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defrosting 101: the quickest and safest methods without a microwave
[5 ingredients]

saag lamb (curry with spinach) saag lamb (curry with spinach)

I’m not a big fan of the whole microwave thing. I mean they take up heaps of space and most people rarely cook with them. But for years I kept one cluttering up my tiny kitchen because I thought I needed it for defrosting things from the freezer.

It’s been years since I ditched my microwave. And apart from when my friends wanted to heat up some baby food the other night at my early Thanksgiving dinner, I haven’t missed it one bit. I especially haven’t missed the feeling when you’re defrosting raw meat in the microwave and leave it in too long so that the edges get overcooked while the middle is still icy. Ick.

so today I thought I’d share:

the quickest and safest methods for defrosting without a microwave

in the fridge
Most of the time I’ve become more organised. I get things out of the freezer the night before and let them safely and slowly defrost in the fridge, like a good food-safety-law-abiding citizen. There are still times when I forget or the plans change, but you’ll be happy to know even these trying circumstances don’t induce microwave-longing.

straight into a pan / oven
If I want to defrost something like a soup or stew, I just run the bottom of the freezer container under the hot water tap for a little while, enough to loosen. I then deposit the frozen chunk into a saucepan and slowly allow it to defrost over the lowest heat. Too easy.

Most frozen veg, like peas, are best popped straight into a pan with a little olive oil, or into a saucepan of boiling water.

And I’ve recently successfully cooked two different sized turkeys on different occasions from frozen and ended up with the most wonderfully moist meat. The trick here is to use a low heat 160C (325F) and use a meat thermometer to make sure your bird reaches a safe internal temperature. If you’d like to learn more about this, I’ll be teaching this method in my Stress-Free Thanksgiving class this weekend.

defrosting on a metal surface
I thought meat and fish were more tricky, than tubs of soup, until I learned this wonderful new method. I picked up the idea from the food science book, What Einstein Told His Chef. Basically, things will defrost faster, the quicker their coldness is taken away from them. So you want a surface that will conduct heat to the frozen item (or take the cold away) as efficiently as possible.

While a metal sink is better than a wooden bench top at conducting heat, the ridged surface means that only part of the food is in contact with the metal. Much better to use a heavy cast iron frying or roasting pan for the maximum heat/cold transfer.

I recently put this to the test defrosting 2 similar sized scotch fillet steaks. One, I unwrapped and placed directly on my cast iron roasting pan. The other I left wrapped in it’s Styrofoam tray from the butcher. I turned both every 20 minutes or so. And the winner was undoubtedly the steak on the roasting pan which took about an hour to defrost fully. Whereas the other steak took about 3 1/2 hours to get to the same state. I love it when an experiment proves the point!

watch lamb curry with spinach video on YouTube.

Today’s recipe is a wonderful little Indian-inspired curry, Saag Lamb or lamb with spinach. Feel free to use frozen meat AND spinach, to try out the defrosting method.

[In case you missed it, I recently wrote about the 7 golden rules of freezing food with a recipe for a delicious frozen pea salad.]

saag lamb (curry with spinach)
[5 ingredients | 10 minutes]
saag lamb (lamb & spinach curry)

serves 2

Along with my butter chickpeas, this is a favourite Indian inspired curry. I prefer it with lamb but chicken or beef are also good.

For a vegan / vegetarian version of the curry, replace the lamb with tofu and equivalent amount of tofu or a can of drained chickpeas. Steamed potatoes would be another replacement as would cauliflower. Saag (spinach curry sauce) is also often served with paneer, an Indian cheese which is a little like a very firm ricotta.

Feel free to serve as is or with a bowl of fluffy rice and a little natural yoghurt (possibly with some cooling grated cucumber stirred through). I also like to serve this with a salad dressed in natural yoghurt like the one below.

If you aren’t sure how hot your chillies are, slice a tiny piece off the stalk end and touch it to your tongue. Don’t make the mistake I made years ago and nibble the tip of the chilli (it’s the least hot part) and end up adding way too much.

2 tablespoons garam marsala (+1 teaspoon, optional)
250g (1/2lb) lamb backstrap or fillet, chopped into small chunks
3 – 5 large green chillies, finely sliced crosswise
1 can tomatoes (400g / 14oz)
1 packet frozen spinach, defrosted & finely chopped

1. Combine gram marsala with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Toss in lamb to coat in the spiced oil.

2. Heat a large frying pan on a high heat. Add lamb and chillies and stir fry for a few minutes or until just cooked though. Remove lamb from the pan.

