Make the Most of Your Freezer
Even though I love getting lots of my food ultra fresh from a farmers market and CSA, I actually rely on my freezer a lot to make meal prepping easy on a weekly basis. The freezer gives me flexibility on when to buy and cook ingredients so it helps me avoid waste. Also in many instances, the quality of frozen food is on par—an occasionally better—than what you can buy fresh.
I don’t consume many ready-to-eat types of frozen foods, so in this post, I thought I’d give you a peek inside my freezer to see what things I do—and don’t!—buy frozen. I’ll also share how I save cooked dishes and leftover ingredients in the freezer to make best use of this essential appliance…that we already have!
What’s in my freezer:
Frozen fruits are never going to be the ones you bite into as a snack, but they are perfect any time a recipe calls for cooking fruits like in pies, breakfast bars, and desserts. They are also great for blending since the mushy consistency of defrosted fruit won’t be an issue. Frozen fruits are often picked at their peak so I consider them better than a lot of out of season produce but never as tasty as prime season local fruit. Here’s what I usually keep in my freezer:
Vegetables have gone through a renaissance in recent years, as restaurant chefs have exposed us to all the wonderful tastes, colors, and textures this food group can give us! In fact, I think one of the reason that many people in my generation grew up hating vegetables is because we were only served frozen ones….that were then microwaved. If you want crispy, roasty texture, please skip the frozen vegetables. The water content expands and then breaks the cell walls of the plant—that’s why frozen foods are mushy and misshaped after defrosting. However, if you are making a puree, soup, or slow-cooked dish where texture is not important, then please go for frozen! Here’s what’s in my freezer and how I use it:
Petite Peas for soup and sautes (these are sweeter than the large kind and 95% better tasting than fresh! The sugar converts to starch very rapidly meaning fresh peas are often starchy and not sweet like frozen peas)
Shelled Edamame for stirfries and snacking
Artichoke Hearts for dips and soups
Chopped Kale and Spinach for spanakopita and cooked dishes like Saag Tofu
Real fresh bread is best eaten in 1-2 days after baking so it’s not something I would typically shop for in the freezer section, with 2 exceptions: sprouted grain bread which has a very short shelf life and Indian-style flatbreads for when I make Indian food and don’t have the time or inclination to make flatbreads to go along with it. The breads in my freezer:
Ezekiel Bread—we get both the sliced bread and English muffins
Frozen naans and parathas from Indian grocers
Fish, Poultry, Meat
Although fresh is best has long been the gold standard for meat, fish, and poultry, a lot of people are now realizing there are better options especially if you are concerned about sustainability. Farmers market vendors freeze their meat and poultry right after butchering to give them time to get to market so if you want to get this quality of meat (which is worlds apart from the mass brand organic you’ll find at a big grocery store) then you’ll need to convert to frozen. Many delivery-based subscription services like Sitka Salmon Shares also freeze immediately and then ship direct to consumer. Defrosting is simple—just place the sealed packaged in the bottom shelf of your refrigerator 24-36 hours before you want to cook it. For meat-based roasts and steaks, many chefs are also starting to cook these from frozen to ensure even cooking. Similarly one of the reasons for the Instant Pot’s popularity has been the ability to cook meat from frozen. Here’s what’s in my freezer:
Sitka Salmon Shares salmon, halibut, black bass, lingcod, etc from their monthly subscription service
3 pheasants (WITH THE FEATHERS ON) that my husband’s hunter coworker sent home with him because he learned I’m a chef. I have NO idea what to do with these. Send help.
The biggest way I use my freezer is freezing extra of the dishes I cook. I loved using 1-pint deli containers* because they are perfect single serving sizes for defrosting. Anything that is soupy or saucy is going to be a good candidate for freezing. Remember, crisp texture will not survive the freezer! Dairy also has a tendency to “break” during freezing so be cautious of anything that has lots of dairy or cheese in it. Here’s what’s in my freezer:
Have an open can of coconut milk or tomato sauce? Instead of popping them into the fridge, I usually try to freeze the unused portion to make them last longer. Liquid ingredients like sauce and coconut milk can be frozen in ice cube trays, and thicker ingredients like tomato paste and be scooped out into dollops on waxed paper, frozen, and then popped into a freezer bag. Here’s what’s in my freezer:
Dollops of tomato paste
Leftover veggie scraps and bones for homemade broth
What are your go-to freezer ingredients? Let me know in the comments below.