Your freezer can do a lot more than keep your ice cream cold and your fruit frozen. Although they’re very important items to be frozen, of course.
The options and benefits are a plenty when it comes to freezing your food. I’ve been sharing a lot of recipes and whenever I give advice on freezing it’s sometimes met with a resistance to doing it.
I’ve noticed the biggest barrier to freezing is not understanding how to freeze, defrost properly and what can actually be frozen.
I was cooking dinner the other night. Cooking is probably a loose term… I was reheating braised beef in tomato from the freezer. I’d made a big batch, with 1kg beef brisket, onions, garlic, herbs and fresh tomatoes. They slow cooked for about 8 hours, while we were at work.
I split the batch up into 8 serves. We had 2 for dinner. 2 for lunch the next day. The rest was frozen. So the braised beef is gently bubbling away and Pierre and I both said at the same time ‘I’d really love dessert’. Which means, if you both say it at the same time, it’s meant to be… Usually I wouldn’t have the energy to make a random dessert on a Tuesday night, but seeing there was zero effort in dinner, I whipped up a batch of these Emergency Chocolate Brownies.
For the rest of the night I was just so chuffed at how amazing pre-cooked freezer meals are.
Let’s start with what you can freeze
- Meat, cooked, raw and marinated
- Soups, broth, stews, casseroles
- Grains, beans, legumes, pasta, rice etc
- Leafy greens, that have been blanched
- Falafel and other patty style foods
- Veggies: raw, par cooked, roasted
- Yoghurt, cream, milks
- Raw dessert
- Cake, muffins, brownies
How to freeze
Step 1: Decide what you are freezing and why.
Leftovers, making extra meals for a rainy day, so you don’t waste food, it’s part of your meal prep, plans changed and you are eating out, that’s just what you do.
If you’ve made extra’s – make sure to cool your food down properly before freezing. Hot foods can mess with the temperature of your fridge and freezer and expose your other produce to possible spoiling.
Step 2: How do you plan to eat this later?
If you roasted a whole chook and now you want to freeze it. It’s most likely you’d want to shred the meat (for lunches/dinners) and separate the bones (for a stock).
Next up – think about that meat, if there’s only one of you – or you plan to eat in smaller portions, maybe you’re best off portioning into small snap lock bags. This means when you’re ready to eat, you’re only defrosting what you need.
This goes for big pots of soups or stews too. The bigger the container, the longer it takes to freeze and defrost.
Step 3: Packaging
My favourite equipment for freezing is:
- 500mL – 1L containers
- Snap lock bags
- Ice cube trays
Remember to name and date your containers so you know what’s in it and when it was frozen. Create a freezer list that you can stick on your fridge (or have listed in the notes section of your phone), so you can regularly cycle through what’s hiding in your freezer.
Step 4: Defrosting
Slow and steady wins.
What to do: defrost in the fridge gently. If it’s dinner, remove from the freezer the night before or the morning of. This will depend on size too, if it’s a big bulk 2L soup or lasagne, it’s going to take more time to defrost than a 1 cup serving of chickpeas.
What not to do: leave out on your bench top all day. Take from freezer straight to over to defrost. Cook on high to rapidly defrost. OK, so these things can work – but most comments I get a particularly related to meat and this is where we trip up with making our frozen meat dry out excessively or produce bad texture.
The best thing about soups and stews or frozen liquid – you can throw them into the pan in a frozen block and gently thaw on a low heat, without needing to worry about damaging the quality.
Step 5: Heating
Thoroughly and gently heat your food.
Officially you need to heat it to over 74 degrees C. If you don’t have a thermometer, that’s piping hot, or bubbling on the stove if it’s a soup is a safe bet.
Step 6: Flavour
Sometimes, flavour can be altered through freezing. To be honest I rarely notice this – but I’ve added this step for you all. Taste your food before you serve it. If you think the flavour has gone, there are things you can do: salt, pepper, a squeeze of lemon/lime, extra virgin olive oil, a scoop of yoghurt or coconut cream, fresh herbs, dried herbs, more onion or garlic or ginger, a tbsp tamari or fish sauce or miso paste.
This one is on you – you can’t fully blame your freezer. Your freezer will save you time and save food waste from ending up in landfill, it also eases the dinner pinch when you’ve had a big day or you’re sick. Master the flavour component and you’ll be winning.
Step 7: Shelf life / Leftovers
How many times can you reheat a frozen meal?
Let’s say you’ve cooked a pizza. You’ve stored leftovers in the fridge and reheated them the next day. That’s your limit. 1 additional reheat. The reason being that food can only be exposed to mid range temperatures for a certain amount of time before possibly becoming contaminated with bacteria (between 5 degrees C and 60 degrees C).
Let’s say you’ve cooked a pizza. You’ve stored leftovers in the fridge and then moved to the freezer. You’ve defrosted and reheated/cooked to serve. That’s your limit.
