Freezing is a quick, easy way of storing foods for future use. As handy as freezing is, however, it is a good idea to take some care in preparing foods for the cold as it can make the difference between dry unappetizing dishes and those that are as good as freshly made. Cold air slows down, but does not stop changes and deterioration in food. When wrapping foods for freezing, always try to get as much air out of the package as possible and wrap it well so that moisture can’t get in. The dreaded “freezer burn” (which will leave your food dried out and tasting funky) occurs when the moisture on food’s surface evaporates. Aluminum foil is a great freezer wrap as are heavy plastic freezer bags.
Freezing is also a wonderful time saver. You can make all kinds of food in advance (such as soups, casseroles, bread doughs, even lasagna) and freeze them for future use. If you’re going to the trouble to make one dish, why not make extra and freeze for a night when you’re too busy to cook?
I also like to make huge batches of stock (chicken, beef, fish, vegetable) and freeze it in small containers so it’s ready any time I need it. Another handy idea is to freeze stock in ice cube trays then keep the cubes in a Zip-lock? bag (where would we be without Ziplock? bags ?) so that you have small amounts of stock at your fingertips any time you need it. Ice cube trays work well for egg whites too. If you’re making a recipe that calls only for egg yolks, freeze the leftover whites (one per cube) in an ice cube tray. Transfer the frozen whites to a Ziplock? bag and they will be ready any time you have a recipe that uses only egg whites!
Foil containers are great for freezing foods you will want to re-heat in an oven, as are freezer safe glass baking dishes (just cover the tops of them well). Plastic containers work well for freezing liquids , just make sure you leave a 1/2 inch or so of space for expansion.
It’s a good idea to put masking tape labels on your frozen foods, unless you like playing “dinner roulette” and are willing to take a chance on what might be behind the wrapping. Labels are also necessary for dating the food you freeze. While freezers will keep food for long periods, they won’t keep forever.
Foods that freeze faster will keep better. If your freezer isn’t as cold as it should be (most home freezers should operate at about 0? F) your food will form larger ice crystals when freezing. Larger crystals mean poorer texture to your thawed foods.
What To Freeze
Baked Goods – In general, the lower the moisture level in your baked goods, the more successfully they will freeze. Well wrapped bread will keep for about five months in a freezer. You can also freeze bread dough for a month or two before baking (same goes for pizza or other yeast doughs). If you know you are making yeast dough to freeze, add a little extra yeast to your recipe.
Unbaked pie crusts freeze well as do unbaked fruit and meat filled pies (add a little extra thickening agent to fruit pies destined for the freezer), so you might want to stock up and get ahead when making these. Unfrosted cakes will keep for months (again well wrapped is the key). You can freeze a butter cream frosted cake as well, although other types of icing tend to separate (especially those made with egg whites and/or brown sugar).
In all cases, cool baked goods completely before freezing or they will end up soggy.
Prepared Foods– Soups, stews, many sauces (spaghetti sauce comes immediately to mind), unbaked pies (see baked goods), casseroles, lasagna etc. freeze well. Freezing may affect some spices, so it’s a good idea to check and re-season if necessary when cooking previously frozen food. As always, wrap and cover well before freezing.
Eggs – Many people don’t know you can freeze eggs. You can store whole eggs in plastic containers (cracked open and with the whites and yolks stirred together) or store egg whites and yolks separately. Raw egg yolks will need to be broken and stirred with either 1/4 teaspoon salt or 3/4 teaspoon sugar for each 1/2 cup of egg yolks or else they will turn to a “gummy” consistency. Cooked egg yolks, on the other hand, freeze beautifully. The reverse is true of egg whites: raw are just fine (freeze in ice cube trays, one per cube), but cooked egg whites will change texture so much they will not be at appealing.
Vegetables – Most vegetables will need to be blanched before freezing them for any amount of time (if you’re going to use the vegetables in question within a week or so, you can often get away without blanching). After blanching, plunge the vegetables into cold water and wrap and freeze. Vegetables will keep in the freezer for about nine months.
Fruits – While frozen fruits do retain their flavor, be aware that the texture of many frozen fruits will become softer (think of frozen strawberries as opposed to fresh). Add some sugar (to fruit that will be served uncooked after freezing) or simple syrup (for fruits that will be cooked after being thawed) as this helps to retain the fruit’s texture when freezing. Fruit will keep in your freezer for about a year.
