A while ago, I sent out an email to the good people on the stonesoup email list asking what their biggest problems are when it comes to cooking. I also asked if there was anything in particular that people wanted to learn more about.
Freezing food popped up in quite a few responses, so I figured it was about time to discuss the ins and outs of freezing food at home. Today I thought I’d cover the golden rules of freezing and in a few weeks we’ll look at the art of defrosting safely.
It’s also the perfect excuse to share the recipe for a great little salad. A salad where good old frozen peas are the star of the show. My Irishman and I shared this for lunch on Friday and it was wonderful. But I’m also thinking it would make a great side salad to serve with a simple roast chicken.
the golden rules of freezing food
1. don’t refreeze raw food
Freezing doesn’t kill food spoilage yeasts and bacteria. It slows them down dramatically but, they’re still alive. Once food is defrosted, the little critters can get going quite quickly, so if you freeze the food again, you can be freezing much higher levels of microbes that may make the food unsafe to eat. By sticking to rule number 1, you minimise the risk.
2. it is OK to thaw food, cook it and then refreeze
By cooking the food you’re effectively killing the yeasts and bacteria and bringing the food back to safe levels. So think of it as starting with a clean slate.
3. cool your food before freezing
The problem with putting hot food in the freezer is that it can increase the internal freezer temperature for a while and possibly start to defrost the already frozen food. It makes more sense to cool first but make sure you’re not leaving food sitting around for long periods of time at room temperature.
4. freeze things asap
Freezing is a great food preservation technique but it’s only going to be as good as the food that goes in. Best to freeze food at it’s freshest so that it will be at it’s best once defrosted. The wonderful sweetness we take for granted in frozen peas wouldn’t be possible if the peas were old when frozen.
5. choose appropriate packaging / containers
The air in your the freezer is very dry, otherwise you end up with the insides of your freezer looking more like an igloo. If your food is exposed to the air, it’s going to loose moisture, dry out and get that awful freezer burn look and flavour. Don’t assume that all plastic bags are going to protect your food in the freezer. Best to go with bags that are designed for freezer use. Or better yet, invest in some pyrex containers that can go from freezer to oven.
6. allow for expansion
Water, and therefore food, expands when it freezes. Make allowances for this and avoid messy explosions.
7. freeze smaller portions
There are 2 benefits here. First is that smaller volumes will freeze and defrost more quickly. Second is that you can just defrost and use what you need rather than having a whole heap of food on your hands. As my Dad found out recently when he splurged on gluten free bread and popped them all in the freezer without slicing.
things that love to be frozen
* Bread. Just slice it first!
* Soups, stews and stocks
* Cooked rice. Great to have on hand for egg fried rice.
* Meat & fish – although they will loose some moisture upon thawing,
* Bacon. Great to keep on hand for when there’s an emergency call for pork products
* Bananas. Great for making banana bread or if you remember to peel them first almost instant ‘ice cream’
* Berries. If you ever find yourself with a berry glut, freeze them in a single layer on a tray. Then pop them in a freezer bag or container.
* Pastry. I always make more than I need then freeze the rest for later.
* Fresh chilli, horseradish, tumeric & ginger. Great to have on hand
* Herbs. While they will loose their fresh appearance, the flavour will still be great. Especially good for the woody herbs like rosemary & thyme.
things that don’t freeze so well
* Dairy products – except for butter
* Whole eggs – because they crack on expanding
* High moisture fruit & vegetables – like celery or lettuce. When the water expands it damages the vegetable cell walls which turns them to mush when they thaw out.
* Garlic. OK I’m not 100% convinced on this but Maggie Beer says that freezing garlic changes the flavour. Interested to hear if anyone knows about this.
* Jam. The pectin which causes the jam to gel breaks down at freezing temperatures.
What about your freezing experiences? Anything I’ve forgotten to include here?
Frozen Pea Salad with Bacon
When I was little, peas were my most hated vegetable. For years I’ve avoided them like the plague and have been picking the little green devils out from all my meals.
These days I’ve learned to love the pea. First step was mashing them so they didn’t look so pea-like. Then I moved on to fresh peas I podded myself. Nowadays I think they’re my favourite frozen vegetable. Who would have thought?
If you’re feeding vegetarians, the bacon could be replaced with little batons of smoked tofu or a few handfuls of toasted nuts. Flaked almonds or pinenuts would be lovely.
I have a bit of an obsession with sherry vinegar, but feel free to swap in your favourite wine vinegar or even lemon juice. I used green oak lettuce and baby peas here, but any combination of leaves and peas would would be great.
4 slices bacon, cut into little batons
250g (1/2lb) frozen peas
1/2 bunch mint, leaves picked
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 medium lettuce, leaves picked, washed & dried
1. Heat a few tablespoons olive oil in a large frying pan.
2. Cook bacon, stirring occasionally for a few minutes, or until crisp and delicious. Remove bacon from the pan and drain on paper towel.
3. Add peas to the pan and cook stirring for a few minutes or until starting to shrivel a little. Stir through mint and 1 tablespoon vinegar. Remove from the heat. Taste & season.
4. Meanwhile, whisk to combine the remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar with 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a large bowl. Season.
5. When you’re ready to serve, toss leaves in the dressing and divide between 2 plates. Spoon over peas and finally sprinkle with bacon.
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