When cooking for one, the freezer is your best ally. But in order to make it your friend you need to learn how to take advantage of its qualities. It doesn’t have to be a frustrating relationship or the last stop in your food’s life. I know how disappointing coming home hungry to an ice-hard meal can be and I’ve been caught throwing away a few unidentified, frozen, items myself.
But a great kitchen is an organized kitchen. And if you plan things well you’ll have meals ready to be cooked from frozen, pre-cut meats that are quick to thaw and sauces that will soften in a heart beat.
I’ve done my research, tried many things and here’s my step by step and bullet list of tips and tricks. I hope this will help you reconcile yourself with your freezer.
Step 1. Packaging
What you need:
- Freezer bags, some with twist, some with ziplock
- Cling film and Foil
- Plastic containers with seal and clips
- Oven proof dishware.
- a Straw
∙ Choose your freezing container wisely as this will dictate the thawing process required. If you intend to cook your dish straight from the freezer, then make sure you use an ovenproof dishware.
∙ Size matters. If you know you’ll want to eat your prepared food one serving at a time, make sure to choose small containers, or wrap your food in individual portions. I like to wrap chicken breasts individually and put them all in the same labeled bag.
∙ Minimize the air contact by removing as much of it as possible. This aims to avoid the dreadful, taste-altering, freezer burns.
-Fill plastic containers almost to the top, but allow some room for the food to expand.
-Push the air out of bags or suck it out with a straw by closing the top almost all the way and inserting a drinking straw. Pinch, extract and seal when you are out of breath.
∙ Seal ovenware with cling film for air tightness and foil for protection. However, don’t forget to remove the plastic film before popping it in the oven.
What you need:
- colourful washi Tapes
- a Pen and a permanent Marker
I know, I know, this step seems hard to keep up, but it’s the perfect way of using those beautiful washi tapes you’ve seen on etsy, and it will really make your life easier. If you don’t know what’s in your freezer it will end up in the bin.
∙ Create a colour code to easily identify your food. For example, use blue tape for cooked food and yellow for raw food. Or Stripy for sweet and plain for savory.
∙ Always put the freezing date on the food and a few descriptive words. The idea is not to write an essay on the dish, but to simply have something that will jog your memory when you’ll look through your freezer 2 months later. With no hints, there’s little chance of remembering, and honestly, you have more important things to memorize, like your mom’s birthday.
∙ Remember to mark your bags before you filled them with food. Writing on a wobbly piece of plastic is quite the challenge. And make sure the bag or container is dry before putting the tape on, you’re not putting all this effort in only to have it fall off.
∙ Trick: Use magnetic dispenser, stuck to your fridge, to keep your tapes close by. These here are lovely and practical.
∙ Cool your prepared food or meats in the fridge, for a few hours or overnight, before freezing. The hotter the food when it goes in the freezer, the longer it will take to freeze and the bigger the ice crystals formation will be. Since big crystals cuts through the food’s fibers, altering the texture and increasing fluid loss, you really want to minimize this as much as possible. No one likes a mushy and dry steak.
∙ Unstable piles that risk falling off every time freezer’s door is open is quite irritating. Optimised our storage capacity by using similar square containers to build steady towers and get into those corners.
∙ Freezing liquids flat in bags will save you space and reduce its thawing time. Make sure you have access to the bottom of the draw or have a baking tray that fits in your freezer to lay things flat. Once rock hard store up straight and create your own frozen sauces library.
∙ Defrosting food in the fridge usually takes between 12hrs and 24hrs, depending on its thickness. To avoid having raw meat juices contaminates your shelves, make sure you put the meats in a bowl.
∙ Some dishes can be cooked straight from frozen or be given a little help to melt. For example, run your flat bag of Bolognese under warm water, it should soften in less than a minute.
∙ Soups and stews, bakes, gratins and pies are all fine to go into the oven, straight out of the freezer. Some bloggers even freeze egg sandwiches and reheat them straight in the microwave. I’ve never tried it myself, but it seems like a neat trick. Make sure you freeze these in the right containers to take full advantage of this possibility.
∙ I always keep my morning bread, bagels and English muffins in the freezer. I spend a bit of time slicing them before freezing and I benefit later when I toast them straight from the freezer.
5. Examples and tricks
∙ I like to cook my individual portions of pies (fish, shepherd or “pate chinois) straight from the freezer, covered with foil and popped in the oven as soon as I turn it on. The use of a lower temperature to start helps to thaw the food and protect the dishware, which could break from such a drastic change in temperature. Covering the dish with foil, from the start or towards the end, protects it from drying out.
∙ Raw pastry:
Make sure the pastry is suitable for freezing.
Cut the dough to your usual pie dish shape, wrap each in cling film and stack them in a freezer bag. This will allow you to take out one at a time. Do the same for puff tarts like the courgette and feta here. Simply Lightly run the tip of your knife all around the dough, about 1 cm away from the edges, to create a crust before freezing. When ready to bake, take the pastry out of the freezer and fill the center with your favorite toppings and bake. The cooking time will be longer, so lower the oven’s heat to avoid burning your ingredients.
Code: I’ve used a “T” for tarts base and a “P” for pies tops.
∙ Raw meats:
Since my hands will get contaminated by raw juices when preparing the meat for the freezer, might as well do a bit of work. I like to cut my meat in different shape before freezing: cubes for chicken pies, strips for fajitas and butterfly for quick grilling. Not only will you save on cooking time, but thinner pieces of meat take less time to thaw.
Find your own code to identify the cuts. Here, I’ve creatively put “C” for cubes, “S” for strips, “B” for butterfly and “W” for whole pieces.
6. Extra tips:
∙ Never re-freeze. Ever.
∙ A full freezer saves you energy as its temperature is more constant and less air needs to circulate. Therefore, using it is better for the environment!
∙ Don’t freeze vegetables with a high water content, such as lettuce, cucumber, bean sprouts and radishes. The ice crystals will break them and they’ll turn mushy. Yikes!
∙ I usually only need 2 bacon slices at a time, but I freeze them in packs of 3. I simple can’t resist a warm, crispy rasher so I allow for an extra one to snack on while I cook.
∙ Did you know you can freeze milk for up to a month? Simply defrost in the fridge and shake before serving.
Great links and tips:
•Smoothie ingredients in individual freezing bags!