A General Guide To Freezing

Introduction

Freezing is a food preservation technique that most everyone uses, but which no one ever thinks of as practicing yet another method of preserving. It is without a doubt one of the easiest and most basic of any of the methods of food preservation (with drying being the other). The one major drawback of freezing, however, is the fact that just one long power outage or a malfunction in your freezer can cost you your harvest.

The equipment needed for freezing (besides a freezer), is very simple and basic as well: bags or containers made specifically for freezer use, along with extra plastic wrap. That is about it. You could also use freezer paper, which is a heavy weighted, white, waxed paper specifically made for wrapping food in for the freezer; however, this is optional.

Equipment and Supplies

Before we go into which foods do and do not respond well to freezing, we need to look closer at the necessary packaging supplies for the proper storage preparation. This will in turn help to eliminate freezer burn (which results from foods drying out in the freezer).

You need to make sure that anything you use to bag or otherwise contain food inside your freezer is actually made for freezer use. Otherwise, you will shorten the storage life of the frozen food and could end up with freezer burnt food. The only time this is not an issue is when you vacuum pack foods, or you purchase foods already vacuum packed (many farmers that sell their own beef package their product this way). Vacuum packed food may be put directly into the freezer as is; however, some preservers will choose to put the entire package, unopened, into a freezer bag for a little extra protection.

As stated earlier, you should only use containers and bags that are made for freezer use. It will be easy to tell if your bags are appropriate, as the packaging will usually be labeled “freezer” or “freezer use.” Some people may choose to wrap their foods in aluminum foil before bagging and putting into the freezer. However, if you like to thaw your foods out in the microwave, you will be unable to do so until the food is thawed enough so that the foil unwraps from the food easily and without sticking. This is why it’s best to wrap either in plastic wrap or even in freezer paper before putting the food in a freezer bag. It allows the item to go directly from freezer to microwave if you so choose.

Now that you have your equipment, let’s look at what can be preserved using the freezing method, and what doesn’t work.

Do’s and Don’ts of Freezing

One of the major things that does not freeze well is lettuce. If you try to freeze most lettuce varieties, you will have nothing but mush when you bring it out to thaw. Fresh parsley, cilantro, oregano, chives, and other leafy herbs will not freeze well either, especially if you plan on using them as a plate garnish, or in some other way that requires greens in full, fresh form. Again, they will come out mushy when thawed. However, if you want to cook with the herbs, where it will become one of the ingredients for the dish, then freezing is an excellent option for preservation.

Bought some cheese at the farmers market? Blocks of cheese may freeze, but when you go to slice it, they may crumble if you try to cut the pieces straight off the block. If you want cheese crumbles for salads, garnishes, and other similar uses, then this should not be a problem. (I actually keep a few cheddar blocks in the freezer purposely for crumbles.) However, if the idea is to slice some nice pieces of cheese for sandwiches, appetizers, or other uses where you will need the actual slices, then it would be advisable to keep the cheese out of the freezer. In saying this, I have found that crumbled and grated cheeses freeze well and suffer no major changes when thawed. If you’re not sure how the cheese you purchased will freeze, take a small piece, wrap it, let it freeze for a few weeks, then take it out and cut it to see what happens. Keep a running list of what cheeses do and do not freeze up to your expectations.

Let’s now look at some examples of things that do freeze well, along with tips as to how best to prepare them for freezing. Discover more about planning for canning and preserving.

Fruits and Vegetables

Open chest freezer organized with various food itemsOpen chest freezer organized with various food items

With a few notable exceptions, when freezing fruits and vegetables you do not freeze them whole and will need some preparation before bagging for the freezer. The following are specific examples of prep ideas for various fruits and vegetables.

Bell Peppers

Bell peppers, no matter what color they are, are quite simple and straightforward when it comes to freezing. Just cut the pepper in half, from top to bottom. Remove the stems and seeds, and then cut into strips as wide or as narrow as you like. You can also cut the pepper in half around the wide center, remove the stems and seeds, and cut into rings. From this point, you could just place them in freezer bags and store the filled bags in the freezer. However, there is a better way: instead of your pepper slices having to be thawed first so that they can be broken apart, you will be able to just open the bag, pull out what you want, then put the bag back into the freezer. How is this done? Before you bag your peppers for freezing, simply spread them out on a cookie sheet, on a single layer, and place them in the freezer for a few hours. By doing this, each piece will freeze individually. Once the peppers are well frozen, remove the trays from the freezer and put the frozen pepper pieces directly into the freezer bags. Then put the bag of peppers back into the freezer. By allowing the pepper strips or rings to freeze individually first, the peppers will not freeze all lumped together in the freezer bags. It is important to note however, that at no time should the strips be allowed to thaw, except for those you will be using. Once you allow the bag to thaw when you put it back into the freezer the peppers will stick together and freeze into one big lump.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes will need a little more preparation for freezing, and can be frozen in a few different ways: whole, cut, chopped, puréed, crushed, or as a sauce. However you are freezing them, the tomatoes must be peeled first. (Cherry and grape tomatoes can be an exception to this, as they are usually just cut in half and used, skin and all, in various recipes with no further processing.) While you could just peel the tomatoes like an apple, there is an easier way.

Put water into a medium to large sized pot and bring to a boil. Have a bowl or pot of cold water ready as well. Drop a few whole tomatoes into the pot of boiling water, being careful not to splash. When you see the skins begin to split, remove the tomatoes from the boiling water and plunge them into the cold or iced water. When cool enough to handle, simply pull the skins off with your fingers. They should remove very easily, coming off in almost in one piece, with little to no resistance. Be careful that you do not cook the tomatoes. As soon as you see the skin splitting, remove the tomato from the boiling water and place into the cold water. The cold water will stop the cooking process.

