Embrace Your Freezer

Culture Food and Drink

I think you have heard this far too many times – stranger times are afoot. Stockpiling is a particular point of aggression for me because there is simply no point in buying far more than you need. If supply is an issue, the answer lies in simply utilising the best appliance at your disposal. Yes, I am talking about your freezer.

There is a multitude of food that behaves rather well if you plunge it into the icy-cold depths of your freezer. But, as always, the question of food safety arises. Here is a crash-course into what freezes well, how to fight the devil that is freezer-burn, and what is a freezer-flop and must be avoided at all costs.

Bread
I place this at the top of my list simply because I believe that far too many people have been chucking their Hovis slices into the compost when the slightest bloom of mould appears. Bread is the king of freezer foods. If you buy your bread pre-sliced, you can chuck whatever you believe you cannot finish by the sell-by date into the freezer. If you are a better person than I am and get those crusty loaves à la Gail’s, make sure to slice them into neat pieces before freezing. Whenever the need for toast arises, no thawing is necessary. Pop it straight into your toaster. You can’t imagine a thing better since frozen bread.

Fruit
Sure, you can buy pre-frozen fruit, and there is nothing wrong in that. But if you think you have far more than you need fresh, you can freeze whatever excess you have. Most fruit freezes remarkably well. And while in some cases (I am looking at you, citrus) the texture does deteriorate, if you are using it for baking/smoothies/juicing – no one would be none the wiser.
A point of note: pitted fruit does best if you remove their stones before the freeze – trying to pry it out with a knife sub-thaw is not much fun. Avoid the peach equivalent to the millennial avocado injury.
Citrus, forgiving my previous dig, is OK if you are using the pulp for a recipe or smoothie – but the zest reigns supreme. Zesting a frozen wedge of citrus fruit is easy peasy. And if you happen to need the flesh of citrus without the skin, just freeze it for whenever you may want to make a casserole calling for that tablespoon of orange zest.

Herbs
We are all culprit to buying a pouch of rosemary when a recipe demands it and leaving the remainder languishing in the produce drawer. If you have far too many fresh herbs than you know what to do with, freeze them (spoiler alert). Herbs are best if frozen in some kind of fat, so what I do is portion them out in an ice-cube tray, a teaspoon per well, and top each up with a glug of olive oil. If your next pasta sauce demands 2 teaspoons of fresh rosemary – pop out two cubes straight from the tray and toss them into your pan.

Soups and stocks
I am a fan of the Kallo stock cube. But there have been times (i.e. mid-risotto making) when I have had far too much ready than I need. Instead of chucking it away, freeze them in portions (I like to go for a cup per container), so you know exactly how much to thaw out the next time you need it.

Leftovers
I wrote an entire article about leftovers, and it seems particularly prescient to not let whatever you have spare to go to waste. Stews and curries fare particularly well from being frozen – just make sure you portion them according to how much you need for a meal.

Vegetables
The list of vegetables that do well from freezing is far longer than those that do not. Onions, garlic, hard veg (squash, root veg, peppers)…
Spinach and kale, while of the leafier variety, do well if you plan to deploy them later in a cooked dish and not in a salad.
Skin your tomatoes before freezing – by slitting an X at their base, boiling them for 2-3 minutes, then immediately plunging them into a bath of ice-cold water. Their skin will start to shrink back – so peel off whatever remains with languorous ease and pop them into a freezer bag or Tupperware.
While most root vegetables fair well, potatoes do not. Only waxy potatoes do relatively OK, but I advise this only if you want to use them in some sort of stock, as their texture does change. Just parboil them before freezing.
As a general rule of thumb – veg with a high water content either should not be frozen (i.e. iceberg) or needs some treatment. Hardier veg is much more resilient.

Tofu
Even if food shortage is not an issue, I am a proponent for freezing your tofu.

Baked Goods
Do you know how some people have eyes much bigger than their stomachs? I bake much bigger than my stomach. Most baked goods can be frozen. Banana bread, cinnamon rolls, cookie dough – it’s all good. Just make sure to portion them accordingly for future ease. To bring them back to their former glory – a whirl in the microwave is all you need.

Butter
FREEZE YOUR BUTTER. I use non-dairy butter, but the rule withstands. And, hey, if you happen to be the sort that makes your own shortcrust – pre-frozen butter is a godsend.

