Monday, 5 December 2016

#PowerOfFrozen at Iceland Foods

Though I’ve never held any grand ambitions to make a living out of this food blogging lark, I can’t deny it’s nice to be occasionally asked to do bits and pieces of paid work. Usually these come in the form of a paragraph or two for a newspaper on whatever the latest food trend to catch the eye of the food editors, and other times it’s something more interesting like this little online project about Secrets of London (have a look in the East section for my bit) which gives me a chance to think about my city in new and interesting ways. And tell you where to have dinner too, obviously.

But generally these things are few and far between. Paid food writing is really not a growth business; newspapers seem to be looking for excuses to reduce their paid staff not add to them, and for that reason I feel increasingly fortunate as time goes on I have this blog, where I can write what I want, go where I want (sort of) and enjoy the occasional financial bonus even if most of the rest of the time my list of outgoings vs incomings would leave any freelance accountant running screaming for the hills.

It was with that in mind, then, that I eagerly accepted an invitation to Iceland. No, not the country, although I would eagerly accept an invitation there, too (if anyone from the Iceland Tourism Board is paying attention). Instead, the arguably less glamorous environs of Deeside Industrial Park, and the Iceland Foods HQ where myself and a group of other blogger types were hosted in their swanky new test kitchens and, as is the way with these things, learned how frozen foods were the best, Iceland in particular is the best at frozen foods, and that anyone still wasting their time making fresh mashed potato deserves to be laughed at by the Smash Aliens on that advert from the 80s.

I’m being disingenuous of course. Being a PR-led day at a supermarket chain HQ, yes there was an aspect of the hard sell to it, but it was still genuinely interesting to hear about which foods are generally previously frozen even if they’re sold as fresh, from prawns and deep-sea fish and seafood (e.g squid) to plenty of butchers cuts of meat. And pizza – usually that “fresh” ready-made pizza was just defrosted at some point before you saw it, and even if the base dough is fresh there’s every chance the toppings (salami, cheese and tomatoes) have all been frozen at some stage before being assembled. It was a good day for food conspiracy theorists. And it made me think about the amount of times I’d castigated a restaurant for using what tasted like “frozen” prawns to discover that nearly every other prawn I’d ever eaten out (aside from a very few expensive carabinero here and there) were previously frozen as well.

And speaking of prawns, as part of a multi-course lunch showcasing the best of Iceland’s premium foods offering (helped, it must be said, by the fact it was cooked by very experienced Iceland head chef Neil Nugent) we were introduced to these beautiful things – Argentinian Rosso prawns, plump and moist and certainly no worse off for having been previously frozen, the perfect showcase for the Iceland's skill set. Perhaps the lesson to be learned, as with most things, is to buy frozen food when the freezing process has no detrimental effect, and avoid it when it does. Lobster, for example, I always thing goes all chewy and horrible after being frozen, but weirdly King Crab tasted just as good defrosted from the freezer at Whole Foods on a recent trip to the US as they did fresh out of the tanks at Beast. Sorry, Beast, but ‘tis true.

Some things, though, Iceland were unable to change my mind on. I still maintain the only acceptable ingredient for chips and fries are never-frozen potatoes, ideally chipped that day, and the addition of some sticks of frozen mashed potato to an otherwise decent dish of lamb chops was very weird, like finishing off a fine aged sirloin steak with some Alphabet Bites. And the less said about the frozen broccoli and watery mini carrots the better; I can understand why I may not be able to source live prawns every day of the week, but I can’t find much of a pressing need to buy frozen broccoli. At least not before the nuclear holocaust really kicks in.

Still, an illuminating day, and one I’m quite happy to give up a rare advertising space for on this blog. Frozen food – and Iceland in particular – have suffered a bit of an image problem in these days of resurgent foodieism (the words “Kerry Katona” still don’t go down very well at the Iceland HQ, judging by the awkward silence that greeted my attempt at humour) but it’s true that whenever passionate, skilled people turn their attention to something, whether it’s the running of a multi-Michelin-starred restaurant in Mayfair or the logistics of getting Argentinian prawns from the deep sea to your dinner table, the results speak for themselves.

This post was sponsored by Iceland Foods. Obviously.

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