Unlike the refrigerator, your freezer works most efficiently when it’s stuffed to the gills. Contributor Natalie Hoch gives us a few suggestions on how best to fill that space.
For a little while now, I’ve been baffled by the phobia of frozen food. Some people turn their noses up at the idea, preferring to only to buy and eat what can be stored in the pantry or the refrigerator. They take frozen to somehow mean lesser quality, mass produced or not fresh. But there is a huge difference between throwing a package of cheap store-bought fish sticks or pre-packaged Pillsbury cookie dough into the freezer and preserving something freshly picked, purchased or cooked.
I know the stigma started with the much-maligned TV dinner and the everyone’s-got-one experience with nasty freezer-burned mystery meat. However, as times have changed—greenmarket cuisine and farm-to-table food being all the rage—the freezer’s awesome power has become more and more apparent to me.
In my mind, there are three simple rules: properly package, organize and date. Stay on top of those and the freezer instantly becomes one of the single most useful tools, conveniences and money savers in your kitchen. And I can tell you that Mark Bittman agrees with me.
In this case, I frankly think you need to learn by doing. If you experiment and use the freezer new ways day by day, I am confident you’ll start to agree with me too.
These days, purchasing frozen veggies and storing quality meat in the freezer are generally accepted and obvious cooking practices. The veggies, blanched and frozen at the peak of freshness, and properly thawed*, pre-portioned cuts of meat are perfect for dinner on the fly or those moments when you can’t deal with the grocery store. But the options are endless when you start to think about it.
Having fresh sauces, salsas, nuts and seeds, pancetta, pizza dough, pie dough, handmade pasta, cookie dough, booze (the Bittman-suggested wine ice cubes tip is genius!), precooked grains, and herbs on hand whenever you want them seems like a no-brainer, right?
Flat-freeze any items you want to preserve in a single layer on a baking sheet (spreading small grains like rice into a thin layer across the surface) for about an hour, or until the food is just frozen through. Then transfer to a sealable plastic bag or Tupperware container, making sure to fill as full as possible and keep extra air—and potential freezer burn—out.
I’m still coming up with new ways to use my cold storage, most recently freezing fresh ginger root. Often I buy ginger for a recipe, but never use up the entire root before it shrivels and dessicates in my crisper drawer. But popping it in a freezer-safe bag in the icebox means that I can whip up a ginger-powered dish anytime I choose. Fantastic!
Once you start getting creative and branching out of your comfort zone, new possibilities keep popping up. As long as you keep the food well-sealed and write down the date it went into the freezer, your kitchen pantry and last-minute options multiply. Just remember to take stock of your freezer before you start a meal—you will likely find a way to punch it up unexpectedly.
*A note on properly thawing meat: the safest method of bringing your roast or chicken out of its deep freeze is to thaw it in the fridge overnight. In a pinch, you can also place the meat in a sealed plastic bag and submerge it in cold—not room-temperature or hot—water until thawed. Never leave it out on the counter or anywhere temperatures are above 40? F until you’re ready to cook.