over. That’s why I keep my canner around 15 pounds pressure, just to make sure I don’t have to start over. Since meat takes 90 minutes to pressure can, believe me, you do not want to have to start processing time over.

I always slit a big black garbage bag and lay it over my work area when I'm prepping the meat to can. I don't get meat juices and pieces spread all over my counters. It is sanitary and makes cleanup a snap.

What is my honest assessment on the ease of canning both chicken and hamburger? Anything you can stuff in a jar raw, without pre-cooking and without adding extra liquid, is of course going to save you a whole lot of time. Therefore, boneless, skinless chicken is soooo easy to do. I haven’t done chunks or cubes of red meat yet, but since they can be put in the jar raw, I’m sure they are the same ease as chicken. Hamburger, though, is a different matter, entirely.

Hamburger must be slightly browned before pressure canning and it has to have added liquid. Why? With ground meat, there is a lot more possibility for bacteria to lurk inside the meat than with chunks of meat. That’s why you should NEVER, but never, just stuff a bunch of raw hamburger into a canning jar and pressure can the way some bloggers tell you to do – that method is not USDA approved and it’s really playing roulette with your family’s health. With one big glob of hamburger like that, the boiling liquid that will kill the bacteria cannot circulate around all the meat. Play it safe and follow USDA guidelines, even if those guidelines seem paranoid. Pre-browning the meat also ensures that the hamburger keeps its shape while you are canning and that it looks nice when you pull it out of the jar.

Season both the hamburger patties and meatballs as desired. I chose to add spices, salt, and finely minced garlic to the hamburger and mixed it up with my hands (wearing disposable gloves) before I formed it for browning. I felt if the seasoning were inside the meat, the flavors would hold better through the canning process. Meatballs had oregano, basil, onion powder, salt, and minced garlic. Hamburgers had onion powder, a little Worcestershire Sauce, salt, and minced garlic.

I used a cookie scoop to scoop out the meatballs. A dozen browned meatballs of that size will fit in a pint jar. For the boiling liquid required for both meatballs and patties, I used soup base (like bouillon) to make a half-strength broth. My neighbor tells me that “Better than Bouillon” makes a low sodium soup base that does not have MSG, and I’d use that next time. You might be surprised that most bouillon and soup base contain both corn syrup solids (a health no-no) and MSG. The MSG is often under disguised names like “hydrolized vegetable protein” or “hydrolized yeast extract” or “natural flavorings”.

I used a half-cup measuring cup to scoop out hamburger patties and squished them to ½ inch. I browned the patties on an indoor electric grill (George Foreman style) that browned both sides of the hamburger at once. The patties shrunk to the perfect size to fit in my wide-mouth quart jars – I do recommend wide-mouth jars for the patties. I did 50 patties in very little time that way. Each quart jar held five patties.

Hamburger can also be browned and pressure canned without shaping, following the instructions in the guide I have linked above. One lady has commented that not shaping the meat results in meat with a finer consistency, like the hamburger you get in fast food tacos. She recommended, instead, canning patties and then breaking them up for other uses after you open the jar.

Will I be canning hamburger again, even with the extra work? Absolutely! If I were cooking hamburger for a meal, I’d have to go to the work anyway. Pressure canning the hamburger just puts the work up front and the bottled meat will be a time saver for me on busy days. Ha! That’s every day, but let’s not get carried away. :) If the power goes out, I have a ready source of protein that is already cooked, not to mention I bought this hamburger about half the normal price. Gotta love sales! Besides, the hamburger tastes good!

My family will be scooping out the meat next time I do hamburger – that’s the real time saver. Canning is so much more enjoyable when you’re not doing all the work yourself. The kids tend to think it's slave labor, but 'tis the nature of kids to complain at work, of any kind. They like the family together time once they get going and their dad's silly stories and jokes.

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