Warming Up to the Freezer

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.

frozen cherries
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.

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  1. Our freezers are always full. Fresh corn from August, fresh blueberries, strawberries from the summer. 1/2 of a pig from the County fair in the fall. Lots of great breads from various bakeries. Pesto, meat sauce, meatballs – all vacumn sealed and frozen. It all tastes great.

  2. Great post. I used to have an aversion to freezing (due mostly to childhood T.V. dinners and frozen Bird’s Eye vegetables) but I’ve recently amended my thinking and now my freezer is full up. It just makes so much sense.

  3. i’ve also recently come to really understand the freezer’s usefulness. ours is almost always full of homemade chicken stock, bits of bone and veg for the next batch of homemade chicken stock, berries, pasta and pizza sauce, and the ice cream maker. i’m sure i haven’t even begun to fully utilize it–what an amazing kitchen tool!

    1. Gotta have the ice cream maker in there too – and my husband’s chilled pint glasses for summer brewskies. Good thing we have two freezers…

  4. I didn’t know you could freeze ginger like this. Cool. I’m still trying to figure out a way to freeze fresh herbs like cilantro and basil. Parsley is no problem, but the thinner leaved herbs never seem to come out well.

  5. Glad to know it’s okay to freeze fresh ginger root, because that’s exactly what I did last night when I didn’t use the whole thing. But I so far have had no luck with things like leftover parsley or basil. Help?

  6. Thanks for the tips. I want to start using the freezer more. Though our freezer space is limited.

  7. Here’s another resounding HELL YES when it comes to filling up the freezer with fresh fruit and veggies. In fact, I bought an extra freezer to keep me stocked through the entire winter. :)

  8. I have an extra freezer where I keep bulk grains as well as the usual stuff. My “weird” freezer item? Avocados. My trees are prolific and I’ve discovered that if I freeze avo chunks I can add them to smoothies in the off season.

    1. Avocados in the freezer – who knew? Love this tip! Now, if only I could get an avocado tree to make it through a NJ winter….

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