My qualifications to write on this topic are practical - I often cook too much and freeze frequently. Also, when I come home tired after a long day, I love defrosting a great dish or entire dinner. Truthfully, this post should be titled, “Do as I say, not as I do.” The hard part is not finding or learning the guidelines – it’s following them. I try to live by 3 freezer rules:
- Package freezer-bound food properly
- Date and label packages before putting them in freezer
- Use frozen food within a reasonable time (we’ll get to what’s “reasonable”)
What can you freeze?
I freeze casseroles, stews, soups, meat, fresh berries, leftover pizza, and even French toast. You can also freeze rice and foods that contain sauces such as chili. What doesn’t freeze so well? The issue is not what whether you can freeze it, as much as what its consistency or taste becomes when the food is defrosted. Fried foods don’t freeze well because they become soggy when defrosted. Milk-based products tend to separate and become watery. And pasta tends to become mushy. Vegetables that contain a lot of water, like lettuce, cucumbers and cabbage are no longer crisp when defrosted. You can freeze baked goods and bread, but if frozen for more weeks (or months) they develop a “freezer taste.” If your power goes out, check here for guidelines on what to do with food in the freezer. And if you defrost meat, it must be cooked before being refrozen.
3 tips for freezing single serving food
- If you make hamburgers or breaded chicken cutlets, you can freeze them in a plastic container until they are rock solid, then transfer them from the container to a freezer bag, so they take up less space in the freezer.
- To freeze 2 pieces of pizza, cool them to room temperature, then put one on top of the other and wrap them in foil.
- Freeze rice in single serving containers (even sandwich bags inside a freezer bag.)
Packaging food for the freezer properly
I use many types of packaging. My favorites are:
- aluminum or glass baking dishes,
- heavy plastic bags (labeled “freezer bags”, not the thinner kind labeled as sandwich or storage bags),
- rigid plastic containers,
- heavy freezer wrap,
- aluminum foil, and
- ice cube trays.
Do not use ordinary glass dishes that cannot take extremes of temperature and may break in the freezer or plain waxed paper unless you are also using another wrapping such as a freezer bag. If food is already cooked, bring it to room temperature before freezing it. (When bringing cooked meat or a dish containing meat to room temperature, do it quickly either by putting it in the refrigerator, or by putting the dish into a “bath” of cold water and ice.) When packaging, remember that air is the enemy. Squeeze as much air out of the package as you can. If you are using a plastic container or bag, “burp” the air out. If you are freezing a casserole in its dish, use foil or plastic wrap pressed on top to eliminate an air pocket, then you can add a foil cover wrapped over the sides of the dish.
Date and label the package. I use masking tape and a sharpie or magic marker-type pen. You can write directly on most freezer bags. In my house there are all too many UFOs (Unidentified Frozen Objects), some of which could be carbon dated. They are all my fault - I get lazy. Don’t skip this basic step or you’ll have an adventure like I did recently – defrosting a container that I thought was pasta sauce, only to find out it was a strawberry dessert concoction I can’t even remember making. So much for my dinner plans!
Use frozen food within a reasonable time. The good news is that frozen foods remain safe indefinitely (as long as the food is kept frozen.) The other news, however, is that the quality of the food does not last indefinitely. This chart provides for guidelines by the type of food (though I noticed it doesn't cover vegetables.) True Confessions time - more than a few items in my freezer are past their prime according to the chart. Right after I finish this post, I’m going to clean out my freezer, I promise!
The bottom line is that you should feed your freezer and forget about what you put there. Keep checking the "inventory" and using what you’ve put away. And remember to date, as well as label, packages or you can’t tell how long they have been in the freezer. You may have a great memory, but you’ve got many more important things to remember than the contents of your freezer.
Of course, if you have a tiny freezer, these kernels of wisdom aren’t helping much now. But fast forward to the point when you’ve moved to a place with better kitchen appliances - if you come upon a UFO hidden in the back of your freezer, think of this post (and me) as you chuckle and decide what to do with the frozen hunk of something.