Fermenting, canning and preserving have come to the fore of culinary fashion. But we must not forget the time-saving use of a freezer as a pantry for the adventurous cook.
Last year a book called 'Inside Chef's Fridges, Europe' by Parisian concierge Adrian Moore and photographer Carrie Solomon, was published. They spent months visiting Michelin-starred chefs and photographing the insides of their fridge freezers. While it is fascinating to see what chefs keep in their fridges and freezers, the results are both intriguing and a relief. There are exotic ingredients but also the homely simple food that these chefs and their families actually eat. Alongside the whole fresh lobster, the squid ink and the homemade asparagus ice cream, there will be a pack of frozen peas. The appliance and the contents do seem to be representative of each chef's cooking style: Ottolenghi's (a Sub-zero ICBBI-36UFD) is stacked full of tiny jars with exotic ingredients, rather like his recipes, while Marco Pierre White has refurbished a grand and vintage wood and steel contraption.
Most of us use our freezer for the usual cook/chill meals, fish fingers and the lamented soon to be extinct Findus crispy pancakes but it is also a useful aid for stocking seasonal or hard-to-get ingredients. I love to cook authentic Asian food but do I really want to make a special trip to a special supermarket every time I want to make laksa? No. I keep the hard-to-get ingredients in my freezer.
Here is a guide to freezers and what to keep in them:
I tend to stick by the three month rule at which point food can degrade.
It's important to label the contents and date accurately. I've had to throw out a mystery substance in an unlabelled box more than once.
Buy: Freezer pens (a Sharpie), masking tape, labelling materials.
Do: write on packages when they are empty, more legible on a flat surface.
Safety and maintenance:
- Cool down any hot foods to room temperature before putting them in the freezer or fridge. Putting hot food in your freezer raises the temperature of other foods.
- The temperature of a freezer should be -18 C or 0ºF.
- Don't let ice build up on the walls over a centimetre or two.
- Keep your freezer 2/3rds full at least. An empty freezer uses more electricity.
- Even if your freezer is self defrosting, give it a clean every six months.
Plastic boxes are one of the banes of my life. Apart from the dangers of BPA, the health hazards of microwaving your leftovers in phthalates-producing plastic, here is a famous infographic about how you can never find the right-sized lid for the box. Lakeland have come out with colour coded boxes which in theory makes it easier, but I prefer the clip and lock style boxes. Some design genius needs to make them colour coded too.
Plastic bags: You want thick plastic freezer bags with a leak-free (no yucky meat juices) easy-seal top. Double zipper heavy duty Ziploc bags are highly recommended. Vacuum bags that prevent freezer burn and oxidisation are also ideal. There are biodegradable freezer bags but they aren't as strong. Flatten the food before storing -it takes up less space in the freezer and the greater surface area will defrost more quickly.
Ice Cube trays: These are perfect for freezing small portions of stock, zest, purées, herbs and garlic, you can make your own bouquet garni (olive oil/bay leaf/thyme/parsley) ice cubes.
Glass: You can freeze glass bottles and jars but make sure 1) that the jar has a wide mouth 2) don't tighten lids too much 3) there is 3 cms (an inch) space at the top for any liquid to expand. Picking shards of glass out of ice is to be avoided. You could also store the glass jars in plastic bags which defeats the 'green' objective but means you won't have plastic toxins in your food.
Use the microwave or place in a container and thaw slowly in the fridge. Ice cream has a better consistency if thawed for half an hour in the fridge before serving, avoiding the problem of slushy around the edges and rock hard in the centre. You already know you aren't supposed to thaw things with hot water, don't you?
I keep a selection of roots in my freezer that I can grate or chop directly into dishes as and when.
- horseradish and wasabi
- lemon grass
Herbs and leaves:
Delicate herbs can pose a problem because of freezer burn where the leaves turn black. Nevertheless, some herbs are usefully frozen.
- Holy basil
- Curry leaves
- Coriander stems (for stock).
- Lime leaves
- Vine leaves (freeze flat in bags then defrost with boiling water for dolmades)
- Banana leaves (wrap around fish for cooking 'en papillote'. They are cheapest ready frozen in the Asian supermarket.
