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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Great checklist and reminder of how to freeze and why some foods don’t freeze so well. I agree with the banana tip – chunks can be added to smoothies to chill without diluting with ice. I also freeze the ends of parmesan cheese and pop them into soup – makes minestrone rich and scrumptious. Cookie dough in cookable rounds or portions means you have the means to make freshly cooked ones within half an hour. Freeze on a tray and then pack into freezer bags. Last tip – don’t forget to label! An indelible/permanent or waterproof pen on Scotch tape works if you don’t have freezer labels. Cheers
label and date, and don’t just say “soup”, be specific, because 6 months later it is easy to forget which soup it was.
I should probably start by telling you how inspiring you are :) and Thank You! for that. Then I’ll apologize for not commenting. (Also, I too am a recent convert to enjoying peas. Go figure. The Man likes them and I like to feed him vegetables.) I love your scholarship idea.
Question on freezing: my mom always told me that potatoes did not freeze well. I admit, I can’t quite figure them out – soups and stews seem to work but everything else turns brown. As one who a) can grow potatoes (yay me!) and b) cooks in quantity to make my life easier; I’m befuddled on how to work with the potatoes – other than cooking fresh each time we want to eat them. Ideas? Thanks!
Boiled potatoes don’t freeze well. I’ve experienced that when freezing soups who use potatoes, but if I purée them, then it’s another story.
While you can’t freeze eggs in the shell, once they’re open, they freeze pretty well. If your recipe calls for only yolks, you can freeze the whites for later – and vice-versa. Just be sure to label – there’s no way to tell by looking if you’ve got 3 egg whites or 5!
Great post, Jules. I have to say, commercial frozen peas are not my favorite veg, but they do seem to be better now than they were when I was a child… The best are still the ones from your own garden, or local farmer’s market. And, if you freeze your own, you can – as you point out – put them in packages sized to fit your family’s needs.
I’ve frozen milk a few times when there’s been a really good sale and enough room in the freezer to accomodate. I second the labeling advice..containers go in with good intent but gets lost in translation when frosted over a few months later. Great reminders. Thank you.
Fresh mushrooms also freeze quite well. Although they usually contain a lot of water, they don’t loose much texture while unfreezing. The advantage over drying is the much faster and easier procedure.
I must admit that, as a nose-to-tail cook, I would probably attempt to use the bacon grease in the dressing. It seems like that would make the salad just a little more bacony. I’ve never put any oil in the pan while cooking bacon! I also really love doing bacon in the oven, since the chance of burning the ends while the middles are still floppy is eliminated. I learned this trick from Peter Reinhart in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice. This salad sounds delightful, and Ima try it this week. My 4 year old daughter thinks frozen peas are better than popsicles, and who doesn’t love bacon?
We freeze 1-litre cartons of milk every week and use them up in order of expiry date.
They thaw in the sink overnight, or in the fridge over 2 days. Just shake before opening.
I’m enjoying the blog.
I agree with labelling everything with the date, a little information on the ingredients, and the portion size – otherwise there are some mysteries weeks later. I also find freezing boiled potato doesn’t work, though if I have mashed them with egg/cream they are fine! Freezing eggs is fine (as I think someone else has mentioned) as long as you crack them first and label how many whole eggs/yolks/whites are in the container. I have never had any success defrosting a hard boiled egg. The texture has been terrible annd rubbery each time! Freezing christmas fruit cakes with nuts in them has not worked for me either (though freezing cakes with ground up nuts in them seems OK!??). I felt sick eating it – it is almost as though the nuts turned stale or soaked up too much liquid?
Wow! This is a timely post. We’re canning and freezing a lot of harvest foods today. The only thing I’d like to point out is that not all jams have trouble freezing. We make a raw freezer jam where you can make a large batch, put it into freezer containers, let it set for thirty minutes on the counter or in the fridge overnight, and then freeze until needed. Works beautifully, and I prefer the flavor of the raw jam over the traditional cooked jams.
