Oh, freezer, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love you for your depth, for your ability to preserve raw materials, for your easy storage options, for your ability to save money and food.
I’ve always been a fan of the freezer, but now that I prepare most food from scratch, I’ve really gotten into freezing food. I usually freeze meal components that I can defrost later to make a fresh, homemade meal without losing a lot of food to rot. I don’t do freezer cooking, or meals for a month, because I don’t have room and I like to try new dishes often.
In order to be successful at freezing food, you need a few key things:
- The right tools
- Knowledge of how to freeze food
- Knowledge of how long frozen foods keep
- Menu planning
Today I’ll cover the tools and freezing meat. Tomorrow I’ll post on freezing stock, sauces, produce, and desserts, how long frozen food keeps, and what not to freeze.
Tools for Freezing Food
In order to successfully freeze food, you need several tools to ensure that you freeze it properly, know what’s in the freezer, and know how long it’s been there.
- Sheet pans in a couple sizes
- Resealable freezer bags – quart and gallon
- Masking tape
- Fine point Sharpie
- Ice cube trays
- Parchment paper
With those tools, you can begin to explore the joys of freezing food. A note on the resealable bags: I’ve tried both the store brand and the Ziploc brand and I found that the Ziploc really is better. It seals better and is less prone to leaks. If you want to be frugal, you can wash and reuse them a few times. I recommend watching the newspaper for coupons and the store for a sale and then combining the two. With that method, you can usually get the Ziplocs for same price or less than the store brand price.
I buy chicken and most fish already frozen from Trader Joe’s. They employ a method called “quick freezing” which freezes them in individual pieces to lock in freshness. Once I get them home, I’ll divide the fish into smaller bags, enough for one meal in each one. The chicken comes in a large resealable bag, so I just toss that in the freezer and remove the pieces as I need them. For meat I buy fresh, like ground beef or chops, I’ll divide the package up before I freeze it for easier defrosting and portion control.
As you can see, I have several packages of meat of several varieties. I note the date, food, and weight on each package with a Sharpie (label the bag before you put in the food or the ink won’t stick.) Then I use each meat within three months of putting it in the freezer. Each week, I first check the freezer to see what I have on hand that needs to be used, then I begin my menu planning and grocery list.
You can freeze just about any meat, including bacon. I used to wrap a few slices of bacon in foil and freeze the packages, then I discovered flat freezing. Simply cover a baking sheet in parchment paper (wax paper gets too wet) and arrange the bacon in a single layer. Set in the freezer for a couple of hours, and then place the frozen slices in a resealable Ziploc. It defrosts in a flash. I usually just cook it from frozen.
You can do the same for hamburger patties, meatballs, and other prepared meats. Because they’re frozen before you put them in a freezer bag, they won’t stick together. I usually freeze meat raw and then cook it after it’s defrosted to preserve flavor.
You can use the packages fresh meat came in if you’re only freezing it for a few days (for example, if you bought it Saturday and aren’t using it until Friday), but you should transfer it to a freezer bag for longer storage. Plastic trays and wrap from the store isn’t designed for long-term storage and won’t protect the food. They also take up a lot of space.
Be sure to come back tomorrow for more freezer tips!