NOTE: people don’t always obey this rule and they don’t get sick. Myself included. BUT I do feel like you need to know your fridge and know what you’re eating. There are many blog posts out there saying you can reheat food as many times as you like, but from a professional standpoint we’ve been trained this isn’t possible. Food poisoning is nasty and can be dangerous, so it’s better to be on the side of caution.
- Reheat only what you plan to eat.
- Store in smaller portions so you can easily reheat what you need and not waste food.
If in doubt, add your frozen food into a soup or stew where texture isn’t noticed as much.
My favourite foods to freeze
My freezer strategy is this: food is cooked, I make extra, leftovers are frozen for a rainy day in small containers for either single or double serve portion. I cook my beans and legumes etc from scratch and will cook in larger batches and freeze in single or double serve portions for easy addition to meals and salads. As well as ice-cream, frozen Organic berries, leftover raw desserts. That’s about it.
Any leftovers in the fridge are frozen if they can’t be eaten.
I don’t pre or par cook veggies to freeze. To me, this isn’t the best use of my time, but I do know a lot of people who do this.
- Roasted veggies – OK OK this one is controversial. But I always roast up extra veggie and if I have leftovers toward the end of the week I freeze them. Technically they don’t go soggy, but I will always think about how I can use them in a smart way. I add them to soups, stews, pasta. I chop them up and add them back to my salads. They may not be the crispy toasty roasted potato chip you once knew – but you can roast more veggies for that when you are ready, these frozen ones have just been give a new life and a new purpose.
- Falafel – I make extra always! It’s the one ‘defrost rule’ I break. I take them from the freezer to the oven tray and reheat for 15-20 minutes at 180 degrees.
- Soups / broths / curry
- Raw meat / cooked meat / braised meat in sauce
- Bread (even the offcuts)
- Veggie offcuts – I keep a snap lock bag in the freezer for veggie offcuts and use these to make my broths and soups.
- Schnitzel and other time consuming things (like the falafel) that take a while to prep – I either pre-cook these, or freeze them raw, ready to be cooked for later.
- Herbs – I blend with olive oil and freeze in ice cube trays.
- Curry paste – homemade and freeze in ice cube trays.
- Chilli – I snap freeze these from our balcony veggie garden and store in a snap lock bag or similar.
- Fresh curry leaves and kaffir lime leaves – I snap freeze these too and store in a snap lock bag or similar.
- Rice / beans / legumes / quinoa – I make these from scratch in bulk. I portion into single serves and freeze in snap lock bags. This process alone saves so much time for work lunches, or bulking out a meal.
Is it better for my freezer to be empty or full?
Running your freezer close to full capacity is better for keeping your food at a level temperature. It’s meant to provide less strain on your freezer, as it takes more effort and energy to freeze air.
Can I freeze…
- Avocado? Yes, but I don’t use these for salads after. I would blend into a smoothie, dip, soup, stew.
- Dip? Yes, I stir them through soups and stews.
- Egg? Personally I haven’t ever frozen an egg. A good thing to know with eggs is that they usually last a lot longer than their best before date states. So maybe you don’t need to freeze them in the first place?
Check your eggs are still OK to eat by filling a small pot with water and gently dropping your eggs into the pot. If the eggs sink they’re still fresh. If they’re fully floating, the eggs have gone bad and shouldn’t be eaten.
You can freeze raw eggs. Yolk and whites should be whisked together and then frozen. Or separated and yolks should then be cooked before freezing (this is due to their texture once frozen).
My suggestion would be to cook your eggs into a simple frittata and then freeze.
Or give to a neighbour, if you’re friendly with them.
Freezing cooked eggs like a boiled egg is different. The texture of the white will change, you can throw these into a soup or stew and they will be fine.
- Raw tomatoes? Yes, but they won’t keep their shape so use them in cooked meals like soups or stews.
How long do things last in a freezer?
Time frozen = possible reduction in quality. This is especially the case where texture comes into it, like meat.
Your best bet is to use what’s in your freezer within a 6 month timeframe. With the exception of:
- Blanched vegetables – 1 year
- Raw meat – 3 months
What is freezer burn?
Freezer burn occurs when frozen food has been damaged by dehydration and oxidation, due to air reaching the food. The water in your food exits and air enters. To prevent, wrap food in air-tight packaging.
Can you freeze liquid in glass jars?
Yes you can, but you do need to leave room for the liquid to expand. Think of your water bottle that you used to freeze and it would never stand up properly after – that’s due to the liquid expanding. This isn’t a favourable outcome when freezing glass, as the glass will explode. Leave around 1/2 a thumb length between your liquid and the top of your glass.
Can I refreeze thawed meat?
You can cook the defrosted raw meat or chicken, wait for it to cool and then freeze it cooked (in small containers for easy use).
You can technically refreeze raw defrosted meat or chicken, but I personally don’t do this, as you can expose food to bacteria which can make you sick.