Cooking from the Freezer
By Merchant Gourmet Cook, Alex Mackay
Frozen food is wonderful. It’s there when you need it, if you plan ahead, you can defrost it in your fridge, if not, in your microwave. Fresh peas are rarely better than frozen unless you grow them yourself, a bag of oven chips feels like a bag of gold when only a chip will do. Fish is often frozen at sea, so can be more sparkly than so called fresh fish that has been sitting around for days, and frozen berries can be just as tasty as fresh when they are cooked. Frozen fruit and vegetables are usually picked at their peak because that is when they are most bountiful and cheapest, they are often pre-prepared and free flow so you can use as little as you like at any given time without any waste.
Although probably the greatest frozen joy is the ice cream that competes with cheese to be my ultimate treat, I adore both the raw and ready sides of my freezer. One side is a place to store frozen ingredients to add to recipes, the other is stocked with pre-cooked preparations to help me when I need it most. I call this my Magic Freezer.
When I worked for Raymond Blanc, I once developed recipes to re-heat on aeroplanes. When you cook from your freezer, a lot of the same rules apply, slowly cooked recipes like stews freeze and re-heat deliciously and safely, raw meat needs much more careful de-frosting than cooked, chicken thighs stay moist, chicken breast goes dry, dairy tends to go grainy unless bound with flour, tomato, wine and stock based sauces are as good coming out as they are going in. Here is how I make my freezer the place to fly to…
Put the ‘Ready’ in Ready Meals yourself
The preparations can be fully finished dishes or the base for other dishes, a shining example is Puy Lentil Bolognese I make large batches of this for the freezer, with a whole 500g box of Puy lentils, then freeze them in 250g portions so I can take some out to eat with pasta, with a fried egg, to turn into a moussaka, a lasagne or a Lentilzotto. By preparing and freezing, you can either simply heat and eat, or you have a delicious head start along with the satisfaction of knowing that it was you who put the ‘ready’ in your ready meal, plus like other frozen ingredients, lentils retain all their goodness after freezing.
The Big Shop and The Big Freeze
A suggestion that is especially relevant to right now, if you do a large lock-down shop every 2 weeks like we do, is to buy ingredients for recipes to make in batches and freeze as I’ve suggested above; some already frozen fruit and vegetables, and some that you can freeze yourself. Freezing is a way of keeping things fresh which is why it was invented and if you are stuck for room in your fridge, it’s a good way of using all the space you have. A great way to use up any frozen fruit you find in the freezer is on breakfast, you can mix and match any fruit you have in my granola and porridge recipes to make sure breakfasts are bursting with flavour.
Freeze your Own Veg
You can make your own free flow vegetables; for example, broccoli will keep better frozen rather than going yellow in your fridge. Cut your broccoli up, use the stalks as well as the florets, just peel them first. Boil the broccoli until it’s tender, chill it quickly in cold water, drain it thoroughly, then freeze the cooked vegetable in a single layer on a tray so it is rock hard and free flow when you put it into bags or containers.
Another way is to make the greatest of vegetable stews, the ratatouille, which works both ways, you can cook it with frozen vegetables to eat now, or with fresh vegetables to freeze for later in the size of portions that you will use each time, whether you cook for 1 or however many more.
Make Chestnut Ratatouille with frozen mushrooms, frozen squash and frozen red onions, then add a pouch of our chestnuts and a tin of tomatoes from your pantry, and when it’s time to serve, basil from a plant on your window sill. As long as you have roughly the right weight, you can change the squash for courgettes and the mushrooms for aubergines in summer, or even make up your own mix of vegetables. Next, you could de-frost some seabass to make this Seabass with Chestnut ratatouille or you can add cooked lentils, quinoa or freekeh to the ratatouille to make it go further and turn it into a full meal. This is my ideal example, because it shows how you can use your freezer, pantry, fridge, and windowsill all together.
- If you’ve only used half a pouch of any of our grains, lentils, or chestnuts, feel free to freeze the remainder, or indeed to add them to the ratatouille or bolognese recipes above.
- If you have leftover food that has already been frozen, you are best eating it as soon as you can afterwards.
- If you have leftover food that hasn’t been frozen, freeze it as quickly as possible, don’t let it languish in the fridge. If you can, have a little corner of your freezer, then once you have a few things, you can have a pick and mix dinner, I do this a lot as I often have delicious bits and pieces in the freezer from recipe testing.
Freezing Your Own
- If you are going to freeze anything from a big shop, but particularly fish, do it straight away. The fresher the food is when it goes into the freezer, the fresher it is once it comes out.
- Fully cooked meals or preparations like I’ve suggested above, can be de-frosted then fully heated in a microwave.
- To de-frost raw ingredients and particularly chicken, you need to do so overnight or longer in the fridge. Make sure it is thoroughly de-frosted before you cook it. Then make very sure that it is fully cooked through.
Labelling and Lists
- Write a list for your freezer to cross off and add to when you put things in or remove them. (I use Evernote for this so that it’s on my phone and easily accessible) Labelling your containers with their name and date makes them safer, and means that you can find things easily when you need them in your fridge or freezer. I use masking tape, clearly marked with a sharpie. The tape is better than any sort of sticky label because you can peel the tape off easily and it doesn’t leave a gluey residue.
- Label your containers in the place that is most visible when you open your fridge or freezer so that the label is not hidden and you can see what they are at a glance, i.e. if you have shelves, label on the front of the container, if you have drawers, on the top of the container.
Get to know your freezer, frozen food can be just as good as fresh and can taste even better because it’s there when you need it to help.