Thursday, November 25, 2010

The golden rules of freezing

As I’m often asked about freezing I thought it was high time I posted a summary of the tips and tricks I’ve picked up over many years cooking and eating.

Why freeze?
~ Freezing will preserve flavour, colour, texture and nutritional value as long as foods are frozen frozen fresh and in good condition
~ Great way to store leftovers and avoid waste
~ Out-of-season produce is available all year
~ Food bacteria stops growing (note: freezing won’t kill bacteria but does stop it growing)
~ Partial freezing of meat or fish makes it easier to slice, eg carpaccio

Why not?
~ Organisation is required for defrosting; frozen food normally stored in the fridge should be defrosted in the fridge
~ Some foods will spoil, eg food with high salt like ham or high sugar like jam can be watery when defrosted

What should I freeze?
~ Liquid based dishes – such as stock, soup, sauces and casseroles
~ Berries – such as strawberries (place in a single layer on a baking tray to open freeze, when frozen transfer to container and return to freezer)
~ Muffins, cakes and slices – double wrap (plastic and foil) and store in a plastic bag
~ Egg whites – try individually in an ice-cube tray
~ Meat – remove from butcher’s packing and wrap portions separately in plastic wrap
~ Mince – in a plastic bag and flattened to allow for even defrosting
~ Nuts – stops them becoming rancid
~ Ice-cream – cover surface with plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn
~ Pastry – make sure it is well wrapped

What shouldn’t I freeze?
~ Vegetables with high water, eg asparagus and most salad vegetables
~ Jam could go runny due to high sugar
~ Dairy products may curdle
~ Egg-based sauces such as bearnaise will separate
~ Egg yolks will be dry
~ Stuffed foods as raw meat juice will be absorbed by the stuffing and could cause bacteria to grow

What about packing?
~ Label and date food
~ Remove all air from wrapping material
~ Leave between 2cm and 5cm at the top of the container when freezing liquid foods as they will expand
~ Pack food loosely or open freeze first and then package for easy defrosting, eg cooked meatballs
~ Pack food into quantities that suit your lifestyle, eg don’t freeze stock in 2L containers when cooking for one or two
~ Cool all cooked food before packing for the freezer

How long can I freeze food?
Raw meat
Beef mince - 3 months
Beef steaks & roasts - 6 months
Veal mince - 3 months
Lamb mince - 3-6 months
Lamb cutlets, chops & roasts
Pork mince - 2 months
Pork chops & roasts - 3-6 months
Bacon & prosciutto - 1 month
Meat sausages - 3 months

Raw poultry
Mince - 3 months
Chicken pieces - 6 months
Whole chicken - 12 months
Duck - 3 months

Raw seafood
White fish fillets - 6 months
Oily fish (salmon / trout) - 2 months
Shellfish - 2 months

Cooked / prepared foods
Beef & lamb casseroles - 3 months
Pork casseroles - 1 month
Vegetarian casseroles - 6 months
Cooked and shelled prawns - 1 month
Cooked leftover meats - 2 months
Soups - 4 months
Fresh pasta - 3 months

Baked goods
Cakes - 4 months
Pancakes & crepes - 2 months
Bread - 8 months
Pastries - 8 months
Muffins - 12 months
Fruit cakes - 12 months
Pies - 4 months

Dairy products
Butter, salted - 12 months
Butter, unsalted - 3 months
Firm cheeses, such as cheddar - 3 months
Egg whites - 3 months

How do I thaw food?
~ Foods with low moisture content – such as cakes, muffins and biscuits – are best thawed wrapped in their freezer packaging at room temperature
~ Foods for a medium moisture content – such as fresh pasta and frozen bread – can be reheated / cooked immediately
~ Foods with a high moisture content – such as meat and fruit – should be thawed in the fridge to prevent bacteria growth

Quick summary
~ Freeze foods as soon as possible
~ Pack and wrap food properly, making sure to avoid air as this can cause freezer burn
~ Don’t forgot to affix a label with the date and contents
~ Be aware of what is in your freezer to avoid having to discard food past its freezer use-by date
~ For best results, take note of thawing instructions above

Lastly, the good news is that it is more energy efficient to keep a full freezer as less power is needed to circulate cold air and accordingly keep food frozen.

Happy freezing.

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