In regards to freezing garlic, I definitely know that it tastes just fine. At my house, we’ll mince a whole bunch of garlic at once, and freeze them in glass jars or make garlic “patties” that get wrapped with plastic (not my preference). Whenever I need it, I’ll break off some pieces :) The only thing I have to account for is the occasional additional moisture from bits of ice on the garlic.
Great post thank you! I like to freeze grapes and eat them for dessert.
Has anyone ever used dry ice to freeze anything? Allegedly it keeps the flavor of things like strawberries better?
Garlic, even whole peeled cloves, freezes just fine… but it does effect the flavor. It makes it slightly milder in flavor, which I personally LOVE. We got an incredible amount of garlic from our CSA last year and I have never been so happy that I took the time to remove each clove and freeze a huge bag of them… whenever I need garlic I only need to reach into the freezer for a clove and let it defrost on the counter for literally only a few minutes!
Also, I personally think bread freezes and defrosts better if it’s not pre-sliced (keeps it’s original texture) when you freeze it. I normally make somewhat smaller loaves of italian bread though, and we LIKE bread in my house, so I guess I don’t have to worry too much about leftovers. ;)
This is my first time visiting your blog, and what do I find? A post on one of my favorite current topics! I like to freeze ingredients that make up parts of other meals so that I’m ready to go when I get home. Right now, I have 47 cups of homemade lasagna sauce in the freezer! It’s the most time-consuming part of my lasagna-making, so I cooked once for several lasagnas down the road. I also have a ton of veggies frozen for specific meals, already measured out so that all I have to do is dump it in–you can freeze almost any vegetable as long as you blanch them first.
Bacon is the reason I cannot be a vegetarian. It is lovely with lettuce and peas and most other things. Well done.
I don’t freeze something that even part of it was frozen previously. Example, if I make chicken soup from raw chicken that I had in the freezer, then I don’t freeze the soup.
wow I’m inspired by your 47cups of lasagne sauce – you’re right it’s great to prepare in bulk.
thanks for sharing your garlic freezing knowledge – you’ve inspired me to try it out
yes grapes – wonderful frozen. and dry ice does tend to work better because it’s so cold it freezes super fast which mean smaller ice crystals. but it’s a pain to get a hold of.
lucky you having ‘harvest’ time. I love it. Your freezer jam sounds like its not using the pectin from the fruit to get the texture which is why it is fine. Sounds lovely.
yes milk freezes well. I should have said that. thanks for pointing it out.
love a nose-to-tail cook! The peas actually soak up all the bacon fat so it doesn’t get wasted ;)
wow. would never have thought of mushrooms – great idea
and thanks to everyone on the labelling question. I know it’s a good idea but I rarely do label so didn’t want to espouse something I don’t follow myself.
I was wondering if commercial peas have improved over the years… maybe it’s not just my childhood phobias. I’m actually planting some peas this year so hope I’ll be able to second you on the fresh-from-the-garden goodness.
I always have soup left over and often freeze it. But I have never frozen soup that has cream or milk in it because I don’t know if it’s ok to do so once it’s been “cooked”, as it would then have to be re-heated again after thawing. If I can, I try to remove the made-up soup to be frozen before adding the milk, and then add it just to the quantity I am going to eat now. Then I add milk to the thawed out soup when I re-heat it. But sometimes I can’t do this.
Do you know the answer to this one? I’d love to know.
I finally got over my fear of making things with egg yolks when I realised you can freeze the whites! Just have to keep a little score on the lid of containers with egg whites in saying how many there are.
I’ve always frozen garlic, and my dad did the same. I don’t think it changes the flavor a lot from non-frozen garlic, but even if it does, it’s still better than pre-minced garlic in a jar, which is what everyone else I know uses. Whole cloves, people!