Meat – Trim any excess fat from meat before freezing, as the amount of time meat will stay fresh in a freezer directly correlates to the amount of fat in it. Less fat equals longer freezer times. Also, the more saturated the fat (for instance beef has much higher saturated fat than fish) the longer it will keep). Wrap meat well. (If you’re going to use the meat within a week you can get away with freezing it in the Styrofoam, plastic wrapped grocery tray it came in. Any more than that, re-wrap it to prevent freezer burn.) Beef and lamb chops, steaks and roasts safely keep for about a year (unless it’s ground, as in hamburger, in which case plan to use it in about 4 months). Pork will last about six to eight months and sausage can go for about three months.
Poultry – It’s a good idea to remove poultry innards before freezing (although they can be frozen together). Never stuff and freeze raw poultry, as you risk salmonella contamination. Whole chicken and turkeys will keep for about a year. Chicken and turkey parts, ground poultry, as well as whole duck and goose will last about six months.
Fish – Scale and clean fish before freezing (this is probably done for you if you got your fish at a grocery store). As with meat, the higher the fat content in your fish, the shorter the time it will keep well in the freezer. Oily fish will keep for about three months and leaner fish will keep about six.
Dairy Products – The higher the fat content in dairy products, the better they freeze. Milk products that are under 40% butterfat will separate, but heavy cream does well. You can freeze butter with no texture changes, but remember, fat can go rancid even in a freezer, so never keep it for more than two months.
Cheese – Freezing does change the consistency of most cheeses, making it more mealy and crumbly, although the flavor remains intact. If you plan to grate or melt your cheese, this textural change won’t matter much. If you plan to slice your cheese, it’s best not to freeze it. Softer cheeses such as cream or cottage cheese do not freeze well at all (although most cheesecakes will do fine in the freezer). Blue cheese, Roquefort and gorgonzola are usually served crumbled so they freeze well and should keep for about six months (a little of these strong cheeses goes a long way, so they’re handy to have in the freezer for quick “flavor pick ups” to recipes). Well wrapped firm cheeses (like cheddar, gouda, Swiss etc.) should keep for about six months in your freezer. Hard cheeses like parmesan and romano will keep for about a year.
If you have a large block of cheese (why does the Albert Brooks movie “Mother” come to mind?), cut it into manageable chunks, before freezing in order to cut down on thawing time.
I like to freeze bags of shredded mozzarella (shredded cheddar or other firm cheeses are also handy) so that I can remove the amount I like at a moment’s notice (it’s also a lot cheaper to buy in bulk, “Mother” was right about that, Albert).
Sauces– Tomato sauces and the like do very well in the freezer. Mayonnaise and mayonnaise based sauces, however, will separate. Sauces (or even custards) thickened with flour or cornstarch don’t freeze well, but those thickened with arrowroot or tapioca do.
Herbs – Don’t throw away leftover fresh herbs. Wrap them in Ziplock? bags and freeze them. Be sure to blanch leafier herbs like basil. Sturdier herbs like rosemary freeze exceedingly well.
What Not To Freeze
Some foods just don’t do well in the freezer. Vegetables with high moisture contents like lettuces, celery and cucumbers will thaw limper than a rag doll. Some dairy products like cream cheese or cottage cheese, cream, milk, mayonnaise, custards, cream fillings or meringues will not freeze well because they will separate or curdle. Ditto for food made with gelatin. Fried foods will likely turn soggy or rancid when frozen.
The safest method of thawing food is slowly, in your refrigerator. For this method allow about 8 hours per pound of meat and about 4 hours per pound of poultry, and about 6 hours per pound of fruit or vegetables.
You can speed up the process by about 1/8 the time by submerging the food (still wrapped) in a sink full of COLD water. You can also use the defrost feature on your microwave oven.
Never allow meat or eggs to defrost on the counter top. This is an invitation for bacteria to grow and can result in food poisoning. Baked goods and most fruits, on the other hand, can thaw at room temperature. With the exception of baked goods, most food should not be re-frozen (and even baked good may become drier with repeated freezings).