Tips & Techniques

How to Make Your Freezer Work For You

January 24, 2018

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I’m no freezer expert. In fact, my freezer is empty save a few ice packs, a plastic bag I fill with vegetable scraps and make into stock every month or so, and a pretty much empty pint of ice cream (who left that there?). But in an effort to change the way I cook, I'm trying out new suggestions, tips, and recommendations to improve and refine my cooking game. This week's newsletter (you've signed up, right?) is all about using your freezer to its maximum capacity, so I set out to see how much I could actually transform in just a week's time.

First, I took everything out of the freezer to give myself a fresh start. I polished off the ice cream and emptied the vegetables scraps I’d collected into a stock pot, covered them with water, and set the whole operation on medium heat. Next, I turned to the newsletter for some advice. Sarah Jampel, who pens each weekly edition, most definitely knows a thing or two about freezing. Something that really jumped out at me: “Freeze flat. It’s a great way to save space and decrease thaw time. Pour your liquid into an upright freezer bag, seal it nearly all the way, then carefully tip the bag onto its side, press the air out of the opening, and freeze. Stack your frozen bags like folded sweaters, or turn them on their sides, like a record collection.” The simile made me smile, so I gave it a try.

In my fridge I noticed some particularly forlorn looking lentil leftovers. (Three days ago, they’d been great—salty and stewy with punchy tomatoes and a silky thread of coconut milk—but after lunching on them for days in a row, a conscious uncoupling was in order.) I poured them into a plastic bag per Sarah’s instructions, laid them flat in my freezer, and sharpie on a date before the outside gets too icy. I'll come back to these at a future date, when those flavors don't feel all too familiar. It felt counterintuitive to freeze them in a bag, and not the expected tupperware, but an hour or two later, I understood the magic of Sarah’s advice: The lentils had frozen into a stiff board. It looked funny, but it was also so convenient. They slid right onto the bottom of my freezer and took up little space.

By this point, the vegetable stock that had be simmering away on the stove was good to go. So I strained out those veggies, let the amber liquid cool, and poured myself a mug for good measure. Then I used a classic Food52-approved trick and filled some ice trays with my stock. These are awesome for quick use and bring a convenient depth to a winter soup or rice. I pop them out individually as I cook, only thawing just enough at a time. It works with pesto, ragu, even caramelized onions—most big batch items with multiple uses. I made a mental note to do this more often.

Last, I looked at the week ahead and planned my dinners. Sarah recommends chopping vegetables and freezing them for use at a later date. I’m into the idea, so I roughly chopped up an onion, some carrots, and a few stalks of celery. It’s a safe bet that I’ll use these for something down the line, so I threw it all in a bag and called it a day.

I assessed. After starting with an empty freezer, I’ve ended up with a pretty good selection:

-A homemade stock in individual cubes. I’ll melt a few down later this week when I make this Smoky Minestrone I’ve been meaning to try.

-Two or three servings of lentil soup. These might sit in the freezer for a bit and that’s OK! I’ll thaw and serve when the time is right.

-All the makings for a mirepoix. Now that I’ve got my vegetables all chopped it shouldn’t be too hard if I’m hit with a sudden hankering for a bolognese down the line. Maybe I’ll even try this vegan version.

Not bad for someone who started off the day eating old ice cream.

How do you fill your freezer? Let us know your go-to tips in the comments.

15 Comments

tammany February 16, 2018
Like Alix, I freeze beans. In fact, I make a pound of beans to freeze them. Suddenly beans for dinner = almost instant food! (Marcella's White Bean soup for instance? 15 minutes to dinner!) And I actually make my soffrito (I mean I cook it) and freeze in little logs, ready to slice off however much needed. I learned that amazing trick from Carla Tomasi, who is a freezer *genius*!
 
Nancy February 20, 2018
Would love to hear more about your Sofrito, if you are willing to share! What do you put into it, what do you use it for? I am a decent cook, but unfamiliar with this.
 
tammany February 20, 2018
Hi Nancy! My soffritto just the basic Italian trinity (more or less the same as mirepoix or Spanish sofrito) of carrots, celery, and onions. I cook slowly in plenty of oil, cool, then "log" it. When I need some for whatever recipe (esp when I just need a tbsp or two for a sauce or a bean dish or whatever), I slice it off and plot the chunk in the pan. I esp like this because it's a way to use up the celery. I always have waaaaaay to much of it and it lingers in the fridge unpleasantly. This way I can chop it up with its friends and use it!
 