Great post! I always make tons of sauces to freeze. My husband and I love to make pizza pot pies on weekends. Every month or so I make a big batch of thick pizza sauce and freeze individual portions so that for the next few weeks I can just pull out a baggie of sauce. I wish that I had a big enough place to have a large standalone freezer. Oh well, someday!
I love this post, reason is I LOVED how you fell in LOVE with peas… that is COOL…
great post jules, just a question, does pasta with carbonara sauce freeze okay? I know its got the cream in it.
I’ve been doing the same with pizza sauce – we’ve been having friday night pizza in our house for a while now – so much fun,
when I was little I never thought that peas and cool would appear in the same sentence. itsn’t it a good thing that we change as we grow older…
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excellent question. Given the cream and egg yolks I’d say it’s probably going to curdle.. but you never know until you try
great post Jules :)
quick question from me… what are peoples’ experiences of freezing basil leaves? I’ve tried a couple of times and they’ve turned to mush (I froze them as whole leaves in a bag).
I find basil freezes best as a puree. In autumn I always make up pistou (basil, garlic and a bit of olive oil) and pesto (basil, garlic, nuts, parmesan & olive oil) and freeze it in appropriate sized dollops for use during winter and spring. It’s much nicer than bought stuff and I can tailor the recipe to my tastes. You can mince up just plain basil, too, and freeze in the same way. Ice cube trays are handy for freezing it, then pop the frozen cubes out and store in the freezer in a bag or container.
I also had this problem with fresh basil. THen a friend told me about just blenderizing (her word) it with a bit of oil, to make a paste. It keeps the fresh flavor but it lasts much better. There’s not to much oil (I think she only uses a couple TBSPs, for a big bunch) but it freezes nicely. I like to use it as a garnish in soups or if I’m really feeling decedent, a smear on top of lasagna. Or just tossed with pasta as a lighter “pesto”
For freezing sauces, I like my food saver bags, so I can fill them up with about 2 cups worth, chill them good, flatten and seal. They stack so much better that way and I feel organized.
The sad side of freezing food is when your 5 year old chest freezer dies while you are on vacation. I cried. I also found the missing pork roast as we emptied it, and learned we didn’t care for that squash soup since the leftovers were all in there. But now I have the big shiny new upright that I really always wanted but couldn’t afford back then.
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Avocados are one of my favorite things and they’re so cheap when they’re in season, but expensive when not. Is there any way of freezing avocado?
Good question Jacqui
You could try it, but I’d suspect they will end up with browning… but you never know.
Store-bought guacamole in vacuum sealed pouches freezes well. You could make your own guac and freeze it. My guac recipe is 2 avacados, the juice from half a lemon, 2 tbsp onions, 2 tbsp olive oil, salt to taste.
This is not from experience, but if as C says that the guacamole freezes fine, you could possibly try peeling & cutting your avo, tossing/basting it in lemon juice & try freezing it like that in a sealed container.
Im guessing that the acid /may/ be what prevents the browning with the guacamole – given that this works for preventing oxidization with apples etc.
No guarantees though – but if anyone tries let us know if it works!
You can freeze them, but they do brown: http://pinterest.com/pin/29132728811474705/
Might be worth trying the lemon juice trick & seeing if it makes any difference with the browning.
I have to actually make this salad at some point – it includes 3 things I love: bacon, peas & vinegar.
This also reminds me a little of the pork & mushy peas we used to make on the farm. Often just sticking a pot & pan over the fire, pork (and potentially potatoes) in the latter & peas, mint & onions/shallots in the former.
I’ve got the opposite story; we grew up semi-vegetarian, and while in general my parents didnt have trouble feeding us veg in general, they DID have a problem keeping me from eating all the peas before anyone else got there!
