In my previous life as a yacht chef, every season we’d have at least one long voyage without guests aboard when we’d move the yacht to a new location. These long-distance passages could last for weeks at sea. Before leaving, I’d have to prep and freeze weeks-worth of meals in advance for anywhere from 6 to 15 crew. Since the crew worked in shifts 24/7 while on passage, having a quick meal they could grab and microwave was super important. Making meals in advance also saved room by not having to store raw ingredients, prevented food spoilage, and saved me from cooking if we hit a bout of bad weather and I ended up green with seasickness (which happened on more than one occasion).
I suppose I’m fortunate because being sequestered at home feels a lot like being on passage – long and boring – and I’ve become pretty adept at keeping myself fed and entertained. I know for many, being home 24/7 is likely a high-stressful experience, made even more so with school closures and working from home, which can be challenging even under the best circumstances. Why not consolidate some of your stress into one or two days by spending it cooking and freezing meals for a week? This way, you can take a few nights off and let your household help themselves to food without having a mountain of pots, pans, and dishes to clean every single time someone eats.
Foods that freeze and re-heat easily include lasagna, Bolognese sauce, curries, chili, soups, stews, savory pies, bread, doughs, and pastries. Knowing how to cook, of course, is one skill. But knowing how to store and freeze food so that it lasts is another that I’ve learned to hone through trial and error, over a lot of nautical miles…
Here are a few tips for storing and freezing food that might be handy in the age of quarantines and social distancing:
1. I always assumed it was common knowledge that watery fruits and vegetables that are frozen can’t be used in salads once they’re thawed, but I actually get asked this a lot. The answer is no. As fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens freeze, the water in its cells expands and breaks their cellular structure. Fruits and veggies may not be good fresh, but they’re fine for cooking.
2. Did you overstocked on fruit in your apocalypse zeal and now it’s going bad but your too tired or depressed to cook something? If you throw a bunch of fruit in a bag and freeze it, you’ll end up with one big, impenetrable ice-fruit-burg. Before you freeze fruit, chop it up, lay it on a sheet-pan with a piece of wax paper, and freeze it. When it’s frozen, then bag it up. You can freeze diced onions and berries this way too!
3. Not using up those tomatoes fast enough? You can make them into a sauce and freeze it. But, if you’re feeling really lazy, cut out the core or dice up the whole tomatoes, toss them in a quart sized Ziploc bags and freeze them. Then, use them next time you need canned tomatoes. They’ll be fine for sauce, but don’t try using them on salad! Blegggh.
4. Hoarding herbs or just have too much in your garden? Make them into a pesto (or pistou – it’s the French version of pesto but without cheese and nuts). The oil will preserve it for a week or so in your fridge, but it’ll also freeze just fine.
5. Got too much milk? You can freeze milk (but NOT in glass bottles – they may not be freezer safe). But, as with any other liquids such as soups, broth, or sauces – leave at least an inch or two of headspace because liquids expand as they freeze and if there isn’t enough room, glass jars will crack, containers may split, or lids will pop off. Milk will need a good shake once it’s defrosted.
6. You can freeze eggs raw but remove them from their shell first and freeze them in portion sizes you’ll use. Silicon muffin trays are perfect for freezing eggs in single portions. Just crack a raw egg into each cup and pop it in the freezer.
7. Freezing vegetables like broccoli, green beans, or carrots? Blanch them first and then freeze them, otherwise you’ll end up with spongy vegetables.
8. Making enough lasagna to feed an army? Grease your baking dish, make your lasagna, and then refrigerate it overnight. When it’s cold, cut it into individual portions, wrap each portion tightly in a couple layers of plastic wrap (not foil because the acid from the tomatoes can react with the aluminum), then put them in a freezer safe container or freezer bag.
9. Freeze food in the portion sizes you think you’ll be using. Made 10-gallons of marinara, broth, or soup? Freeze it in 2-cup or 4-cup portions. Making kid food? 1-cup mason jars are perfect kid-sized or snack-sized portions of soup (but remember to leave headspace – see #5)!
10. Air is not your friend. Freezer burn is caused when the moisture on the outer layer of food evaporates into the air, leaving behind dry pockets in your food. It’s not harmful but it can discolor your food and leave an unpleasant taste. The key to preventing freezer burn is to prevent air contact with your food. Wrap food as tightly as possible in plastic wrap, then put it in a freezer bag or freezer-safe containers.
11. Let food cool completely before freezing it. If you put hot food in the freezer, it can bring down the temperature and may temporarily thaw some foods which can contribute to freezer burn.
12. Yogurt, ricotta, butter, hard cheese, peeled garlic, and ginger can all be frozen. If you’re freezing grated cheese, portion it first so you don’t have to defrost a whole bag when you only need a little.
I hope these tips help you out! Stay safe, stay well. Wash your hands! Spread love, not germs!
Xox, Chef Cristina