Nancy February 20, 2018
That is awesome! Is it difficult to slice? Usually I am making soup when I make this "holy trinity" and need a fair amount, and might freeze it in water or stock in 2 cup freezer containers. But this is an awesome idea, and I will tuck that away. I also will have to look up Carla Tomasi. I have had a friend say that if there is every an apocalypse, she is coming to my house and to help me eat food from my freezer! I love freezing tips, so thank you.
 
tammany February 20, 2018
Not at all, but then I also chop pretty fine and use a LOT of oil:) I follow Carla on Instagram. She is a genius - and so generous with her knowledge. I highly recommend checking out her feed!
 
arcane54 February 8, 2018
I make a big batch of polpettini (tiny little turkey meatballs) and freeze them in bags. They’re great for quick dinners with pasta, in broth or for a tiny meatball sandwich. I use the library method too and have found that by creating an indentation in the bag with a wooden spoon (for semi-solid items like bulk breakfast sausage or chorizo), I find the frozen block will break cleanly along the indents. That way I don’t have to thaw more than I need.
 
mela February 1, 2018
For individual freezer portions of cooked soups etc, I freeze 1-cup plastic freezer containers until solid, then flip the one-cup pucks of soup etc into gallon ziploc bags. Each gallon bag holds 8 cups. As they're lying flat in two layers - this configuration precisely fills the bag - storage is flat. It's easy to use as much as you want, and also important to me, the bags are easy to wash and reuse because there's only a hint of food residue in the empty bags. <br />I make individual frozen pucks of other things too - Silver Palate's pre-cooked peaches for a cobbler converts into the most wonderful individual peach cups, thawed and reheated with some crisp topping. (My crisp topping recipe is from Alice Waters, also. She suggests making extra and freezing.) <br />
 
mela February 1, 2018
Should be a full stop after Alice Waters....
 
Mary W. January 28, 2018
I keep a Grain Bank of whole grains divided into portion sizes. Freezing flat makes all the difference in space utilization!
 
Tryumph January 25, 2018
When my garden is overproducing peppers, I just cut them up, put them on a sheet pan to freeze and then pop them in quart bags to use later. I also freeze pierogis and empanadas the same way. They are time consuming to make, and it pays to make extra and have a ready meal. I find the greatest appliance on my counter is a vacuum sealer. Worth it weigh in gold. Not only does it remove the air, which is foods enemy, but it takes up less freezer space on items that you freeze. I buy large packages of protein ( when its on sale) and portion out dinner amounts and vacuum seal them.
 
Nancy January 25, 2018
Have a deep freeze that I love. I can have even company in an instant. I love the plastic quart containers for stock and soups. I collect bread pans from rummage sales and put portions of stuffed peppers or lasagna in them, usually serves 2. I make quarts of homemade applesauce in the fall. I freeze chicken bones from rotisserie chickens, ready to make into stock. I bake cookies, and love to wrap everything in the freezer in a product called Freeze Tite for extra protection. I put into those 1 quart containers BBQ beef that I made in the crock pot. I make double of sloppy joes made from ground turkey, or portions of ground turkey made into lettuce wrap fillings. Why cook for one meal, when you can make a double batch or triple batch for easy meals. I also love to make meatballs, turkey meatballs, Greek meatballs, whatever - and often marinara sauce. I freeze in 1 quart containers larger batches of granola (recently made from Food 52 the Peanut Butter granola, but make other recipes. Cant live without my freezer!
 
Alix D. January 24, 2018
When I'm cooking beans in the pressure cooker, I add more than I need and freeze the rest in 1-2 cup bags-- chickpeas for dal become hummus later, black beans for soup become burgers..
 
Erica J. January 24, 2018
I love to freeze portions of rice. Rice takes a while to cook, so I make a big batch every time. Let it cool, portion out into baggies and freeze flat. It doesn't get crunchy like rice in the fridge, and I've always got some ready for a quick fried rice or side dish on nights when I've got limited time.
 
Alix D. January 24, 2018
I do that too, it's great!
 
Marilyn January 24, 2018
On the frozen mirepoix - once you use it once or twice, you will wonder how you ever lived without it. Several years ago, I grabbed a few containers (think quart-sized takeout soups). Into the first, I chopped a few onions, in the second, carrots, the third celery. Now, on a weeknight when I'm tired and cranky (or on a weekend when I forgot to buy fresh carrots), I heat a little oil and within minutes my soup, sauce, ragu - etc, etc, etc - is well underway. On the flip side, this is a great way to use the half an onion or rib of celery which is dying in the pantry/fridge - chop and freeze in the waiting container.<br />Some people always know that when they open their freezer they are guaranteed to find a quart of vodka or a pint of ice cream. I know I'll always find a mirepoix, which is sometimes the difference between soup for dinner and cereal.