Friday, December 29, 2006

Can I Freeze This?

Since it's still the holidays and there are still opportunities for you to have big feasts - and therefore leftovers, I thought I'd answer the oldest question since the freezer was invented..."Can I freeze this?"

So to simplify things, I've arranged it into categories. Now there are people out there, like my aunt who has arthritis in her hands and cooking for a big family get-to-gether is hard to do. She starts months before and fills her freezer with brisket, soups, spaghetti sauces, potato latkes, etc., I'm the other extreme and love to do as much as humanly possible just before serving. Even I make some things ahead though, and freeze them. That said, I do love to have raw things on hand in the freezer like shrimps and chicken breasts, flank get the picture.

Freezing raw meats/fish/chicken:
Most important: Separate into individual portions before packaging.
  1. Clean off any excess fat.
  2. Wrap each portion separately in plastic wrap (Glad has a new product out Press n Seal that sticks to whatever and itself and keeps out more moisture than any other product I've tried).
  3. Place as many individual portions as you can in a large zip lock bag, pressing out as much air as you can.
  4. Label the bag with the name of the contents and the date. (You'd be surprised how difficult it can be to recognize something several months after you've put it in the freezer. I've had more than my share of surprises over the years). Some things will keep for a month and others up to 6 months. Just remember that whatever you freeze - cooked or raw, will lose flavor and moisture over time.

Freezing raw fruits:

Personally, I alwasy have a problem with this and unless you have a big freezer (I used to, but now I just have one at the top of my fridge which is not nearly as powerful) and your own garden, I recommend buying commercially frozen fruit and vegetables. That said.....
  1. Lay washed and dried (most important) fruit on a cookie sheet and freeze until hard. How long this will take will depend on the size of the fruit. The frozen fruit you buy in the store is flash frozen at super low temperature in a matter of minutes. It's why the colors stay so vivid and the taste so good.
  2. Once the fruit is hard, transfer to zip lock baggies and compress as much air out as you can.
  3. Label and date.

Freezing vegetables - cooked or raw:

Personally, I NEVER freeze any. I find they all taste spongy when I do. That said, here's a site that has more information about which ones can be frozen and which ones shouldn't.

Freezing cooked foods:
  1. Make sure the food is cold before freezing. Condensation will turn into water in the freezer and naturally, that turns to ice and contributes to freezer burn.
  2. Place the food into containers or zip lock bags that will hold 1-2 portions. It's so much easier to take more than one bag/container out of the freezer if you need to than it is to try to hack off frozen slabs. If you're freezing soup or sauces, leave a little room, as the food will expand in the process of freezing. I've had more than one leakage in my time. The cover will pop off, and if you're lucky, the only thing that will happen will be some freezer burn. Usually you'll end up with soup or sauce, frozen all over the freezer.
  3. If you're using bags, squeeze out extra air. If you're using containers, place a sheet of plastic wrap on the surface of the food to keep the air off the food, reducing freezer burn.
  4. If you are planning on freezing dishes that have vegetable chunks (like soup or stew), I recommend pureeing (is that a word?) the vegetables. That eliminates the spongy texture when you defrost..

Freezing extra tomato paste/chipotle sauce, etc.:

I find that many recipes call for 1 tsp or tbsp of tomato paste or chipotle chili in adobo sauce, which leaves me with 3/4 of a tin.

  1. Lay some plastic wrap on a flat surface and place 1 tbsp or 1 tsp size lumps on it separated by about 2" all around.
  2. Lay another piece of plastic wrap over it, press down to get rid of as much air as possible.
  3. Place this double sheet of giant blogs on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer until hard (at least 40 minutes).
  4. Roll the sheet up and place in a zip lock baggie, pressing out extra air and you have pre-portioned sauce whenever you need it.
  5. Don't forget to label the bag. The last thing you want is to have hot chipotle when you really wanted mellow tomato paste!
If you have any other freezing ideas, share them in the comments or send me an email . I'll keep a running addition of all our wonderful choices.

Please email me any of your questions, and if I don't have the answer, I'll certainly try find it for you.

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