Cooking School

Freezing food: A how-to guide

Photo by Jeff Coulson/TC Media Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photo by Jeff Coulson/TC Media

Cooking School

Freezing food: A how-to guide

How to freeze food
To avoid freezer burn, use airtight storage containers or large bags that are designed for the freezer.

Leave about 1 inch (2.5 cm) headspace for food to expand when frozen.

Let hot cooked dishes cool in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before freezing.

When applicable (such as for soups or stews), freeze food in small portions, using 1- to 2-cup containers, to ensure that it freezes quickly. Plus, the containers are convenient to pull from the freezer for meal-size portions.

Label and date the food, and check the freezer regularly for items that have been forgotten at the back.

Always thaw items in the refrigerator before you plan to use them. Never thaw foods at room temperature.

Thawed dishes are misleading when it comes to heating, especially hearty pasta dishes, because they usually take much longer than expected. Allow plenty of heating time, double-checking by inserting a knife into the centre then feeling the temperature of the blade. The deeper the dish, the longer the heating time.

Storage tips for freezable foods

To run efficiently, your freezer should be at least three-quarters full, leaving space for air to circulate.

Label and mark all items to be frozen with best-before dates. Rotate them in the freezer, moving those with the longest storage time to the back.

To save space, ladle soups and stews into resealable bags; seal, lay flat and stack in the freezer.

How to freeze soups and stews
A stash of soup in the freezer pays great dividends for busy households. Unless a recipe has specific instructions, here's how to guarantee great results:

To cool soup or stew quickly, place pot in sink filled with ice water. Transfer to airtight 
freezer containers or bags once completely cooled.

Thaw in refrigerator before reheating. Once thawed, soups or stews should be eaten within several days. They should never be refrozen.

Reheating the same dish several times can overly concentrate flavours, causing soup to separate and/or pose a food safety risk. To avoid this, freeze in individual portions or reheat only as much as needed.

Pasta, rice and grains can expand enormously, absorbing most of the liquid (and getting mushy) when refrigerated and frozen. Cook starchy additions separately while reheating the soup or stew, then add them just before serving.

Creamy soups (those containing cream, milk or other dairy products) do not freeze well because milk products often separate, becoming watery and curdled once thawed and reheated. To make a creamy soup ahead of time, prepare and freeze the soup base up to the point when cream is added, then add the cream when reheating.

"Cream of" soups (those puréed without dairy products and thickened with potato or flour) generally freeze well.

To preserve fresh flavours and textures of garnishes (such as 
chopped fresh herbs, shredded cheese and crumbled cooked bacon), add them to individual portions just before serving.
How to freeze casseroles
Unless otherwise instructed in the recipe, follow these helpful guidelines for safe freezing.

For freezable casseroles (and the minimum number of dishes in your freezer), line baking dishes with heavy-duty foil before filling. Follow the recipe, stopping before baking; let cool completely. Once frozen, lift block out using foil as handles.

Rewrap block tightly in plastic wrap or foil then overwrap in heavy-duty foil or place in freezer bag, pressing out air and sealing.

To use, unwrap and return frozen block to same baking dish. Cover and thaw in refrigerator for up to 48 hours, depending on density of the food.

Bake according to instructions, adding about 15 minutes to cooking time. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

If recipe calls for 13- x 9-inch (3 L) baking dish, you can use two 8-inch (2 L) square baking dishes and freeze two meals for four instead of one that serves eight.

How to freeze sauces
When making tomato or barbecue sauce, double the recipe, since sauces freeze wonderfully. Unless otherwise specified in the recipe, follow these tips:

To cool sauce quickly, place pot of sauce in sink filled with ice water.

Transfer to meal-size airtight freezer containers or bags once cooled completely. Use clean ice cube trays to freeze portions of pesto, pizza sauce and other sauces that are used in small batches.

Thaw in refrigerator before reheating. Once thawed, sauces should be eaten within several days. They should never be refrozen.

How to freeze pastries
Depending on the filling, pies can be frozen baked or unbaked. Unless otherwise instructed in the recipe, use these handy tips for the best frozen pies:

Egg-based dishes, such as quiches or stratas, are best frozen after baking. Follow recipe to end and let cool completely. Wrap in plastic wrap or foil and overwrap in heavy-duty foil. To use, thaw in refrigerator. Reheat in 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) oven for about 20 minutes.

Meat pies, pot pies and other savoury pastries are best frozen before baking. Follow recipe, stopping before baking; brush top with egg or milk wash and let cool completely. Wrap in plastic wrap or foil and overwrap in heavy-duty 
foil. To use, thaw in refrigerator. Bake according to instructions.
                                        
This article is a part of Canadian Living's Special Freezer-Friendly Meals Edition 2013.
            
Purchase your copy of our special issue today!
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Cooking School

Freezing food: A how-to guide

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