A freezer can be a busy mom’s best friend, but there are some tricks of the trade when it comes to freezing food — like knowing which foods freeze well and how long they can stay frozen and still maintain flavor and freshness. Read on to learn when and how to freeze these kitchen staples (and when you shouldn’t.)
You want your morning cup of joe to be brimming with flavor, so where’s the best place to keep your beans? Here’s the deal: Too much moisture zaps java’s taste, so the freezer is not the best storage site. If you buy coffee in bulk and won’t use it within two weeks, place it in an airtight container in the freezer for up to one month. Whole beans will last a month or two longer than ground beans until their flavor begins to be compromised. One more tip: Coffee rapidly loses flavor after grinding, so aim to grind beans per use.
When it comes to freezing food, fish freeze beautifully. But it’s not a good idea to refreeze previously frozen fish, so, when shopping, ask for fish that’s fresh if you plan on freezing it. Then, when wrapped tightly (keeping out all air) and kept at a constant temperature no warmer than 0 degrees, the quality will last for months. As a rule of thumb, lean fish such as halibut and sole are good for two to three months, while fattier fish like salmon and tuna have a shorter storage window of one to two months.
Breads and Baked Goods
Bread will not only last in a freezer for up to two months, once thawed and toasted, it’ll taste as if it was freshly baked — as long it’s wrapped well and you aren’t freezing a loaf that’s been pre-sliced. Baked goodies are generally better off not frozen, however cream-based treats like chocolate mousse will survive chilly temps (and be neater to cut when serving). Baked an extra batch of brownies? Cut them into squares, wrap individually in waxed paper and again in plastic wrap and you’ll always have a single sweet ready for lunch boxes or after-school snacks (they’ll stay fresh up to six months). The freezer is also fine for cookie dough, which lasts up to three months and can be sliced for individual baking when a craving comes on.
Stroll down your supermarket’s frozen food aisle, and you’ll surely notice that vegetables are well represented. That’s because lots of fruits and veggies freeze well, including broccoli, string beans, peas, carrots, Brussels sprouts and spinach. What’s not there? Lettuce, which totally wilts when frozen. Other veggies need a little prep before the freezer: Garlic cloves can be stored if peeled, and onions should be chopped. Squash is best when cut up and cooked (purees work too) and eggplant should be blanched or steamed first. All last up to 8 months in the freezer in airtight containers. Corn on the cob can be frozen for up to a year, or blanch first then remove the kernels to store.
Raspberries, blueberries, cherries and sliced fruit like peaches will do fine in your freezer, but apples and pears will not unless cooked before storing. Frozen orange juice may be a freezer staple, but citrus fruits should not be frozen (though you can freeze the zest.). Pineapple can be frozen in its own juice (cut-up or whole without its prickly skin), but will lose some flavor and is better off in the fridge. Freezing fruit is a great way to savor seasonal flavors year-round, as fruit lasts from eight to 12 months in the freezer.
Poultry and Meats
Raw chicken, steak, ground beef, and pork tenderloin are all good contenders for the freezer if you do it right. Keep in mind that bacteria grow at a rapid pace, so don’t let meats linger before freezing. Wrap the meat well so it doesn’t dry out and wind up with freezer burn. What’s freezer burn? It’s the frosted coating that results when foods are exposed to oxygen, and, as a result, moisture escapes. It won’t harm you, but it will change the taste and texture of your food. In terms of freezer time, ground beef lasts three to four months, and steak and pork four months to a year, depending on the fat content. Leaner cuts last longer in the freezer than more fatty meat.
Well-wrapped, cooked chicken, meat and pork do great in the freezer, as well as baked pasta dishes like lasagna (up to four months). If you’ve made a big batch of soup, portion it out before you freeze it, so you can use it over multiple meals. Always allow leftovers to cool down before putting them away, since freezing warm or hot foods will decrease the temperature in your freezer and ruin other items you have already stored. But remember this: Once you’ve defrosted and re-heated a pre-cooked meal, never re-freeze.