- Seaweed (Fi Bird, algae expert and author of Seaweed in the Kitchen lives in the Outer Hebrides and often sends me bags of unusual seaweed, bright green sea lettuce or purple dulse to keep in my freezer; useful for crumbling into bread, oatcakes, rice or even on pasta)
Broth, soup and stock:
Broth and soups are a no brainer for the freezer. Although vegetable stock is not particularly intense in flavour and may not be worth the space, it is worthwhile freezing meat, shellfish and fish stock. You can even do it in tiny portions in ice cube trays.
I keep my expensive hand-chiselled pistachio nibs in the freezer, so they retain their intense green colour.
Flour: wholewheat flour tends to go rancid due to the oils is successfully kept in the freezer as is plain white flour if you live in a bug-prone warm climate.
Vanilla pods: those squishy Tahitian vanilla pods? Stop them from going hard by keeping them in your freezer.
Mastic: an unusual ingredient from the Greek island of Chios. I keep the fresh mastic 'tears' in my freezer to keep their freshness and aroma.
Bleek roe: on a visit to Gothenburg fish market I was informed that you can freeze and refreeze all fish roe up to eight times safely. Seems all Swedish chefs know this.
Fresh pasta: gnocchi, ravioli and fettucini. Freeze flat on a tray, once frozen- tip into a freezer bag.
Citrus: blood oranges, Bergamots, Meyer lemons, Kaffir limes can be kept in your freezer to use all year round - juice the citrus and zest the outsides.
Berries: I get small amounts of gooseberries, blackberries, wild strawberries from my garden. I dump them in a plastic bag or box as I go along.
Large bags of mixed berries from the supermarket make instant sorbet if pulsed through a food processor or powerful blender.
Grapes: freeze whole. If I have run out of icecubes I'll use frozen berries and grapes as a replacement.
Persimmon: freeze ripe and whole. Eat with a teaspoon straight from the fruit.
Chillies: again I grow my own jalapeños: I smoke and dry some and freeze the rest. Small birds eye chillies are great for quick Thai or Malaysian meals.
Pea aubergines, wonderful in Thai green curry, as an occasional ingredient these are good candidates for the freezer.
Freeze handy portions of cooked beans but also fresh beans such as broad beans and edamame.
This goes chewy when frozen, not to my taste, but the Chinese, being fans of 'texture' in their food, love to do this.
Having a small family, I'll only eat a portion of what I bake. Once you've got the oven on, you may as well bake bigger batches and freeze a proportion for future use.
- Bread, cake, pies, brownies, scones, cinnamon buns, fruit crumbles.
- Tortillas, flat breads, pittas. I make them from scratch, half bake them and keep in the freezer.
- Pizza base. If making fresh, make extra, roll it out into a thin flat circle(s) separated with greaseproof paper and freeze. You can bake these from frozen, just add topping.
- Bread crumbs and biscuit crumbs: for gratin or for cheesecake bases.
Hard cheese can be grated and frozen in bags to be sprinkled on bakes or in soups. I've also made convenient freezer 'fondue kits' by grating emmental and gruyere into bags. 200g of each would make a quick fondue for four.
Egg whites, mark how many on the bag. Defrost and use in meringues.
If first cooled in the fridge to avoid temperature shocks, can then be transferred to the freezer. Ditto when defrosting, first bring it to room temperature in the fridge. I avow to liking a frozen Mars bar: instant chocolate popsicle.
Vodka, gin, tequila keep in the freezer as well as shot glasses which are instantly and stylishly 'frosted'.
Liqueurs such as Limoncello and Chartreuse keep well in the freezer.
Nigella famously admitted to tipping unfinished glasses of good wine into freezer bags for use in stews and sauces.
To save money:
Buy large catering cans of coconut milk, open and pour into small ziplock bags.
Basic tomato sauce: make a big batch and divide into plastic containers.
One of the best ways to kill moth larvae in clothes is putting your woollens and silks (in plastic bags) in the freezer. My mother did this and it worked, they emerged moth-free, dry but cold.
Tights are less likely to get ladders if you wet them and freeze them before the first wear.
A few saucers for checking on jam setting point.
Candles last longer if kept in the freezer a day before using.
What do you keep in your freezer? Do you have any tips?