I call my freezer “food purgatory.” During my periodic endeavors to both save money and eat a little healthier, I buy food in bulk, repackage it into cute little containers, and then tuck it away in my freezer to use … sometime.
It rarely works. By the time I remember to actually eat all of this stuff, it either has freezer burn or doesn’t defrost properly. At this point, I’ve pretty much given up on using my freezer to store anything but frozen yogurt, so I wonder—what am I doing wrong?
What You Freeze …
Freezing works by stopping the bacterial action in food and preventing spoilage. But it can also alter the texture and physical structure of some foods. In general, anything with high water content does not freeze well, because water freezes at a different temperature from the other molecules, and expands when it freezes. Dairy and eggs don’t do very well either.
Here’s a full list of foods you want to think twice about freezing. You might think you’re being economical by saving them for later, but you’ll actually be better off just buying them in smaller amounts.
- Milk, cottage cheese, mayonnaise, and gravy will separate. You can try to save them by stirring them while defrosting, but they won’t return to their pre-frozen consistency.
- Cheese will get crumbly.
- Egg yolks don’t freeze well, and cooked eggs will become rubbery. But you can freeze egg whites by placing them in ice cube trays and defrosting them as needed. They’ll be good enough to use for baking, but probably not very good to eat, as freezing will take away the flavor.
- Raw vegetables will become pithy, mealy, and limp upon defrosting.
There are, however, plenty of foods that do work in the freezer, and some even benefit from a little chill.
- I love freezing fruit for a healthy snack. Bananas, grapes, peaches, and berries all freeze extremely well. You can defrost them, or suck on them while frozen for a treat that’s better than candy.
- Though other dairy products don’t seem to like the cold so much, yogurt is a happy exception. I pop flavored yogurt containers (opt for blended varieties rather than fruit-on-the-bottom) into the freezer for some homemade frozen yogurt. It satisfies my sweet tooth and helps me meet my calcium needs.
- Chocolate. If you’ve ever put a Milky Way or Snickers bar into the freezer, you know just what I’m talking about. These days, I go for dark chocolate and let a block or two melt in my mouth when I need my fix.
- Leftovers are meant to be frozen. Anything that has been cooked usually freezes pretty well because the molecules are more stable. My mom’s spaghetti sauce, a tuna casserole, and homemade chicken stock are all staples in my freezer.
There are many more items that freeze well, of course, provided you package and store them properly.
And How You Freeze It
Freezer burn is your enemy. It results when air reaches food and causes it to oxidize and dehydrate. Therefore, to prevent freezer burn, you need to make sure your food packaging is airtight.
Many people swear by vacuum packing to store food items, but I’m not a fan. My brother got me the equipment for Christmas one year, and none of the food I used it on was ever really the same; the meat and fish got slimy, the bread never re-inflated. These techniques have worked far better for me:
- For bread and pastries, take them out of their original, porous packaging, and double-wrap them in Saran Wrap before placing them in a freezer bag. Storing loaves of bread vertically rather than horizontally keeps the temperature even within the loaf to prevent hard or damp areas, especially if you’re planning to freeze the bread for a long time. Surround baked goods with other foods as much as possible and place them in the middle of the freezer, rather than the bottom or top, to avoid uneven temperatures, which will keep your bread products fresher longer.
- Meat, especially raw meat, needs to be packaged well because of the moisture it contains. In general, meats with higher fat content (like ground chuck) freeze better. Use the smallest container that will fit so that you leave as little room for air as possible. If you’re using a freezer bag, push all the air out before sealing. Freezing cooked meat with its own sauce or gravy is always best, since it coats the meat and prevents oxidation and dehydration. And, yes, you can refreeze meat if you’ve defrosted it in the refrigerator, without having to cook it first. Meat that’s been defrosted by other methods should be cooked before refreezing.
- If you need to freeze vegetables, blanch or parboil them first. If you can, cook them completely first and store in some kind of sauce or casserole. And, as with all other food items, place them in an airtight container.
The Chef’s Secret
I’m not quite ready to give up on freezing; I just need to learn what works and what doesn’t. Sure, not everything freezes well, but a pre-cooked frozen meal is still a lifesaver when you’re just too busy to make a run to the grocery store. Also, having perfectly portioned meals ready-to-go in the freezer is healthy alternative to ordering pizza whenever you come home from work. Just choose the right foods and store them properly, and you’ll be surprised at just how useful that thing above your fridge is.
Originally published in 2010