Tips & Techniques

5 Useful Things You Should Keep in Your Freezer

December 16, 2014

In honor of the holidays and the Genius Recipes cookbook pre-sale, we're asking some of the geniuses in question about their favorite things.

Today: Melissa Clark -- cookbook author and New York Times columnist -- shows us how to cook better, by freezing smarter.

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My freezer is a strange and wonderful place, filled with the ends of some happy food memories and the beginnings of others. I say, freeze liberally -- even a few tablespoons of leftover stew can be repurposed into a fantastic base for a pasta sauce a month later when there's nothing in the house for dinner.

The trick is to remember what you've got in there, and to rotate things often. If you haven't used it in 3 months, toss it and make room for something else. And always, always label everything. It's amazing just how much your leftover black bean chili can resemble chocolate sauce if you're rifling through unmarked containers when a chocolate craving hits.

Here's a peek at my current inventory:

1. Animal fats of all kinds. Chicken fat and skin packed into a ziplock plastic bag for making into schmaltz, naturally. Leaf lard for pie crusts, bacon fat for gingerbread cookies. Leftover brown butter.

2. Heirloom tomatoes in a plastic bag leftover from summer. I thought about canning them, then gave up. I will use them for soup or stew at some point in the depths of winter when I'm desperate for summer.

3. Kaffir lime leaves. Buy them fresh, store them frozen.

4. Bones: A ham bone for soup. A picked-pretty-clean leftover roasted chicken carcass for broth. A prime rib bone waiting patiently for a hungry dog.

5. Freshly milled emmer flour from the farmers market because it keeps better there.

Tell us: What useful things are stashed in your freezer right now?

Photos by James Ransom


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Melissa Clark writes about cuisine and other products of appetite. After brief forays working as a cook in a restaurant kitchen, and as a caterer out of her fifth floor walk-up, Clark decided upon a more sedentary path. She earned an M.F.A. in writing from Columbia University, and began a freelance food writing career. Currently, she is a food columnist for the New York Times, and has written for Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Every Day with Rachel Ray, and Martha Stewart, amongst others. All told, Clark has written over 30 cookbooks. Clark was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, where she now lives with her husband, Daniel Gercke, their preschool daughter Dahlia, and their formerly cosseted cat.


luvcookbooks August 3, 2017
I learned from Marie Viljoen of 66 Square Feet that makrut lime is a better name for the lime leaves. The other word is a racial epithet.
Kenn February 15, 2015
My freezer is usually half full of jars of whey (leftover from making fresh mozzarella and provolone). I use the whey in place of water or buttermilk in baked goods. It lends an incredible depth of flavor and richness to just about any recipe. It can also be used to make fresh ricotta.

