A freezer’s many cool uses
London - What’s in your freezer? A couple of supermarket pizzas, perhaps? A bag of frozen peas and a selection of unappetising leftovers?
The frozen food market is worth billions a year, yet it seems many people simply don’t know how to use freezers to their full potential.
We fill them with buy-one-get-one-free purchases and bags of ice cubes and, according to a recent survey, continue to throw away far more food than we should because we have no idea how long to keep individual foods frozen.
“What most of us don’t realise is that almost any food can be frozen,” says cookery writer Justine Pattison, the author of Freeze: 120 Delicious Recipes And Fantastic New Ways To Use Your Freezer And Make Life Just That Bit Easier. “Techniques have changed enormously since the ’70s, when freezing first became fashionable.
“It’s no longer just about bulk buying, batch cooking and foods that take forever to defrost. We don’t have the time or space to freeze that way these days. It’s more about quick dishes that can be prepared in a flash and clever ways of maximising space and cutting down on waste.”
If you want to know how to cook a healthy frozen meal in a few minutes, how to freeze cheese and even make instant, fat-free ice cream, read on. It’s time to fall in love with your freezer again.
SECRETS ALL COOKS NEED TO KNOW
* KEEP IT FLAT: Justine’s top tip for storing food in the freezer is “flat-freezing”.
She labels a plastic freezer bag with food type, number of portions, freezing and best-before dates.
Then she pours the sauce, stew or soup into the bag, flattens it on a baking tray and freezes it.
When it’s frozen, not only can you stack the bags but they are quicker to thaw and you can snap off the amount you need.
* SUPER-QUICK STRIPS: Don’t bother freezing whole chicken breasts, thick steaks and large chops – they take too long to defrost.
For fast, healthy midweek meals, cut chicken, beef and pork into 1.5cm strips to make them far more versatile.
“Before you freeze, toss the strips in a little sunflower oil and seasoning, then ‘open freeze’ them by arranging them in a single layer on a foil-lined baking tray, covering them with cling film and placing the tray in the freezer,” says Justine.
“When the strips are frozen solid, peel away the cling film (it comes off easily) and transfer them to a rigid container or airtight freezer bag and use within a month.
“You can then help yourself to as many loose strips as you need, when you need them, which cuts down on waste.
“Because the meat is cut so thinly, you can cook it from frozen in a pan with a little oil in a matter of minutes.” Use your cooked strips (check they are cooked through before eating) in stir-fries, pasta dishes, curries, wraps and salads.
* FINE FILLETS: For fast fish meals, cut very fresh raw fish into thin fillets or small chunks. Justine recommends using easy-leave sheets between each fillet to stop them sticking together (though baking parchment can be used), then pack into two freezer bags, one inside the other, to prevent fishy smells in your freezer.
Once it is frozen, you can easily take as much fish as you need and cook it in minutes in a hot pan with a splash of olive oil, or stir it into a soup or sauce and simmer until cooked through.
* FLAVOUR CUBES: “Use silicone ice-cube trays to freeze citrus juices, pesto, tomato paste or wine in small cubes that can be stored in an airtight freezer bag and dropped into your cooking as needed,” says Sainsbury’s frozen food expert Susi Richards.
* SOUP, STOCK AND SAUCE: Liquids needed in larger quantities can be frozen in a silicone muffin tray, says Susi. “Just fill the holes with your liquid and freeze to produce handy small portion sizes.
“Once your soup ‘muffins’ are frozen, pop them out of their flexible trays and into an airtight bag for storage.”
Defrost and reheat in a microwave or saucepan as needed within six months.
* SILVER LINING: It’s worth lining ovenproof pie dishes and casseroles with aluminium foil before cooking a cottage pie or pasta bake for the freezer, too.
Once the food is frozen, you’ll be able to lift it out in one piece, wrap it in more foil, then seal it in a plastic bag – freeing up your dishes until you need them to reheat the meal, at which point you can simply drop the block of food back in the dish to defrost and cook through.
YES, ALL THESE CAN BE FROZEN…
The top four foods found in freezers are ice cream, chicken, peas and chips, according to research by the British food waste organisation WRAP. But many other foodstuffs can be frozen safely for several months.
* AVOCADO: Avocados can be frozen successfully and used in guacamole, dressings and spreads. Just remove the skin and stone, then mash with one tablespoon of lemon juice per avocado and freeze for up to two months.
* BANANAS: Peel, slice into chunks, freeze uncovered on a baking tray, then store in a bag. Defrost and use in cakes or whizz in a sturdy blender, still frozen, to make instant banana “ice cream” or smoothies.
* BUTTER: Can be frozen for three months, as can margarine.
* CHEESE: With the exception of low-fat, cream and cottage cheese (which, because of their fat-to-water ratios, tend to go watery once thawed), most cheeses freeze well.
Hard cheeses can go a bit crumbly when defrosted, so grate them before freezing for best results.
* CITRUS SLICES: Lemon, lime and orange slices freeze well and make perfect “ice cubes” for alcoholic drinks, as they don’t dilute as they defrost.
* CREAM: Single cream, because it has a high water content, tends to split when it’s defrosted.
Double cream does better. Although it doesn’t whip well when defrosted and is quite grainy, it’s fine to use in sauces if you freeze small amounts in ice-cube trays.
* EGGS: Raw eggs in their shells will expand and crack if frozen. Instead, beat lightly and add a pinch of salt or sugar per egg (depending on whether you’re using them for savoury or sweet dishes), which will help to stop the egg splitting once defrosted.
You can store them in muffin trays or in batches in freezer bags, which can be stored flat. Frozen in this way, eggs will keep well for a month. Egg yolks tend to go unappetisingly rubbery if frozen separately, but whites freeze well and can be used for meringues, etc.
* MILK: Skimmed and semi-skimmed milk will freeze well for a month. Full-fat, unless homogenised, will probably split.
Never freeze in a glass bottle, as the liquid will expand and could crack the glass. Defrost frozen milk in the fridge overnight and shake well before using.
* BREAD: Most bread, except crusty varieties such as French bread, will freeze for up to three months (crusty bread tends to lose its crunch after a month in the freezer).
* HERBS: Finely chop soft herbs such as mint and parsley and place in ice-cube trays, top up with water or a little olive oil and freeze.
* NUTS: Will keep in a zip-seal bag in the freezer for up to six months.
* WINE: Leftover red and white wine can be kept frozen – although it’s best for cooking rather than drinking, as freezing can cause potassium tartrate crystals to form in the wine. Sometimes called “wine diamonds”, these are harmless but don’t look great in a glass.
As with milk, never store wine in the freezer in a glass bottle, as it will probably shatter. Because of its alcohol content, wine will not freeze completely but remain a little soft, so make sure that the container is sealed properly.
* POTATOES: Baked potatoes, roast, mash and gratin will freeze well for up to four months.