There is no question that freezing food is a blessing. But understanding how to freeze food properly can be a little overwhelming.
For years, I wondered if freezing was really safe. I’d heard stories about the potential dangers of preserving foods. So much so I shied away. When I did freeze something, I’d look at it suspiciously as if the process had turned the food into something toxic, and more often than not I’d throw it away.
I realize it was a bit extreme. The truth was I really didn’t understand the process of preserving foods and words like “food poisoning,” “salmonella,” and “botulism” terrified me. That fear came out of my making assumptions with little actual knowledge. Does that sound familiar?
When I started learning more about the process, I discovered that freezing wasn’t so difficult. With some facts, I realized it wasn’t any more dangerous than anything else in the kitchen, and at that point, everything changed.
Let me start with some basic facts:
Freeze foods when they are at their peak.
Freezing can pause the deterioration process, but it cannot improve the quality of the food you are freezing.
Refrigerating foods prevents bacteria from growing. It is important to not let your ingredients sit out in the open for long periods of time. It’s okay to take food out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature before cooking, but doing so for hours isn’t safe.
The best way to thaw food is to place it in the refrigerator overnight, or let it thaw in a bath of cold water.
One of the benefits of freezing is that while the food is frozen the bacteria are inactive.
Some basic freezing techniques:
Consider how you are going to serve the food you are making and the portion size you are going to use: individual or family-size. Thawing only the amount you need is the best way to avoid wasting food.
Make sure to use freezer-safe containers or bags that are airtight and moisture-resistant. For items that won’t fit into containers like pies, I wrap them in parchment paper, then plastic wrap to keep the air out, and finally I wrap them completely in foil. That way I’m sure no air will get in and spoil all my hard work.
Remove as much air as possible before sealing. Excess air in the container will cause freezer burn. That’s when air dehydrates the outer layers of your food causing it to become discolored and tasteless.
Label everything that goes into your freezer. I use masking tape and a sharpie to put the name and date on everything I freeze. This isn’t optional. It is the only way to keep your freezer organized and not let it turn into a black hole of unidentifiable blobs.
I always think I’ll remember but once the food is frozen, everything looks the same.
Use the first-in, first-out rule to make certain everything you defrost is at its best when you use it.
Keeping your freezer cold is also essential to keeping food at its best:
Make sure your freezer is set to 0°F (-18°C) or below to ensure that all the food stays frozen.
Cool all your cooked food completely before placing it in the freezer. Hot or warm food can raise the temperature inside your freezer and cause other foods to begin to thaw.
Don’t overload your freezer. Freezing large quantities of food simultaneously can also raise your freezer temperature.
And finally, I’ve always heard that once thawed you cannot refreeze meat. But that isn’t necessarily true. If raw or cooked food is thawed in the refrigerator and kept at 40º, it is safe to refreeze without cooking or heating. Keep in mind that there may be a loss of quality due to the moisture loss through thawing. As I said before, if food is left at room temperature you are giving toxins a chance to grow and that is something freezing cannot fix.
Following these basic rules will help maintain the quality, taste, and safety of frozen foods. Remember to use your best judgment and discard any food that shows signs of spoilage or has been in the freezer beyond the recommended storage time.
In next week’s post, I’ll discuss the foods you should avoid freezing and the recommended times to freeze foods without loss of flavor.
Thank you, to everyone who wished me well as I was fighting a summer cold. I'm glad to say I'm feeling much better. :)
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Le Kitchen Cookbook
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by Adeline M. Olmer
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