It’s a little strange given that from my childhood up til now even, we have never really eaten other lentils at all, apart from my father occasionally treating himself to sprouts. It’s only been recently that I’ve even discovered the delights of hummus. (To be fair my first experience was several years ago with a friend’s VERY failed attempt)
Sometimes when very tired (having a severe chronic illness sometimes means prepping ANYTHING at all is too much) I have been known to simply microwave a tin/bag of peas & call that dinner. So we always have peas in our freezer/cupboard. It’s a lifesaver.
I froze stew and upon thawing the meat just fell apart into strands. I thawed two different packages two different ways with the same result. First I left a package in a bowl in the fridge and once completely thawed I warmed it up in a pot and all the meat fell apart. Second package I tore open and put in a pot with low heat until it completely thawed and warmed up and the same result. Why?
With frozen garlic… They do taste different somehow. I bought a big bag of peeled garlic in the market and couldn’t finish.. So I left it in the fridge…. And unfortunately… They froze…
Thawed garlic taste somewhat between sour and… Garlicky… Dunno if anyone had similar experience
Interesting Ted… I find if its cooked into something I don’t notice but have read freezing changes the flavour
Hi, thanks for your tips. Speaking of cooling very hot food and drinks, here are 3 ways to cool them fast using everyday utensils and home appliances: https://youtu.be/zILbbPQkQMY
Eggs Freeze wonderfully, you just need to know the tricks!
Hi, I haven’t seen new comments n awhile but… I am very new to juicing and I juice celery every morning on an empty stomach before I start my day. I found some in bulk on sale and put them in the freezer in the bag that came in not really thinking and pull them out and they’re all mushy and yuck… Since I am juicing it would it matter or has it lost all its nutrients and vitamins and should just be thrown out? TIA
Excellent question Dawn!
Freezing is actually great for preserving vitamins and nutrients.
The only downside is textural changes like the ones you experienced with your celery.
If you can get it to go through your juicer totally use it!
from what I’ve read recently in Australia and USA it is now considered safe re refreeze meat as long as the food has remained chilled. What are your thoughts on this?https://www.foodsafety.com.au/blog/safe-handling-of-frozen-foods
Great question Denise!
I agree – if the raw meat has remained chilled it’s fine to refreeze. But I make a note to use it as soon as I can. :)
I freeze celery – I make minestrone bags in season… then use for making minestrone… You can lump all in together or freeze in bits. I like to do mine in bits – soffrito bag, cabbage bag, zucchini bag etc… Now these probably SHOULD all be blanched – but if you ar using in the next 3-4 months or so they are fine. I think we have even found one nearly a year later (under some stuff hubby “stored”) and it was OK – but cannot swear to it.
Pancakes – staple as MIL then gets her pancake breakfast. Cookie dough – yep generally freezes very well. Bread – I prefer to freeze small loaves but slices are “OK” for toast. A small loaf reheated in oven is almost fresh. Scones(US biscuits) – yep. Milk – yep, Yoghurt – yep, – now I prefer to use the milk in cooking, and the yoghurt for starter or cooking but it does freeze well. Cream – yep, Cream cheese – yep. Home made dog food – in portions. Barley, lentils, beans – yep. Tomatoes – yep.
Thanks for sharing Janis! So good to know about celery
Oh and leftover bread – yep – either as breadcrumbs, or just slices. Stale bread then makes bread pudding, strata, breadcrumbs. I also freeze vegie scraps for stock. Not useful for stock scraps for worm food.
Muffins, cakes – yep. Cheese – yep. Prosciutto – yep. Curry Leaves, Kaffir Lime leaves, Lemongrass – yep. (When in the USA I live about 40mins from a supermarket and stock of asian foods is not great. I’m also surrounded by farms and have a decent vegie garden – hence freezing minestrone packs).
Agree with lady that saves the PARMESAN – I save all parmesan rind for minestrone.
If I get a lot of celery I make braised celery hearts. Then freeze the tops as soffritto or mirepoux or celery soup.
We had chicken, sausage, smoked salmon, steaks, packaged sealed chicken piccata, salmon in sauce half thawed- is it safe to re-freeze and use?