Yoghurt and milk
Yes, I am aware that some dairy comes with a warning emblazoned on the side of it – DO NOT FREEZE. But if your intention is to use your dairy in a dish, frozen shouldn’t be a problem. Freezing yoghurt or milk (or non-dairy equivalents) changes the texture of it – no longer silky and velvet but rather (urgh!) lumpy. This resolves itself if you throw it into a biryani or a pasta sauce, but not have any intention of consuming it as you would fresh. Just try you freeze whatever you do not think you can finish as soon as you can – anything a day or so near its sell-by date is risky business.

Eggs
Don’t freeze your eggs in their shells. Crack them open, beat them and portion them in containers labelled with how many eggs lie within them.

Cheese
Hard cheese freezes well, soft cheese-less so. If you find a bit of mould growing on your wedge of parmesan, it is completely fine (and safe!) to cut it off with a generous margin, and freeze whatever remains. Soft cheese should not be frozen at all costs – and if you find yourself in the unfortunate circumstance of finding a bit of mould on your mozzarella. Chuck it. It isn’t worth any risk.

Flours
Wheat, rye, spelt, buckwheat, oat… they are the superstar of the freezer. Whenever you need any for a bit of baking, scoop it out and proceed as you would normally.

Nuts and seeds
I grew up in a hot climate, so all of our nuts and seeds claimed residence in our fridge or freezer. Nuts and seeds possess a fat that can, at times, go rancid in warmer temperatures. This poses less of a problem if you buy small bags of the stuff that they sell at Tesco. But, if you are a bulk-buy fiend, pop whatever you think you will not employ in the next few months in the freezer. It will save you a lot of money, and heartache.

Cooked rice, grains and pasta
Yes, you can freeze these. Rice can be tricky, but be sure to cool whatever excess you have ASAP and pop it into the freezer once it is at room temperature. Pasta can be frozen, but please, only if it is just shy of al-dente. You will need to plunge it onto some hot water to revive it, and if it is already slightly over, you will have a soggy, gloppy mess.

Meat
Freezing meat can appear to be a risky endeavour but if you follow a few rules, you’re golden. Freeze it as soon as possible, portioned as you would need per meal. When freezing meat, air is the enemy. Wrap each as much as you can in plastic wrap (or leave it in the vacuum pack it came in) and a further insurance of foil or Tupperware to discourage freezer burn. When thawing (which will be discussed below) – you can either leave it in the refrigerator for a day (smaller portions) or more, or in a tub of slightly-cold water. DO NOT leave it on the countertop, DO NOT microwave it. The 3-month rule applies here for maximum quality, and while a few months shy of that should be okay, the quality of it does deteriorate significantly.

Safe-Freezing Tips

You are now a freezing aficionado. But here are a few final tips about the longevity of frozen food, and just some general freezer-related housekeeping.

How long is it good for? This depends on the food. And while there are a whole list of websites and charts demanding you follow a strict schedule, if you have frozen the food as close to fresh as you can, a lot of it will be OK. But, for the wary, here is a good guide.

How should I freeze? A rule of freezing – minimise air contact. With meat this is crucial, but otherwise, try to use freezer-safe bags or tubs with airtight lids. Label EVERYTHING – with its contents, portions, and date of cooking/freezing. Always try to freeze according to your regular portion size so you can thaw exactly the amount you need.

What should I use to freeze my food? You can buy freezer bags, and containers – but avoid freezing any glass or metal. Glass is particularly tricky as it can shatter (yes, even the freezer-safe ones). Especially if you put anything slightly liquid inside, as water can expand and create cracks your glass container.

How do I thaw my frozen food? You have a few options. You can thaw it in the refrigerator, which is the safest but also takes a fair amount of time. To speed things up, you can leave it in a bowl of cold water on your countertop, or in the microwave on the defrost setting. Meat, however, should never be let near the microwave in the effort of food safety.

How do I prevent freezer burn? This happens over a period of long freezing when food loses its water molecules and they rise to the surface and crystallise as ice. Small ice crystals do not pose much of a problem, as they melt fairly quickly. But once larger crystals form, this usually indicates the deterioration of whatever you have had frozen. It is usually still alright to eat this (with the exception of meat and dairy products), but just be prepared for it to be a little subtracted in its original quality.

Image Credit: Theo Crazzolara, Flickr Creative Commons

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