One of the tactics we’ve been using to reduce our food budget is buying certain items in bulk, which is often cheaper per pound than smaller portions. But what’s the best way to freeze the excess so it won’t go bad before you eat it?
Good Eats, one of my favorite Food Network shows, covered the topic of freezing last night. Full of scientific facts about what happens to foods when you freeze them, the show gave some helpful hints for the best ways to freeze meats, vegetables, and fruits to ensure they’ll taste as good when you thaw them as they did fresh.
According to the host, Alton Brown, commercially frozen food is flash frozen. This is the best way because when food is frozen slowly, like it is in the freezer in your kitchen, big jagged ice crystals form inside the food. These jagged ice crystals perforate the cell walls and damage the food as it thaws. With meat, the perforated cell walls cause the flavor-filled juices to drip out as it thaws. For delicate fruits and vegetables, the result it a mushy gross mess.
Freezing food as quickly as possible to as low a temperature as possible leads to smaller ice crystals, less damage to the cell walls of the food when it thaws, and better flavor.
Obviously most of us don’t have access to commercial flash freezing equipment. However, one logical way to freeze your foods more quickly at home is to freeze in smaller portions.
For instance, if you buy a large cut of beef, butcher it and cut it into small, equally sized portions before freezing it. The smaller the portion, the less time it takes to freeze, and the better the food will taste when you thaw it. Once you’ve cut the food into smaller pieces, refrigerate it for an hour to chill it down before freezing.
If you buy a whole chicken or turkey, the best way to freeze it is to first cut it into smaller pieces. If I planned to roast it whole, I would probably just freeze it whole anyway, even if it’s not the best way. Sometimes simplicity is more important. But you get the point.
Vegetables are a little more complicated. Have you ever frozen a vegetable and discovered that it was a brown mushy mess after it thawed? According to Alton Brown, this is because the water is the only part of the vegetable that actually freezes. Everything else turns into a syrupy super-concentrated goo that never completely freezes. Chemical enzymes that aren’t affected by cold spring into action and begin decomposing the food while the large ice crystals from slow freezing break down the cell walls. The result is a brown, mushy mess.
To prevent this, Alton suggests blanching your vegetables, like peas, in boiling water for one minute and immediately shocking them in an ice bath for another minute to neutralize the enzymes. Dry them thoroughly, then lay them out in a single layer on a sheet pan and and refrigerate them for an hour before transferring the sheet pan to the freezer.
Freezing them on a flat surface allows each pea to freeze individually and much faster than if you lump them all into a mass. Once they’re completely frozen, you can store them in a Ziploc bag or Tupperware. (This method also works for blueberries, just don’t boil them first.)
These enzymes are also responsible for the gooey mess that results from slow-freezing fruits. However, fruits are too delicate for the boiling method.
For fruits, like peaches, Alton suggests grinding vitamin C tablets with paprika and sugar, cutting the fruit into smaller pieces, then coating them in the powder. Put the powder-covered fruit into a Ziploc bag, remove as much air as possible, and freeze it flat. The vitamin C effectively neutralizes the enzymes and prevents the gooey mess without compromising the flavor of the fruit.
The episode also offers a ton on helpful advice on freezer organization and tips for proper storage of frozen foods. If you want to catch a rerun, it will air on The Food Network Saturday, August 16 at 10 p.m.
What freezing methods work for you?