Photography © Robert Olding/Studio Eight
My Google search history consists almost entirely of food freezing questions. As a chef for someone who is constantly annoyed that spring onions can only be bought in thick bundles, I’m always thinking of ways to reduce food waste. And that quest becomes even more apparent in summer, when fresh produce abounds and I can’t bear to part with top flavors.
Freeze fresh, written by Crystal Schmidt, advocates freezing as the ultimate form of preservation. Schmidt is the creator of Whole-Fed Homestead, a website dedicated to sharing the skills of growing, cooking, and preserving whole foods.
“Although I still use different preservation methods each year to store our homegrown produce, I think freezing has many advantages over canning and dehydrating,” says Schmidt. “It’s refreshing not to have to worry about safe canning rules, acidity and botulism; This allows me to be more creative in the kitchen. Plus, no more standing in front of a hot tin can for hours! Dehydrating can be useful, but rehydrated foods, especially veggies, always fall a bit flat for me.”
In addition to providing recipes suitable for cold storage, Freeze Fresh also shows you the best way to prepare ingredients so that they retain their flavor after ice-packing.
If you’re looking to treat a future version of yourself, follow these tips for maximizing the use of your freezer.
Be proactive about your freezing needs
We’ve all been there: your bananas are starting to brown, so pop them in the freezer for a future smoothie or banana bread. But it’s best to freeze fruits and vegetables a day or two after you buy them or harvest them, when their nutrients are at their peak. If the product starts to spoil, the quality in the freezer will not improve. So if you know you can’t eat that bag of spinach, freeze half of it before it turns to pulp.
Blanch vegetables before freezing them
“Learning how best to prepare each fruit and vegetable for the freezer will go a long way,” says Schmidt. “Don’t just throw things in there. Freezing produce isn’t difficult, but you’ll get the best results if you have a little know-how, e.g. E.g. whether to blanch or not, what blanching method is used and how best to package a product.”
Blanching usually requires a quick steam or dip in boiling water, which preserves the botanicals after they enter the ice box. Fruit and vegetables contain enzymes that spoil over time, Schmidt explains. Freezing will slow this enzymatic activity, but not stop it completely. The acid in fruit naturally neutralizes the enzymes, but most vegetables require that extra step—a brief moment of heat—to deactivate them.
Which method you choose depends on the vegetable (some vegetables may even require an ice bath after blanching). The end result is worth it: once your veggies are thawed, you’ll notice a vibrant color and firm texture. Blanched vegetables have a shelf life of six months longer than frozen raw.
Consider flash freezing
The faster an ingredient freezes, the better it tastes when thawed. When water freezes, ice crystals form first and eventually increase in size. Slow freezing rates create larger crystals that break down the cell walls of fruits and vegetables, resulting in a mushy texture after thawing. Fast freezing creates smaller crystals that are less likely to rupture cells.
Flash freezing is the technique of creating space between pieces of food and freezing them separately, rather than packing them all together in a container and freezing the bundle. The space provides more circulation, resulting in faster freezing.
Next time you have some peach slices or broccoli florets, consider spreading them out on a parchment-lined baking sheet and popping it in the freezer. Once the individual pieces have hardened, you can toss them in a plastic bag or container. You’ll never have to deal with huge chunks of frozen food again.
Get rid of air, the enemy of frozen food
It’s important to remove excess air before sealing your freezer container or bag. Exposure to oxygen causes freezer burn, which “isn’t a food safety issue, it’s a food quality issue — it doesn’t taste good,” says Schmidt. “I think we’ve all pulled a half-used bag of frozen veg out of the back of the freezer at one point and noticed that it looked dried out and discolored.” For example, if you’re freezing fruit in a Ziploc bag, you’ll tighten the seal up on the corner, press down to squeeze out the air, and then quickly close the seal.
You can freeze more than you think
Freeze fresh includes instructions for freezing foods you might not otherwise have thought to put in the freezer, like jams, green juice, and avocados. Schmidt’s favorite food to freeze is salad. “I mix it up and freeze it in little cubes,” she says. “Once thawed, it’s certainly not the lettuce you would use in your garden salad, but it’s perfect for adding to green juice or smoothies. It’s a fantastic way (and dare I say the only way!) to preserve lettuce.”
Conduct a regular inventory of the freezer
Prevent your freezer from becoming an endless abyss, a place where potential meal ideas die. Labeling containers and bags of frozen food by date will make your life a lot easier. When it comes to ingredients you’ll find with exact measurements — like tomato paste or pumpkin puree — try to freeze the exact amount your recipes call for. Schmidt is a fan of keeping and updating a list of what’s in her freezer, which can indicate which foods need to be eaten faster so they can be used up, or eaten more slowly so they last longer.
“To make the most of valuable freezer space, a good system of organization is essential, especially if you have a chest freezer,” says Schmidt. “We use open-topped boxes and cloth shopping bags to keep things organized and tidy. This allows us to easily lift out the top layers and get to the bottom ones without having to swim through a sea of loose bags and packages. The organization ensures that everything is used up and nothing is lost downstairs and never seen again.”
Don’t be afraid to use frozen fruit in baked desserts
Frozen fruit can be tricky to work with in desserts like pies, cobblers, and chips because it releases more liquid and makes your dish a bit soggy. Also, sugar and thickeners don’t stick well to frozen fruit. Schmidt suggests cooking the filling before baking. For example, if you’re making a cake, simply heat the frozen fruit in a saucepan over medium-high heat, add the sugar and thickener, and cook. Allow the filling to cool, then pour onto the cake base and bake as directed in the recipe.
When in doubt, remember that nothing is frozen Yes, really get bad
“Frozen food doesn’t work Poorly in the sense that it will rot or be spoiled by bacteria, but it will still last,” says Schmidt. “As long as your produce was of good quality when it went into the freezer and you eat it on time (within a year), you don’t have to worry.”
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