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Can You Freeze the Humble Spud?

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There are some things—like washing and ironing linens, making sure you have enough booze to get you through dinner, and stocking up on cranberries—that are best done well in advance of Thanksgiving Day, while other things (making the turkey, baking the pies) are better off slotted in day of.

But where does the mighty potato fall?

Photo by Mark Weinberg

As tempting as it is to get ahead on every little aspect of Thanksgiving dinner (is your freezer packed to the gills with the things you already thought to make?), it may be worth finding time to get your potato-making in on Thursday. Sad as it is, potatoes just don't freeze well.

When I asked our test kitchen team, Josh Cohen and Allison Bruns Buford, if they'd had luck freezing potatoes, both grimaced as though I'd asked them their thoughts on storing tomatoes in the fridge. In Josh's experience trying to freeze a batch of uncooked potato latkes, the potatoes quickly oxidized and turned black.

Allison had never tried it, but anticipated that freezing potatoes would result in either oxidation, an odd post-thaw texture, or both. The water in a potato will expand when frozen and contract when thawed, which can make for a gluey or otherwise strange-textured end result. Best to just make your spuds fresh, Allison and Josh agreed.

Photo by James Ransom

But if you really, really, really want to get Thanksgiving's potatoes out of the way...

  • Cook the potatoes—but let the prep stop there. Up to two days ahead, bake or boil them whole or in pieces, then put them in an airtight container and refrigerate until Thanksgiving day, at which point you can take the cooked potatoes and proceed with your recipe as written. Reheat them slowly. This technique is best for mashed potatoes, whether you're heating them on the stove or mashing and baking them.
  • Small cubes of potato will be okay frozen in soup. But a potato-leek soup, or any other soup where potatoes are puréed, won't freeze as well.
  • If you're preparing potatoes for French fries (hey, why not!), cut them to the desired shape and then drop the potatoes into a pot of hot oil very briefly—about a minute. Fish out the potatoes, pat them dry, and freeze on a cookie sheet until firm. Then, remove them from the cookie sheet and store in a freezer bag. When it's time to eat them, fry or bake them from frozen as you would if they were fresh.
  • If you want to freeze a batch of latkes, fry them as you normally would, drain them well, and let them firm up on a cookie sheet in the freezer before transferring to a freezer bag. Reheat them (from frozen) on a cookie sheet in a hot oven.
  • Delegate the potato dish (or one of them, at least) to one of your Thanksgiving guests.

Have you ever had success—or any disasters—freezing potatoes? Share your tips in the comments.

Automagic Thanksgiving Menu Maker!
Automagic Thanksgiving Menu Maker!

Tags: Potato, Thanksgiving, Holiday, Make Ahead, Tips & Techniques, Holiday Entertaining