Freezing, A How To, Part Two

Heather says:

Yesterday’s post on How to Freeze Food inspired a few more questions. Rather than extend an already long article, this is the second installment on freezer tips.

Can you do a post on freezing leftovers? I’m a single gal, and while I do cut down most recipes, sometimes I have a couple stuffed chicken breasts or some steak left over. Do you just put it in the freezer in a tupperware container? Is there a better way – even if it’s gooey (like my stuffed chicken breast)? Any help would be super-appreciated!

I highly recommend freezing for singles and couples as in the long run it requires a little bit of planning to ensure food doesn’t go to waste, but it can be a more efficient use of time and labor. Say you make a pot of chili. Use the freezing soup method I outlined in yesterday’s post on freezing. But, when you do it freeze it do so in both meal size and topping size portions. Why? Chili isn’t just great as a meal, it’s awesome on: baked potatoes, omelets, cheeseburgers, or even hashbrowns. You’ve just expanded your future menu possibilities.

Instead of labeling leftovers with the date it is added to the freezer, consider labeling it with a USE BY DATE.

Many leftovers can be frozen, some will not retain the quality they had, others are hardly affected at all.

As with all foods, freeze as quickly as possible and try to ensure it has as little contact with air as possible. Use freezer-safe containers, foil, freezer paper, or freezer zipper bags.

The biggest factor in texture deterioration has to do with water and fat content. If the ice crystals in some sauces, cheeses, and even starches, like mashed potatoes, form too slowly the crystals become too large and break the existing food structure. This is why mashed potatoes can become watery, cheese texture changes, and cream sauces often break. Sometimes this doesn’t matter and sometimes it can be quite disappointing. So, before tripling your favorite recipe, experiment freezing a small portion. Do you like the results? Great, go ahead and freeze it more in the future.

Is the 3 months or so a rule that works for everything? Or are there guidelines depending on the item? ie. can fish be stored as long as a soup or casserole? Also, can you use inexpensive plastic containers to freeze in or even small CorningWare dishes?

Three months or ninety days is a pretty standard rule of thumb for “short term freezing,” but as commenter Tinkerschnitzel pointed out the USDA has a handy chart for quality of frozen foods. Other factors include how often your freezer is opened. If the door is opened frequently it may rise about the freezing point causing the outermost parts of food to thaw and refreeze which can significantly and adversely affect the texture of your foods.

For longterm freezing in a deepfreeze the guidelines are not safety but quality. If the temperature stays at 0°F microbes cannot grow. The worst that will happen is the food will dry out and become susceptible to freezer burn which isn’t a safety issue, merely a quality issue.

Only freeze in containers labelled freezer-safe. If the containers aren’t labelled they may become brittle and shatter.

Freezer safe plastic containers are fine for freezer storage, if they are filled properly. If there is a lot of air, the quality won’t be the same and if they are filled too full, they may crack or the lid may pop off. Ever cleaned plastic shards and food out of your freezer? It’s not quite as fun as an exploded soda can, but close.

CorningWare™ advertises or it use to, that it could go straight from the freezer to the oven. So, the answer is yes. Just make sure that the food is tightly covered. If you only have one or two CorningWare dishes, line it with foil before cooking, freeze, then pop the food out, wrap, and store. Then you have a dish sized meal ready to go.

Usually when I buy meat, I freeze it in indiviudal portions so I don’t end up defrosting 4 lbs of ground meat to make 2 burgers. But sometimes, especially with steaks since they usually come 1 or 2 to a package, I just freeze in the container, but I still put it in a freezer bag first. Is that ok, or should I take the meat out of the packaging, wrap in saran wrap, and then freeze in the bags?

As long as you remove as much as as possible from the zippered freezer bag, your method is fine. The styrofoam tray won’t hurt anything, the issue is the thin plastic overwrap. It is very susceptible to punctures and tears and may allow air to come in contact with the meat. Again, it’s not a safety, but a quality issue.

Good luck!

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Comments

  1. This is great info. I'm hoping to invest in a 'deep-freeze' chest freezer soon so I will be buying and freezing a lot more. I also joined Costco last weekend, so if I get the chest feezer I can take advantage of some of their deals on meat.

    I have another question though. My mom always taught me that when I freeze in plastic containers, I should put a sheet of plastic wrap between the container & the lid of the container. This was specifically done when we made homemade spaghetti sauce, because you make a ton of it and normally don't use it all at once. Does that really make a difference?

    • I've heard of that too, although the context was ice cream. I think it's intended to keep ice crystals from forming on top and ruining it. :-)

      • Well there's two reasons for it. Anna is right, having the plastic on the surface can help prevent the formation of large ice crystals, but it is also to create a sealed top instead of the gap that would normally exist in a plastic container.

  2. I live alone and always buy meat and such in bulk when it is on sale. I have a kitchen scale so I can measure everything out to portions just for me. When I get to the farmers market and buy bulk veggies, I blanch then flash freeze on a cookie sheet. Then I put them in freezer bags that I wash and re-use. I also weigh out hamburg to 4 oz. or 8 oz for a casserole, depends on what Im planning to do with it. I also make my own broth, soup and chili. For this I have gone to my local chinese resturant and ordered egg drop soup to go. The containers are sturdy and suit my needs. That is what I use for my stock and such. I could go on about freezing but I only have so much room here. I wish I knew how to can my food, but alas..I can only freeze for now.

  3. Heather – thank you for this post! I'm always so excited when someone addresses my comments. Thanks for the tips on freezing. Now if only I could figure out how to have enough freezer space for leftovers along with my uncooked 'waiting to be used' food…