Make Your Own MREs: Freeze-Dried Chili Mac
While I like to have a range of freeze-dried foods on hand, I may not have time to prep a meal in an emergency. That may result in my having to chew on rehydrated carrot chips or crunchy corn washed down with swigs of water, but having my Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) can be a huge nutritionally complex advantage. First, I know what’s in it, so I know it’s good for me. Second, my body had already processed some of this same food when I first made it, so I’m not shocking my system at a time when I need as stable of physiology as possible. Third, I have a meal ready to eat anytime I don’t know what to have for dinner on a particular night. And, though there are many other reasons I could probably go into, like the fact that the food has a shelf-life of upwards of 25 years, a huge reason is its cost savings. Food prices aren’t going down, so when I cook in bulk today and set it aside, I am essentially putting food in an interest-bearing savings account of sorts. The ten dollars I might spend today on food will be worth even more five years from now, and after a disaster, it will be priceless.
In this video, I’ll make and freeze-dry classic Chili Mac. To rehydrate, just add hot water, and you’re eating a home-cooked meal while the disaster rages outside. Throughout this series on the Harvest Right Freeze-Dryer, I’ll give you a few pro-tips based on lessons I have learned and one technical fact per video. So, you’ll want to watch the video all the way through to pick up all those tips and facts and avoid trial and error with your precious food resources. I will be freeze-drying a bunch to get my food supplies up to where I feel comfortable, and I am not afraid to share with you both my successes and my edible but not preservable failures. I hope to teach you a few things, learn a few things, and save you some money. Let’s make some freeze-dried MREs…
BASIC CHILI MAC RECIPE
The nice thing about chili mac is there aren’t any rules. If you like more meat, use more meat. If you want no meat, don’t use any. If you like chili with beans, use chili with beans. If you like chili without beans, use chili without beans. Here I’m starting with a couple of pounds of hamburger. I start a pot of water for my pasta noodles. For my batch, I’m going to cook in two onions. I’m going to add in one can of kidney beans and one can of pinto beans. Take note of all the labels as you add anything into your mix. You will be able to combine all the nutritional information with the nutritional values of non-labeled foods like the hamburger and derive your food’s total calories and nutritional value. When you package it, you can then also add a sticker with your nutritional value estimates. These two cans of beans are going to add 13 grams of protein and 16 grams of fiber.
I will also add four cans of chili I picked up at the store on the cheap. Each will add another 34 grams of protein, 64 grams of carbohydrates, and more than enough sodium so that I won’t add any additional salt to my food. My pasta will add another 41 grams of carbohydrates and 7 grams protein per 1/2 cup uncooked, and I will be adding almost the whole bag to about 20 servings. For flavor, I’ll add some dehydrated vegetable mix. This will add some vitamins and minerals, particularly potassium and calcium. For flavor, I add some taco seasoning, cumin, and garlic. I will rehydrate this with the bean juice before adding it all into my cooking meat. I think this helps to pull the flavors out. Finally, I added a few freeze-dried jalapenos. I could powder these easily with my fingers because they are freeze-dried. I keep freeze-dried jalapenos in a jar in my pantry, so I always have fresh jalapenos when cooking.
FREEZE-DRYING PRO-TIP #1
If you want to get more vegetables in your diet, freeze-drying is the way to go. Vegetables freeze-dry really well. They are great to snack on, and you can eat handfuls of them quite easily. Just remember to drink water with them. Some vegetables take on a chip-like texture. When you rehydrate them, you cannot really tell the difference between the fresh or the freeze-dried versions.
Finally, I’ll add a can of diced tomatoes and rehydrate my dehydrated vegetables with the juice from the can.
