You may not realize it yet, but your freezer is one of the most powerful tools in your kitchen. Here’s how to take advantage of the wealth of frozen homemade foods your freezer is capable of storing; safely, efficiently, and even unexpectedly!
Before storing any food items in the freezer it’s important to make sure you’re working with the correct temperature right from the beginning. According to Health Canada, the correct temperature for a freezer is -18° Celsius or lower. If your freezer doesn’t come with a built-in thermometer you can buy a digital freezer thermometer to keep track of temperatures (some will even let you know if historically there’s been a rise and then dip again in temperature.)
2. Storing animal-based proteins in the freezer
Red meats such as beef, veal, pork, and lamb can generally be frozen for 8-12 months if stored properly. Wrap meat tightly in plastic wrap, making sure all edges are sealed. Wrap another layer of aluminum foil over top of the plastic and then place the meat in a resealable bag.
To freeze poultry, wrap each individual piece tightly in plastic wrap and store in a large resealable bag. Poultry can be stored for up to 12 months using this method.
Fresh fish has very delicate flesh and should be vacuum-sealed whenever possible in order to prevent freezer burn. Fish can also be triple-wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in a resealable plastic bag; use frozen fish within 2-3 months of freezing.
Allow red meat, poultry, and fish to defrost in the fridge whenever possible, if you’re short on time they can be defrosted under cold running water (the emphasis being on running water.)
Ground meat should be cooked before freezing. Arrange the cooked meat in a single layer inside of a resealable plastic bag, pressing out as much air as possible before freezing for 2-3 months.
3. Freezing fresh fruits and vegetables
Freezing fresh produce is a great way to prolong the shelf-life and freshness of in-season fruits and vegetables (especially in Canada, where growing seasons are extra-short.) Thoroughly cleaning and carefully trimming fresh produce is a time-consuming but very important step, not only will the risk of food-borne bacteria be diminished but the produce will all look and taste better. Pits or seeds should be removed from the fruit (the skin can also be removed, if desired) and larger fruit should be cut into sections. Vegetables should be quickly blanched in boiling water and shocked in an ice batch to preserve their appearance and completely remove any residual dirt or grit. Line a baking sheet that will fit into your freezer with parchment paper and freeze the produce in a single layer until solid. Transfer the frozen produce into resealable freezer bags or containers. Most fruits and vegetables will freeze well for 8-12 months.
4. Freezing leftovers
To freeze stews, soups, pasta dishes, casseroles, and sauces begin with food that has already been chilled. If freezing leftovers in lidded containers leave a one-inch gap between the food and the lid as the leftovers will expand and cause the lid to pop off. Liquids can also be frozen in resealable freezer bags, once solid they can be “filed” away in the freezer. Leftover grains, beans, and cooked pasta can be frozen in resealable bags; portion out into single servings for quick weekday meals. Meatballs, energy balls, mini-quiches, and homemade falafels should be frozen on a parchment-lined baking sheets and stored in large resealable freezer bags once completely frozen. Most leftovers can be safely stored for up to 4-6 months.
5. Miscellaneous freezer tips
Always label and date anything you’re putting into the freezer with a piece of masking tape and a permanent black marker. It’s easy to convince yourself you’ll remember what that container full of easily identifiable food is but chances are, 6 months later; it will be a total mystery.
Keep a running inventory of your freezer contents at all times. This can be as simple as a white board or even a note you keep affixed to the side of the freezer with tape.
Take advantage of those ice cube trays! Pesto, cold brew coffee, tapenade, fresh herbs blended with olive oil, fruit juice, wine and sparkling water, and leftover smoothie can all be frozen in an ice cube tray and transferred to a resealable freezer bag.
Discover unexpected ingredients that can be stored in your freezer, you might be surprised at the amount of convenient sophistication this can add to your weeknight cooking routine! Homemade compound butters, parmesan rinds, meat bones, dark chocolate (especially mint dark chocolate), grated hard cheeses, and pizza dough are just a few examples of unexpected foods to keep in the freezer.