BY LISA S.T. DOSS
You, too, can become a master of the freezer arts! An expression most people would never consider possible! We tend to assess in seconds a half-bag of green beans or a five-pound bag of chicken thighs with enlarged chunks of ice as an immediate loss.
We throw thousands of dollars of frozen foods away each year, never wondering how to balance the absolute need for preserving a variety of foods at low temperatures. There is a magic to the freezer with no risk to botulism, which typically connects to canned foods. Here’s how!
What to Freeze?
With the high cost of foods, especially meats today, testing what works and fails in the freezer is an expensive experiment. With the expectation that a freezer will stop time for a later date, it’s easy to toss in anything and everything!
All baked goods without frosting or glazing, batters, doughs, fruits, flours, nuts, sauces and vegetables transition well from frozen through the thawing process; yet, some require specific instructions:
- Avocado: Puree with lemon juice.
- Bananas: Ideal for smoothies or an ingredient in bread recipes.
- Berries: Do not wash; instead, dry well!
- Cabbage: Only use in cooked dishes!
- Garlic: Prepare in oil.
- Fruit in syrup: Applicable to apples, citrus fruits, grapes, plums and pomegranates.
- Herbs: Prepare in water or oil, and use in cooked meals or dressings.
- Meats (chicken, ground beef and turkey): Debone and chop in small portions for easy thawing and adding to recipes.
- Pasta: Cook until it reaches al dente! Do not rinse, but allow to dry. Freeze noodles without the sauce!
- Peaches: Peel and slice first!
- Pizza: Must reheat at 400 degrees.
All hot foods, such as baked loaves or casseroles, must cool completely before placing them in the refrigerator. Waiting 24 hours before transitioning foods to the freezer will help retain natural coloring, flavor and texture!
Tip: Consider buying breads marked clearance. Extracting a loaf for a Sunday meal is an ideal time saver! Just heat in the oven!
Tip: Find an alternative source to preserve cooked egg whites, hard-boiled eggs, cream-based soups, sauces, mayo-based salads, fried foods and cooked rice!
The Trick is in the Container
Freezer burn does not render food unsafe, only less desirable. The ideal “wrapping” protects items from drying out while preserving their nutritious value, flavor, texture and coloring! Packaging oftentimes is not moisture-resistant or leakproof, made of food-grade plastics or durable enough to withstand low temperatures; therefore, consider using one of the following freezer-approved receptacles.
- The Rigid Container: Reusable containers possess straight or tapered sides and are constructed from plastic, glass, aluminum or waxed cardboard. Consider using ice cube trays, wide-mouth Mason jars, plastic coffee cans and baking dishes covered with aluminum foil.
Tip: Always stir liquids with a nonmetal utensil to eliminate air bubbles!
- Flexible Bags or Wrapping: Make sure bags and sheets, such as parchment paper, are constructed from moisture and vapor-resistant materials and labeled freezer safe. Foils, identified as “heavy-duty” and “metal” will serve to protect vegetables, fruits, meat, fish and poultry. Don’t forget to pack it tightly!
- The Food Saver: Freezer bags serve a purpose for short-term freezing; otherwise, vacuum sealers properly extract air from bags and containers!
Even Frozen Foods Have an Expiration Date
Food in a frozen state is never indefinite. Storage timelines are essential for good taste and quality. Baked goods and bread can remain in ice for six months, while citrus and non-citrus fruits can last up to 12 months. Proper packaging determines whether nuts, for instance, maintain their freshness for six months or eight. It’s a good idea to plan weekly meals to use dated meats first and save current additions for later.
Tip: Check to ensure added items freeze in 24 hours. Overpacking a chest will have difficulty maintaining a zero-degree consistent temperature!
The defrosting process takes time; therefore, never rush it! We’ve all immersed meats in hot water, thawed on counters to room temperature and returned thawed items to the freezer! Stop! In the future, think in advance, transfer all frozen items to the refrigerator and give it the proper time to cool gradually. The second option is to use the microwave’s defrost setting. In all the time it took to prepare the food for the chest freezer, give it time to thaw naturally!