When my meat is lightly browned, I add in the onion. Drain any excess fat off the meat. Fats do not freeze-dry well. Here I am using pretty lean meat to begin with. Then my rehydrated flavorings mix goes in when the onions are a little translucent. After all those ingredients are mixed well and cooked together, I add all the cans. Then I cook up my pasta. When the pasta is done, I drain it and give it a light rinse. I add three tablespoons of butter. Fats don’t freeze-dry well, so you want to use as little as possible. Three tablespoons will be enough to help my sauce stick to the noodles well. Then to combine all the ingredients, I add a few scoops of chili, then a few scoops of elbow macaroni. Continue to mix them in this manner until all ingredients are combined.
I then can scoop the mix into individual ziplock baggies. This will allow me to freeze a serving size portion in a flat shape. If I make more than my trays can hold, I’ll have some frozen and ready to freeze-dry in a later batch. I was able to get 12 bags that each averaged between 11 and 16 ounces. When I make nutrition labels for these portions, I will calculate them at 12 ounces. After they are frozen, I simply liberate them from the bags and place them on the trays. To a few, I will add a little more flavor with a touch of Rooster sauce. This won’t add much, if any, heat, and it can be reduced by brushing it off the outside of the food before rehydrating.
FREEZE-DRYING PRO-TIP #2
Salts and spices will concentrate when the water is removed in the freeze-drying process. This isn’t a problem if you rehydrate the food, but if you eat it in its freeze-dried state, you will get more intense flavors and a greater salt profile. You can add liquid flavors to the top of your frozen serving to allow people to remove some of the seasonings before rehydrating simply by brushing it off.
Then, into the freeze-dryer they go. You’ll notice that I’m doing all one batch of the same thing in the same run and not mixing. I find that I get better results when I don’t mix food. The drying process is more complete. After about 42 hours here, the process was complete. If you plan on rehydrating, this is when you should weigh them again. The difference between the weights will tell you how much water by weight was removed from your product. So, that also tells you how much water you need to rehydrate it. These individual servings came out between 4 and 6 ounces, so I know to rehydrate them, I will need between 7 and 10 ounces of water. I will put on the label to rehydrate with about 4-6 ounces of hot water and add more as necessary. You can always guess when rehydrating, as I often do, or start with a bit of water and add a little more as required. The nice thing about freeze-drying is the food will only absorb back into itself the water it can hold. Putting a good label on your MRE, though, will allow others to know how to rehydrate it and will make it easier for you if your brain is otherwise occupied with survival.
In each bag, I will put an oxygen absorber per serving. I can package two servings per bag either together or by sealing the mylar bag in half. It’s a little tricky to do this, though, so I just package two whole servings to a bag for most. To reconstitute it, I simply poured more hot water over it than I needed to and then waited about 6 minutes. It gave me a nice brothy mix that would be an excellent hearty stew after any disaster. The taste was no different than when I first made it and had some for dinner two nights before. I’m confident it will taste the same when I rehydrate a batch in 5, 10, even 20 years from now. That’s it. I not only have 16 servings of chili mac MREs good to go, they only weigh about 6 pounds total. The carbs, protein, and nutrients, though, will keep a person going for quite a long time after a disaster. At the very least, when I am not in the mood to cook dinner for everyone, I have a meal I can have ready in 6 minutes. That’s awesome.
Freeze-drying works through a process called sublimation. That is a fancy way of saying that the ice does not turn to a liquid state and passes directly to a gas state. If you flash freeze your food, even using dry ice to do so, you avoid water crystals spiking through cell membranes. When the super frozen food is gently warmed, the ice sublimates to a gas and then condenses and freezes on the walls of the freeze dryer’s drum. The rehydrated food, in many cases, is indistinguishable from its fresh or frozen counterpart in taste. As we will see in future videos, though, sometimes the appearance can be dramatically altered. We’ll test this “taste” theory in a future video with some steaks. At the price of beef today, the science better holds true.
What’s your goto freeze-dried MRE recipe? Is there something you would like for me to try freeze-drying? Let me know in the comments below, and I will consider making a batch in a future video. I read many of the comments and respond to them when I can, typically within the first hour of releasing a video. I can notify you when other videos become available if you take that step to subscribe to this channel.
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