3. Add tomato and spinach and simmer for about 5 minutes or until it looks saucey.

4. Return lamb to the pan and bring back to a simmer. Taste and season, adding the extra garam marsala if you think it needs more spice.

shaved cabbage salad with yoghurt dressing

[5 ingredients | 10 minutes]
shaved cabbage & yoghurt salad

serves 2-3 as a side

This isn’t traditional at all, but I love a good salad on the side of most of my meals. I often find a curry & rice extravaganza can be a bit lacking in the freshness department. This salad has it all, crunchy AND yoghurty coolness.

If cabbage isn’t your thing, try the dressing on baby spinach leaves or even on shaved cucumber.

6 tablespoons natural yoghurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 small clove garlic very finely chopped
1/4 small white cabbage

1. Whisk together yoghurt, garlic and lemon. Season generously.

2. Remove outer leaves from the cabbage and slice the remaining cabbage as finely as possible.

3. Toss cabbage in the dressing. Serve now or keep in the fridge until you’re ready.


I’m super excited to announce that I’ve finally found time to re-package my e-cookbook 5 ingredients | 10 minutes into individual chapter mini-e-cookbooks which will be sold separately. These, along with a premium version of 5 ingredients | 10 minutes that includes videos will be available for sale next Wednesday, 24th November.

I’ve also fixed the technical problems so you’ll be able to read all versions of the book on your iphone or ipad. Will be sending through the improved version to everyone who has already purchased.


{ 26 comments… add one }

  • Claire 18 November, 2010, 9:10 pm

    Curry and cabbage – may not be everybody’s cup of tea but it’s two of my favourite things (and now I feel all Julie Andrews – weird). Thought of you tonight when I made supper – wasn’t quite 5 ingredients but 7 wasn’t far off… and it was delicious.

  • Marie (a.k.a. gardenfreshtomatoes) 18 November, 2010, 9:41 pm

    Love the cast-iron pan defroster… Several years ago here in the States, some company was selling a metal tray as a “miracle defrosting tray” – only $19.95, plus shipping and handling! I had to laugh…

    One question, though – If you’re cooking something as large as a turkey directly from the freezer, doesn’t it stay in the temperature ‘danger zone’ for a long time?

  • Johanna GGG 18 November, 2010, 10:59 pm

    the metal defroster idea is weird but maybe explains while my mum often had meat defrosting on the sink (or maybe it was to drain it on the corregated bits)

    I am a great fan of the microwave – I use it to defrost and reheat leftovers but even more I use it to cook vegetables esp broccoli which is eaten a lot in our house

  • Emma 18 November, 2010, 11:59 pm

    I really resonate with this post. I got rid of my microwave a while back and don’t miss it one bit – I usually do the defrosting overnight in the fridge, but good to know about the other options. Thanks to not having a microwave, I’m far more organised with shopping and cooking and I’ll never forget the gross factor in getting the defrosted meat out of the microwave half cooked!

  • AddiesDad 19 November, 2010, 12:22 am

    These are great tips, thanks! What about the cold water method? Leaving a frozen item in it’s bag and immersing it in cold water? That seems to work, especially in a metal work bowl, but is it safe?

  • tatertot 19 November, 2010, 12:37 am

    I’m with you–the microwave is reserved for EXTREME defrosting emergencies. I hate the little rubbery bits it causes on the ends of my meat.

    My method is a large metal bowl filled with cold water. Not warm–cold. Change the water every 30 minutes. We use the water to water the plants so it’s not wasted. I can get home around 5:30 and have enough meat for 2 thawed and in the skillet or oven by 7.

  • Karen at Globetrotter Diaries 19 November, 2010, 3:18 am

    I’ve never thought of defrosting on a metal surface but that makes sense– thanks! I’ll definitely try it next time

  • Sara 19 November, 2010, 4:47 am

    The defrosting on a metal surface just blew my mind a bit! Thanks! haha

  • Nova 19 November, 2010, 7:55 am

    finally! another non microwave user! yay!

    we haven’t had one for years and friends just can’t believe we live without a microwave! I just wouldn’t know what to use one for if we did have one though.


  • jules 19 November, 2010, 8:21 am

    yay for going microwave-free nova!

    addiesdad & tatertot
    I haven’t ever got into the cold water method – not sure why. will keep it in mind for future experimentation

    your mum was onto something using the sink.
    and if you’re happy with your microwave veggies that’s great ;)

    the miracle defrosting tray – too funny. although you have to admire the entrepeneurial spirit!

    good question – apparently not – I’ve done quite a bit of research and seems that the heat penetrates relatively quickly so each part isn’t in the ‘danger zone’ for long enough to cause a problem.

