Freezers are one of the most useful––and most neglected––tools in the kitchen. Particularly great for those dark winter months when you want to get dinner on the table 15 minutes after you get home from work––think lasagna, stews, curries, and soups––freezers are also useful for entertaining friends when time is short. In Can I Freeze It? Susie Theodorou explains the tips, tricks, and rules of freezing food, from containers and wrappers (foil or Tupperware?), to the best methods for retaining moisture and flavor, to what ingredients and dishes can and can't be frozen. She provides a wealth of recipes, along with color photographs, for whole and part dishes. Some are completely pre–assembled (think chicken in a marinade) and then frozen and cooked later. Still others combine frozen ingredients with fresh ones–pair a pastry from the freezer with berries from the farm stand, or defrost a sauce and use it to top fish straight from the market. Can I Freeze It? is the ultimate guide to saving time and money in the kitchen.
Perfect Freezing Every Time
How freezing works
Freezing preserves food by slowing down the growth of the microorganisms that cause decay. It does not kill microorganisms; but to grow they require water, and if the water within the cells of the food has been turned into ice, that means it is unavailable for bacterial growth and chemical reactions.
In order to achieve proper freezing and prevention of decay, a constant temperature of 0°F/-18°C or less is required. Some freezers cannot achieve or are not kept at that temperature. If the temperature in the freezer fluctuates, the length of time foods can be kept is reduced considerably. In order to help maintain the lowest possible temperature, keep freezer doors closed as much as possible, add small quantities of unfrozen food at a time, and make sure that all prepared food has cooled to room temperature before it is placed in the freezer.
The faster food is frozen, the better, as fast freezing creates smaller ice crystals. Food that is frozen slowly develops large ice crystals that can pierce the cell walls, possibly causing a compromise in the flavor and texture of many foods.
Always place unfrozen food in the coldest part of the freezer until solid, then organize the freezer as appropriate, with foods that are to be stored the longest kept in the coldest parts at the back, and foods that will be used quickly kept close to the front or on top.
Many freezers have a "fast-freeze" switch, which lowers the temperature to enable food to be frozen more quickly. Once the food is solid, turn off the fast-freeze switch. Other models have a thermostat dial so you can turn the dial to its lowest temperature setting while the food is freezing and then once the food is frozen solid, return the dial to the original setting. Don't forget to do so, as these dials may also control the temperature within the refrigerator.
Last, a word on what happens when freezing goes wrong. The telltale sign of freezer burn is a frosty, gray appearance on the surface of the food; freezer burn can cause the prepared food to taste spoiled and tough. This happens when air dries out the surface of the food as it is in the freezer. It can easily be prevented by wrapping the foods tightly with the correct materials.
Freezing tips and techniques
When freezing food, make sure you leave plenty of clear space around each container or package you are freezing to allow the air to flow around the unfrozen food and freeze the food quickly and evenly. After the packages are frozen, stack them more efficiently.
Foods frozen in smaller quantities will freeze faster than foods frozen in larger quantities, helping to prevent a buildup of large ice crystals.
Use shallow containers with a wide surface area relative to depth. This will enable food to freeze quickly all the way through. If using plastic freezer bags for meats, vegetables, sauces, or soups, seal them well, then place them flat on a chilled baking sheet until frozen solid. Again, a wide surface area will aid in the formation of tiny ice crystals and will also make for faster thawing.
It is important to cool food completely to room temperature before freezing. Placing hot foods in the freezer will raise its temperature, slowing down the freezing time and possibly thawing other foods, and the centers of the foods may not freeze quickly enough to prevent spoilage.
To make sure that foods such as uncooked meatballs, ground meat patties, dumplings, ravioli, cookies, profiteroles, meringues, and individual cakes retain their shapes and remain separate upon freezing, use the open-freeze or dry-freeze method to freeze food quickly on all sides. Place a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or plastic wrap in the freezer and chill for 10 to 20 minutes. Place the food in a single layer on the lined baking sheet, leaving about 1 inch between the pieces, and freeze for about 1 hour or until solid. Then pack in plastic freezer bags, vacuum-sealed bags, or airtight freezer-safe plastic containers and return to the freezer. Be sure to mark the packages or containers with their contents and the date.
Choose packaging materials that will protect the food's flavor, color, moisture content, and nutritional value from the dry climate of the freezer. Containers should:
Glass and Ceramic: If using glass containers, choose dual-purpose types that are designed for freezing and also are heatproof. Pyrex and Simax are brands made from boro silicate glass, which cannot go from freezer to hot oven immediatelythe dish must stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, as the sudden heat change may cause it to break. Dishes with tempered glass such as Anchor Hocking and Duralex must be completely thawed before placing in a hot oven. If you're using glass jars to freeze sauces, soups, or stocks, be sure to leave at least a 3⁄4- to 1-inch space at the top, as the water in the recipe will expand and may cause the glass to break if filled too high.
There are also many brands of freezer-to-oven-to-table ceramic dishes, such as CorningWare. These are especially good for baked pastas and casseroles, as they can be placed in the oven straight from the freezer, and then brought to the table. Be sure they are suitable for freezer use.
Plastic: Make sure the containers close tightly and securely and are made of plastic that will not become brittle at a low temperature; look for the snowflake symbol on brands such as Sistema, Klip It, or Lock & Lock. All three have a clipping system . . .