The other half of the freezer is packed with a variety of meats and game and a grizzly collection of bones and carcasses for making stock. Some pate brisee, roasted green chiles, a variety of fresh frozen veggies, nut flours, and masa. And ice cream sandwiches. There will always be ice cream sandwiches.
tamater S. January 12, 2015
Melissa Clarks' NYT videos are wonderful. If you haven't seen them yet, I urge you to go there.
Rae December 27, 2014
I keep Green Chili. Bought at the farmer's market at the height of the season. I roast it and then chop into small bits. They can then be broken off into the amount needed for the dish. Long green chili (Big Jim's) are frozen whole for rellenos. Easy and quick for great spice.
Sharon December 28, 2014
Great! I do the same thing. Let me pass this one along. My local Mexican produce market frequently bags up heaps of various chile peppers that are about to go bad and sells them for $1.00 a bag. Great bargain. I scoop them up, cut & seed them and lay them flat on a baking sheet. I leave them in my gas oven for a about 24 hours while the heat from the pilot light dries them out completely. They should be brittle. I let them cool then whirl them to a powder in my spice grinder and store the powder in a jar, This works especially well with pasilla (poblano) chiles, and makes the best darn green chile powder I've EVER tasted in my life. Try it!
Sharon December 24, 2014
I LOVE the way you think....just like me! My freezer is a treasure trove and I never throw ANYTHING out. My family thinks I'm nuts and a pack rat, but they simply swoon over every repast. The tiniest bit of leftover "anything" can be just the flavor punch needed to perk up an otherwise "so-so" dish. This has always been the secret to my plate-licking-good food. Oh, and no bones, shellfish shells, or the tiniest bit of sauce, gravy or fat of any kind should ever be thrown out. Freeze coconut milk in ice trays then store the cubes in plastic containers. This is, quite simply, Cooking 101!
Frank December 22, 2014
I'm not too sure what it is.......but I bet I bought it on sale.
tamater S. January 11, 2015
Thanks for the laugh!
I've done everything everyone else here does, including UFOs (unidentified frozen objects). That doesn't happen so much since I started buying better quality freezer tape for labelling.
Zoe's G. December 21, 2014
All summer I cook fresh green beans with leftover (frozen in ziploc freezer bags) ham skin, fat and trimmings, and strain and freeze the broth afterwards - my freezer has a bunch of gallon ziploc bags full of this broth. It's a great start to a vegetable soup, and you don't need to add any meat. Also chicken stock from carcasses, ginger knobs bought fresh & frozen (easy to peel and shred or chop), rye, almond & whole wheat flours, bulk yeast, homemade tomato sauce, leftover tomato paste, bacon ends, parm rinds, bags of corn, peas & green beans, 1/2 pound cooked white beans, a number of bags of ham trimmings and two whole hambones, 3 kinds of chocolate chips, 2 pork tenderloins (sale), 8 chicken thighs (sale), 4 ice cream sandwiches (gluttony) and various packets of ground beef, ground pork and ground lamb.
Kt4 December 21, 2014
Never give cooked bones from any animal to your dogs please. Very dangerous for many reasons! However, I do keep raw turkey & chicken necks frozen for the dogs to munch outside on hot days.
I cook 5 pounds of shallots on red wine and maybe some port until they are dry and freeze them in heaping tablespoon portions. They make almost any quick cook dish richer and more interesting and keep for a very long time. They would be great added to Melissa's tomatoes.
suzy December 18, 2014
Nuts and flours, homemade chorizo and Italian sausage, excess pasta dough and pie crust dough, some smoked pork shoulder, several different BBQ sauces. Oh, and roasted, pureed squash of various types. Thanks for reminding me of all the great stuff I've already got!
Priscilla L. December 18, 2014
Right now, 20 pounds of lard that I need to render. Chicken stock, frozen in pint jars. Pureed pumpkin, also frozen in pint jars. Various whole-grain flours.
Danita D. December 18, 2014
Blanched and peeled whole tomatoes, whole tomatillos, homemade tomatillo sauce, leftover chicken noodle soup, pesto, periogies, pumpkin puree, frozen fruit and veggies. Some of the comments on this post have given me some great ideas.
ChezHenry December 17, 2014
Stocks of all kind, Falafel (i bake them straight from the freezer for lunch pita), various flours, nuts, pesto, soups, cookie doughs, pastry dough-puff, pate brisee, filo; bananas awaiting 4 friends for banana bread.
amysarah December 17, 2014
Right now, there are some things typically on hand and some are the by-product of Thanksgiving/other recent holiday festivities: turkey stock; 1/2 bag raw cranberries; bag of parmigiano rinds; raw walnuts, almonds and cashews; surplus Parker House roll dough (to be repurposed for Xmas dinner); flaked coconut; 1/2 package Chinese sausages; pancetta; brown sugar; assorted muffins (a few each blueberry/oatmeal, pumpkin/cranberry streusel & choc chip coconut); Kerry Gold butter (sale at Costco, bought a bunch); hamburger rolls; one chorizo; bag of frozen peas - always; ricotta gnocchi - always make 2X what's needed; partial bag of shrimp/pork/leek pot stickers. There are also various other odds & ends, but you get the idea.
David N. December 17, 2014
Homemade stocks of all kinds: Chicken, beef, tonkatsu, 2 kinds of vegetable. Also Clarified Butter.
KiraSmith December 17, 2014
Bacon fat is always a great thing to have around!
heatheranne December 17, 2014
Homemade chicken and vegetable broth, cooked beans, washed and cut up celery and leeks (just recently discovered this and it is a great tip!), lemon/lime juice and zest if I think my lemons and limes aren't going to make it till the next dish, soffritto frozen in oil in ice cube trays, my own vegetable bouillon paste mix, breadcrumbs, pesto, all sorts of fruit (some of which I froze myself from summer, some bought), buttermilk, heavy cream, leftover milk...I think that's most of the staples! I've learned you can pretty much stick anything in the freezer, which cuts down on a lot of waste.
Lindsay M. December 17, 2014
cooked beans (chickpeas, black beans, white beans), washed and cut up celery, washed and cut up leeks, a very large variety of raw, unsalted nuts.
Jellly December 17, 2014
Whole lemons. They are easy to zest and easy to juice.
phyllis December 17, 2014
Parmesan cheese rinds, bread crumbs, pestos, pasta sauce.
Freda G. January 7, 2015
What do you make with Parmesan cheese rinds?
tamater S. January 11, 2015
A lot of people use them in soup making stock. It's heaven, used in minestrone. Some places sell the rinds for less than you'd pay for the more grateable parts of the cheese, (parm of other hard cheeses) but sadly, I can't get them in this rural area. I'm sure we've had threads on it here.
tamater S. January 11, 2015
I just searched Food 52, typed in "parmesan cheese rinds" and clicked "articles" and clicked on the magnifying glass. Some very cool stuff came up!