    The other upside is that because you’re starting from frozen, the bacterial populations haven’t had a chance to start growing like they would during the defrosting period so your initial bacterial load is quite low. Which is a good thing.

    yay for cabbage and curry – it’s the business. and very happy that your 7 ingredient dinner was delicious.

  • Esz 19 November, 2010, 10:18 am

    My mum always used cold water too. Seemed the quickest way.

    As for the microwave – I would *never* use it for defrosting. It’s main function is reheating leftovers and steaming veggies :-D

  • Jaime 19 November, 2010, 5:08 pm

    I just want to say that I love your blog. I’ve been reading it since this past summer and I love it. There’s an elegance to it. I love that you stick to minimal ingredients and don’t make things complicated.

    I hate looking at recipes with 10+ ingredients, I really don’t want to go run around my city at different grocery stores looking for for the ingredients like some cookbooks make you do. Thank you for making things easy.

    I also love your photographs, do you photoshop your images? I love them. Keep up the good work. :)

  • Astrid 19 November, 2010, 10:43 pm

    Most Excellent! As you may have read on my blog, I just purchased a large lamb and we still have 89 pounds left. What perfect timing! I’m printing this as we speak and will prepare it tomorrow (tonight is pizza night). Thanks so much, love you recipes.

  • jules 20 November, 2010, 4:56 am

    thanks jaime
    no I’m too lazy for photoshop ;)
    I use lightroom for basic editing and that’s it.

    wow astrid
    great project – I grew up on a sheep farm and really miss having access to free lamb.

  • Pen 20 November, 2010, 11:12 am

    Jules – what about the old (sheep farm) method of hanging the frozen shoulder of hogget on the clothes line to defrost it?
    I also miss having sides of sheep delivered to the kitchen and being able to portion it up generously. I don’t miss meat bags, “blowy-watch” and the mess though!

  • Jaime 20 November, 2010, 1:03 pm

    Ah I see, thanks for getting back on that Jules :)

  • Cally 20 November, 2010, 10:22 pm

    We’ve never had a microwave (my husband used to be a physicist and electromagnetics was his particular interest – enough said). But if I am in a hurry to defrost something relatively small – or at least “thin” so it is not a long way to the middle – then I sometimes speed up the process by putting it into the fan oven with just the fan running and no heat. Works brilliantly with bacon if you are in urgent need of a sandwich and can’t prise those frozen rashers apart!

  • Ping 22 November, 2010, 2:26 pm

    It doesn’t fit with your five-ingredients approach, but I always include fenugreek and fennel seeds in my saag; also, I puree the spinach mixture before adding the cooked paneer or meat. Saag is a great way to use up leftover roast lamb or chicken. Also, try stinging nettles instead of spinach – it’s incredible!

    I’m addicted to my microwave … but only for my wheat bag!

  • louise 23 November, 2010, 2:42 pm

    Hi Jules,
    Just want to say i absolutely love your site. i read it every morning. there is something about the simplicity and freshness that sets it apart from other blogs.
    anywho, the curry looks fab. will try it tonight. i might add some lentils to it, just to get some more in my diet.
    also, where did you get your knife. it looks amazingly sharp. do you have to sharpen it often?

  • jules 23 November, 2010, 7:55 pm

    love the idea of stinging nettle in the saag – wonderful

    thanks louise
    lentils would be lovely with this curry.
    the knife actually belongs to my irishman. it’s a wustof they’re great knives. and I use his furi fingers to keep it really sharp – best knife sharpening system ever

  • sarah, simply cooked 28 November, 2010, 6:16 pm

    Thanks for that magical tip about a metal surface! That is worth remembering. Cheers.

  • jules 30 November, 2010, 10:15 pm

    pleasure sarah

  • Susan Bennett 3 March, 2011, 1:02 pm

    I use my microwave as a bread crock.

  • Bec Hughes 3 July, 2011, 7:16 pm

    Im a novice cook… really a novice and stumbled across your site and LOVE IT!
    I have actually been able to cook something (well 2 of your recipes this with chicken and butter beans and chorizo) and not been disappointed with my efforts! I feel empowered!
    Thankyou! :o)

  • jules 4 July, 2011, 7:53 pm

    awesome bec!
    so glad you’re enjoying stonesoup

  • Jane M 9 March, 2013, 9:59 am

    I have had THE WORST indigestion from that meal and I only put half the amount of chilli’s…

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