My son had his 16th birthday yesterday, he requested scallops for his special dinner. My wife and I bought some beautiful U-15 scallops even though we knew they were frozen, they still looked great. There was some purge in the bag when I was ready to cook them that is the excess water that leaks out of a protein like meat, poultry or seafood. This is fairly normal for a previously frozen product. The freezing process destroys cell membranes and some water leaks out of the meat. That is one reason that frozen meat, poultry and seafood usually does not have the same texture as their fresh counterparts. Further, many frozen seafoods are “crusted” with water glaze to protect the fragile flesh from freezer burn. There are, however, several things to look out for; especially if the price is low. So when I saw the water I did not panic because the scallops could have just been crusted with water which collected in the bag when I thawed it in the refrigerator. This did not turn out to be the case, when the scallops were cooked they released a great deal of water and with that water a lot of flavor was lost. The scallops had been huge to begin with and we all enjoyed them, but they would have been better if they had truly been “Dry Packed” scallops.
Many seafood producers use phosphates which is a type of salt that when added to water will force water into the flesh of the seafood. This is done to scallops, shrimp and many other types of fish to add size and weight to the product in the hope that it will also retain extra moisture after cooking. Usually the opposite is true, the water comes out during cooking and you wind up with much less seafood than you thought you had bought. The phosphates also act as a preservative that protects flavor and adds color so you can’t tell that you are buying much older seafood than you thought. The sudden release of all of that water makes it virtually impossible to properly saute or grill the seafood in question. There is nothing quite as lovely or delicious as a well seared scallop. Seafood is not the only protein to which water is being added.
The poultry industry uses a cold water bath to chill the birds quickly after slaughter and evisceration (removal of internal organs), this seems like a good idea since the faster you chill the meat after slaughter the lower the risk of bacterial growth. If you look at any poultry package you will notice that it states that there is somewhere between 3% and 6% added water, this is from the chilling process. We have seen air chilled chicken recently, but it was much more expensive. When I have enough money for it I prefer it. The chicken cooks better with a crisper skin that does not stick to the pan because excess water cools the pan causing the proteins contained in the liquid to adhere to tiny scratches in the pan. The air cooled chicken also tastes better. When salts are added to the water that chicken is soaked in it picks up a lot more water, that is a very good reason to read labels carefully. These statements are often small and not displayed prominently. The practice of “pumping” poultry with as much as 15% water is robbing your family of protein they need to survive. There are other meats that are pumped with water.
Ground beef is another product that many producers add water to in the form of ice. This ice is used to keep the meat and grinding equipment cold during the grinding process. The moving parts of the machinery cause friction and heat up. One would think, again, that this is good to keep the meat cold to reduce the risk of bacterial growth; on the other hand it is adding water that I have not seen reported on the label. I have heard people say that the amount of ice is minimal, but good quality producers use dry ice or partially freeze the meat before grinding. Further, different cuts of meat, in other words, meat from different parts of the animal have differing moisture content. I find the use of ice, therefore, unethical and should be on the label. The Fat Content must be labeled so should the water content if water is being added or not. The most important information would be protein percentage which would only be known if both fat and moisture were known.
Unfortunately for the American consumer, water is being added to the supply of our most important nutrient which is protein. Protein is also the most expensive nutrient we buy and some portion of that hard earned money is going for salt and water. We should vote with our dollars. Look for the water added statements on labels. Ask the fish supplier if the seafood you are buying is “dry packed”. Pay a little more for better quality food, it will pay dividends in the way you cook and the flavor of your meals.