For many people, the freezer is just a stop-gap for food on the way to the bin. Packs of badly-wrapped, half-used-up sausages, at-sell-by-date ready meals and random unmarked freezer bags full of mystery sauce are just some of the things that get bunged in the freezer with good intentions but then binned once a big clear out comes. But used wisely your freezer can be a brilliant way to save not only waste but time and money.
Your freezer is also invaluable for make ahead meals. It can save you and your family a lot of time, and also opens the door to cooking in bulk. Give our ‘freezer dump bag’ suggestion a go, too – it’s a readymade slow cooker kit, and doesn’t take that much room up in the freezer. This feature includes a freezer meal recipe.
Cook for a crowd
Double or triple your favourite curry, chilli or pasta sauce then weigh out and freeze in portions. That way you only have to cook once but get to eat three or four times.
When you’ve got time on a weekend have a root through the freezer and stick a post it note on front, reminding you what to pull out that week. If it helps, designate days like pasta Mondays, curry Thursdays, so you have a constant turnover of meals. If the freezer is looking low, plan a big cook-up for one day to restock.
Most freezer bags have a panel for writing the contents on – use it! You are so much more likely to eat what’s in the bag if you can see the recipe and when it was made. Also remember to add how many you think it will serve – no one likes mini portions.
You’ll be more likely to use something if you’ve prepped it to the point where you can cook with it so peel and cut left-over veg into pieces and, if you’re freezing left-over cooked or raw meat, cut it into chunks or strips first before bagging so you can defrost it more quickly and evenly, ready to be added to sauces or stir-fries.
Good ingredients to freeze
Mash left-over herbs into butter, roll into a baking paper sausage and freeze. Alternatively, you can mix with olive oil and freeze in ice-cube trays.
Sourdough is expensive and goes stale really quickly. Slice then freeze so you can just grab a couple for toast each morning. Whizz stale bread to breadcrumbs then bag and freeze for later.
Freeze left-over wine (don’t laugh) or port in ice cube trays for adding richness to sauces.
Milk, double cream and butter will freeze well but single cream might split. Cheese is best grated first then stored in bags for adding to sauces.
Freeze egg whites in freezer bags – they work great in meringues, just remember to label how many are in each bag.
Peel, stone and quarter then open freeze on trays before bagging up.
I overbuy hard-to-find ingredients like scotch bonnet chillies, kaffir lime leaves, Indian curry leaves and galangal when I find them, then freeze portions in small bags.
Scraps and bones
Keep a stock box or bag for adding scraps and off-cuts of veg. Keep a separate one for bones. When you have enough use them as a base
to make stock.
Freezer dump bags
So-called because the ingredients are prepped ahead, bagged and frozen ready to ‘dump’ straight into a slow cooker. The beauty of freezing this way is you can prepare batches of several meals ahead, adding marinades and flavourings while freezing to give them even more oomph. Broths, chillies, curries and stews all really suit this style of freezing and cooking.
How to freeze
If the surface of the ingredient or meal you’re freezing can be damaged it’s best to freeze uncovered until solid then wrap or bag up. This prevents things sticking together.
If you’re freezing a bake-in-the-dish meal like mac and cheese, line your dish with overhanging foil, then fill and freeze. Once solid, lift out the frozen meal, wrap in the foil and a layer of clingfilm, then put in the freezer. When you’re ready to cook, peel away the wrapping and slot back in the baking dish to cook. That way your dishes won’t be tied up in the freezer.
Keep your freezer full as this means the air has less are a to circulate and it makes the whole operation more economical. Filling plastic bottles with water and freezing will fill space and make sure you use less energy.
The quality of food will generally start to deteriorate after three months, so rotate meals regularly. If you find something you can’t identify it’s best to discard it, rather than risk a dodgy stomach.
The safest way to defrost is overnight in the fridge. Put the bag in another container in the bottom of the fridge to prevent it dripping on other foods. You can defrost small pieces of meat by leaving them in the freezer bag and immersing in luke warm water.
This key lime pie recipe freezes brilliantly, so it’s a great make-ahead pud for dinner with friends. It’s best to freeze it before the cream goes on top then just add the topping before serving. Just click on the image to go through to the recipe.
Photos: Kris Kirkham