Whether you use your freezer to stash leftovers or to hold the fixings for a fast meal, you want your frozen food to taste delicious when it thaws. Unfortunately, if you don't store the food correctly, you'll wind up with a bad case of freezer burn - or worse.
So the folks at Real Simple magazine have compiled a list of "freezer fundamentals" - things you'll want to know before you put anything else in your icebox.
What is freezer burn? The magazine offers the following definition: "Freezer burn occurs when air dries out the surface of foods, toughening the texture and worsening the flavors. The burn is easy to identify (it's frosty and gray), and can be prevented ... If your ice crystal-scorched food hasn't been in the freezer longer than the recommended storing time, cut off the offending area as it thaws and cook as planned. Keep in mind: There's nothing unsafe about freezer burn. It might not taste good, but it's not going to make anyone sick."
In an effort to keep frozen food from freezer burn and maintain its original flavor, Kris Connell visits The Early Show to offer the following four tips.
Use the Right Gear: You must use containers, bags and wraps designed for the freezer. These are thick enough to keep moisture in and freezer odors out. Even when you double up regular sandwich bags or plastic wrap, they are simply not thick enough to do the job. If you intend to freeze something long-term in glass, make sure the glass is tempered or specifically labeled freezer safe.
Freeze in Small Portions: The faster food freezes, the fresher it will taste when thawed. Clearly large portions, frozen in large containers, take longer to freeze. So, small portions are the way to go.
Squeeze Out Excess Air: Where there's air, there is freezer burn. Get as much air as possible out of bags, and if putting food in a plastic/glass container, make sure that the food fills the entire container. However, there is an exception. When freezing soups, sauces or stews, you want to be sure and leave a bit of space at the top of the container to prevent the liquid, which expands as it freezes, from freezing to the lid. Soups and stews keep in the freezer for two to three months.
Stash Strategically: Wait for hot foods to cool before freezing. Then, when placing in the freezer, initially leave plenty of space around the container so cold air can circulate around it. This allows the item to freeze faster and thus taste fresher down the road. Once it's fully frozen, you can stack it with everything else in the freezer.
Here is how you should freeze the following items:
- Berries and other small "squishable" items such as hors d'oeuvres, meatballs, cooked ravioli: Spread on a baking sheet and freeze until solid. Then transfer them to a plastic bag or other container. This method will prevent them from clumping together as they freeze.
- Casseroles: No need to hold your casserole dish hostage in the freezer while you wait to eat its contents. Line the dish with foil and then assemble the uncooked dish in it. Wrap, freeze until solid, and then lift out the foil and the contents. Transfer the block to the freezer until you're ready to thaw and cook. FYI: casseroles keep in the freezer for about three months.
- Liquids: Freeze broths, sauces and other liquids flat in freezer bags, then stand them up sideways for storage. Not only will they take up less space in the freezer, they will thaw much faster when you're ready to use; the greater the surface area, the faster the thaw.
- Bread and Bagels: Slice bread and halve bagels before freezing so you can easily remove the number of servings you need once frozen. Also, slip the bagel halves into the freezer bag back-to-back so they're less likely to stick together.
- Cake: To preserve frosted cake (whole or a slice) place it in the freezer uncovered until the frosting is firm - about two hours. Wrap in plastic, then in foil. To thaw, unwrap the foil and the plastic, then reshape the foil so it creates a tent over the cake. Place in the refrigerator overnight.
- Pancakes/Waffles: Let them cool, separate with wax paper to prevent sticking, then freeze in resealable plastic bags.