Dear Home-Ec 101,
I’m completely lost when it comes to freezing food. I know this is a great way to have meals on hand, but once it’s in the freezer I don’t know what to do with it. Just last night I made too much enchilada filling. So I made an extra pan, covered it in foil and dated it. But now what?
Do I need to defrost them once I take them out? Do I just put them in the oven frozen? If so for how long and how hot? How long can they hang out in the freezer? Should I have even used foil or something else? I’ve recently lost my job and out grocery budget is tight, I would like to use my freezer to my advantage and not waste anything. Please help.
First of all, I’m very sorry hear of your jobloss. I hope you are able to find one in the near future.
Frozen foods can be cooked from the frozen state, but it takes, typically about 1.5 times as long to cook from the frozen state. Thawing, in your current case enchiladas, and in future cases casseroles, soups, etc is the most efficient way to go.
Even if the enchiladas fully thaw overnight, expect them to take a little longer than the original recipe suggests to cook. The recipe expects the filling and in some cases the sauce, too, to be hot.
Don’t make the mistake of saving frozen food for a rainy day that may never come. Work the meal into your menu within the next few weeks.
If your enchiladas (or future casseroles) are in a side-by-side or freezer on top model expect them to stay good for about 3 months. Bottom drawer style freezers tend to retain cold better, extending the quality life of frozen foods. The best freezers for retaining quality are stand alone and chest freezers, with chest freezers being better if they are opened frequently. These two freezers don’t fluctuate in temperature and humidity as much as those attached to refrigerators do.
When freezing prepared foods the key is to remove as much air as possible and freeze as quickly as possible.
Foil works well, provided the edges are folded over several times, but it is very easy to accidentally poke holes in this medium. Freezer paper is more resilient, but must be taped closed. Freezer bags work extremely well provided all the extra air is removed and they are sealed tightly.
Air is the enemy of frozen food and the cause of freezer burn. Basically any exposure to air causes evaporation, freezer burn is just dried out, frozen food. Bleh.
Don’t run out and buy a vacuum sealers, but if you happen to run across a working one at a yard sale or thrift store, snatch it up.
If you have a small freezer, try not to strain it by overloading it with hot foods.
As an example, if you have made a crazy large batch of soup to save some vegetables that were on the verge, here are some tips for freezing efficiently:
Once the soup is cool enough to not melt zippered freezer bags, go ahead and portion it into the portions you desire. Make sure the bags are closed tightly. Then, add ice to your sink and set all but a couple of the bags of soup in the ice. Lay one or two of the bags of soup flat and freeze in the coldest portion of your freezer. Once frozen, the bags of soup can be stacked or stood on edge in another area of the freezer, using minimal space. Don’t worry, the soup doesn’t have to stay in the ice bath until its turn in the freezer, once cool it can hold in the refrigerator. Fill the sink partway with warmish water and place the full pot in the sink. Slowly add cool water to the sink. This will help rapidly drop the temperature of your soup without warping your pan.
Freezing foods quickly prevents the formation of large ice crystals which ruin food’s texture.
It’s best to freeze foods in small portions and try not to freeze foods like casseroles that are more than two inches thick. (Use a different pan).
If you only have one casserole pan and want to freezer several meals worth, line the pan with foil before filling. Freeze completely, then turn the casserole out of the pan. Wrap tightly and store.
Always label your foods and keep a running inventory of what you have on hand and make sure you use it.
When freezing meat, it’s safe to freeze in its original packaging for the short term. If you intend on freezing it for a long period of time, it’s best to portion the food, label, and freeze in sturdy packaging like foil, freezer paper, or zippered freezer bags.
Raw meat should be thawed in the refrigerator, a cold water bath, or in the microwave.
If the meat is thawed in the microwave or a cool waterbath it needs to be cooked immediately.
Small pans of foods may thaw overnight in the refrigerator but meat may need two days or more. Try to use it within a day for being completely thawed. Keep this in mind when menu planning. For large items like turkeys, estimate at least 24 hours of thawing time for every 5lbs of meat.