Freezing food is both one of the easiest and one of the most difficult processes so we’ll include a quick tutorial as part of our pro hacks. Right climate right time just chuck it out side and fetch it in a few hours. Wrong time of year, or most places we live, you have to create the cold environment which is no small task. The result though, is food that will last for months if handled properly.
Freezing is pretty good across the spectrum, fruit, meats or vegetables. Many will do better with different handling, from blanching to seasoning and definitely how you wrap them. What will happen with them when you thaw them is also important, will they be cooked, served as is, incorporated in to a recipe. Each of these will benefit form a different approach.
The most common way to freeze fruits and vegetables is to pare them down to the size you want, cleaning them on the way. With a strawberry for example, remove the stem and core (called a calyx don’t you know), slice or quarter, spread them on a sheet pan with parchment and freeze them, then put them in a container or bag. Onions and other firm veggies, similar idea, skin the onion, slice to size, spread and freeze.
Some fruits and veggies don’t freeze in pieces. Or perhaps we should say, do not thaw well. Bananas, lettuce, avocado are examples. Banana puree for baking, or avocado mashed for guac with a little lemon will freeze quite well.
Potatoes and foods that oxidize quickly will most benefit from blanching. Shreds for hashbrowns need about one minute in boiling water, cut for fries will want 2-3 minutes and so on. Blanche them, drain them, and bag them.
The best way to avoid freezer burn is to gat the air out of the packaging. Obviously, a vacuum sealer is ideal if you are doing large quantities. The vacuum aspect plus the heavier weight of the sealer bag offers great protection of your food. In addition to removing the air, thinner layers versus making the bag look like a balloon will freeze, thaw, and stack much better, so always keep them flat.
Not everyone has one, so plastic freezer bags or reusable silicone bags will work quite well. Typical process is to freeze food on a sheet and then transfer to a bag or such. With things like shredded taters, or fresh strawberries sliced and tossed with sugar, should be put in a bag and as much air as possible squeezed from them.
You’ve probably been wondering if we forgot about meat, as if such a thing were possible. Freezing fresh meat is the item most dependent on wrapping. Bags are fine, especially if you can get the air out of them. But there are better ways for longer term freezer storage.
Plastic film as the first step is a great way to go. If you are doing a few chops for example, a small piece of parchment between each on will help separate them as the defrost. You can use the film, paper is better, but minimize how much hangs out over the edges. After a good plastic wrap, foil or parchment tightly wrapped, taped if needed, will give you good preservation.
Some fruits lend themselves to just being spread out on a sheet like blueberries. Others, such as strawberries should be hulled and cleaned before freezing, usually sliced. Stone fruits like peaches, nectarines or apricots, should be peeled if desired, pitted and sliced, spread evenly and frozen. Then you repackage them.
Using strawberries again as an example, we all know how a sugared berry will throw some juice. So, if you take your strawberries, hull and slice them, toss them in a bowl with sugar, 2 Tablespoons per pound, and refrigerate for an hour. Then bag them, distributing the juice evenly. This is not limited to strawberries, those same stone fruits work this way, any berries, and more. Here’s a great article illustrating how its done.
Many folks freeze fruit for smoothies, melons and such in particular. Similarly, to much of what we explored, cubed or sliced, spread on a sheet and frozen for a few hours, then transferred to bags is the way to go. All the fruits we’ve mentioned also make great ‘ice cubes’ to float in and flavor your favorite beverages.
Vegetables are one of the easier categories to freeze. Most do not need a blanch, although they will do well in many cases. All veggies will come out of the freezing process somewhat to quite a bit softer. This is important to know because they will need less cooking time a s result. Some things like celery, and even onions will be very soft when thawed because of their very high-water content.
Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and similar items do the best. They are sturdy going in and stay that way. Corn freezes well, as do Brussel sprouts and the like. Leafy items such as lettuce, cilantro, parsley and spinach will come out very soft, still fine for including in recipes but not so great for salads or garnish.
Properly handled, meat is one of the most successful food categories for freezing. Yes, there is some deterioration. Like most organic material, the water in the cell structure expands when frozen, and this will rupture some of the cells, hence the softer textures. So, you might notice it most on a great steak, but frozen and thawed correctly it is pretty hard to tell.
In the wrapping section we talked about preparing raw meat for the freezing process. Thawing in particular is an issue with meat. Using health guidelines, the most ideal way to thaw is in a fridge over a period of time. This slower process, and patiently waiting for a complete thaw, will give you much better results, and keep the food more wholesome and safer to enjoy.
Wrap it up
This should give you a solid basis of knowledge to freeze everything from strawberries to steak to sprouts. We even talk about cutting strawberries in our Cook’s Knife Tour Video featured on our home page at NoTakeout.com. Now you can buy when the season is in, or the price is right, and prep your foods to enjoy year-round.