Once the skins are removed you can prepare the tomatoes for freezing whichever way you prefer. But unless you only use your tomatoes one way, I would recommend (if you have enough produce) that you select a few ways to freeze your tomatoes. I usually choose sauce, whole, and purée: sauce, because of the time it would take to make a new batch each time I would want some; whole, because I can always chop them up later if needed; and purée, so that I only have to get out the equipment to do the job once. As these are the most common ways tomatoes are used in recipes, I can pretty much have tomatoes in any way that I need them at my fingertips. I should also note that I can tomatoes in the same three ways. Although I do prefer canning tomatoes, if it is a busy season, freezing is less time-consuming and I can get everything done faster than the time it takes to can. (Otherwise the tomatoes could spoil before I can get to them.) Sometimes I may even go back later, thaw them out and then can the tomatoes when I have more time.

Collard Greens

Because they have such thick heavy leaves, collards will freeze quite well in freezer bags. As the leaves are so large, it is best to chop them up before freezing, as well as stripping them off of the main stock. Because I like them made up with either salt pork or pork jowl, I will usually make a batch (ready-to-eat), then freeze the prepared dish in serving size, re-heatable portions. If you are single, you would probably want to bag and freeze single-serving portions. But for a family, you would most likely freeze at least enough for one serving per person per bag.

Broccoli, Beans, and Other Vegetables

Close-up of frozen mixed vegetables with ice crystals

When freezing vegetables like cauliflower, green beans, broccoli, carrots (sliced or baby), and other such vegetables, they should first be cut as desired then blanched. Blanching is just a very quick dip into boiling water, then into an ice bath, or very cold water in a pinch, for a quick cool down to end the cooking process. Blanching allows these vegetables to keep their color and flavor when frozen. The vegetables will still be firm as well.

The key to blanching is a quick in and out of the boiling water, then into the ice water to stop the cooking process. As vegetables blanch you will notice the colors brightening, and they will remain bright even when cool.

After the blanching is done and the vegetables are cooled, freeze as desired. You can use the same freezing method explained previously, freezing the pieces individually and bagging. If you are freezing in serving-size bags or containers, and will have no need for the ability to just to pull out a few pieces at a time, then you can bag the cooled vegetables and freeze. Learn more about preserving the best of the harvest.

Purées and Juices

Although we will discuss purées and juices later in Chapter 7 as another form of preserving, freezing is a good way to store the finished product. Both purées and juices can be poured into containers and frozen; however, if your main use for the purée or juice is as a recipe ingredient, then you can do one of the following:

  • Measure out how much juice or purée it takes to fill one cube mold in an ice cube tray. (This will tell you how much product one cube equals.) Then fill the rest of the tray. When thoroughly frozen, take cubes out of the tray and put into a freezer bag. Mark on the outside of the bag the measurement that each cube equals. Then, when you need some of the juice or purée for the dish or for cooking, just pull out the number of pre-measured cubes you need and return the unused portion of the bag to the freezer.
  • If you think that you may want to freeze your juices or purée into slightly larger portions, simply do the following. Decide the measured amount that you want to freeze the product in. Most likely, this will be in ¼, ⅓, or ½ cup measurements. Pour the measured juice or purée into a small, wax-coated paper cup. Freeze the filled cups. When thoroughly frozen, tear off the paper cup (you may have to slightly warm the sides up with your hand, but do not allow thawing). Then put the frozen pieces into a bag. Label with preserve name in the measurement equivalent of the pieces, and then place the bag in the freezer. Again, pull out pieces as you need them and return unused portions to the freezer.

Soups, Stews, and Sauces

Soups, stews, and sauces have a few ways that they can be frozen. All three may be frozen in freezer containers. Just let cool, pour into the container, and freeze. Also, as a space saver, they may be frozen in plastic freezer bags.

The freezer bag method can be quite a space saver if done properly. And they may be frozen in either single- or multiportion sizes. To freeze, allow the food to cool. Put the desired amount into the freezer bag. Close the bag, pushing as much air out of it as you can while you close it. (A zip top bag works best for this.) Lay the bags flat, letting content spread evenly into the bag. As you fill and flatten each bag, they can be stacked in your freezer, saving you lots of space.

Finally, if you have made a sauce that will only be used as an ingredient for something else, you may again use the ice cube tray or paper cup method described in the previous section.

At this point, it is important to mention that you need to wait for soups and stews (or any hot food for that matter) to thoroughly cool before you place in the freezer. Placing hot food into the cold freezer can throw your freezer temperature off for a short time, which can result in a longer cooling period than expected.

Make Your Own Frozen Dinner

Packaged frozen meat in a white styrofoam container

A final use for freezing is that it allows you to create your own frozen dinners from leftovers.

After you’ve finished your meal, don’t throw away your leftovers, and don’t bag each of them separately. Instead, using containers that you can safely freeze in, make a plate in each container. Use one portion of each leftover to make a complete meal. Then cover and freeze. The next time that you need a quick meal for work or home, grab a container, and either microwave it; or if it is an oven safe container as well, put it into the oven. A fast, simple, time-saving meal that uses the same freezing techniques you’ve been practicing. Don’t forget that when you make your regular meals, you can always make extra, especially for this purpose.

There’s so much more that you can do with freezing. And there are many books and websites that can give you more information on what you should and shouldn’t freeze, as well as directions and suggestions.

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