Freezing Cooked Foods at Home - Why and How
Many people nowadays freeze foods at home. Without this technology available in individual homes, food products like meat, fish and poultry and other perishables bought by the consumer would easily spoil. Most food products, cooked and uncooked, can be safely frozen to extend its shelf-life if one only knows the proper way of doing it.
Why Freeze Foods at Home?
Aside from the fact that freezing preserves food, what are the other reasons why people freeze foods at home?
It saves money. It is cheaper to buy some food items in bulk especially if it is on sale. But if one doesn't know what to do with the products especially the perishables, one would end up wasting money instead of saving when the food spoils. Thanks to freezing, many can take advantage of market sale prices, or even a bountiful garden harvest, prepare and keep the food in the freezer and use them when needed.
It saves time. Of course, it is still best to buy fresh food ingredients, cook them right away and serve them. But some people like working mothers simply do not have the luxury of time. So, instead of buying ready-to-eat foods at the fast food restaurant, money can be saved by cooking food in bulk in advance, packing them in meal size portions, freezing them and reheating them just in time to serve the family meal.
A good example is cooking the pasta and spaghetti sauce, packing them separately in small portions and freezing them. Then when you just want to have some spaghetti for dinner, take some of the frozen items and prepare it in just a short time.
One can also have the option of pre-cooking some of the ingredients. I remember my mom whose medical work demands that she works on day or night shift. To simplify cooking, she pre-boils beef or pork to tenderize them in bulk. Some of it, she cooks and serves right away. But the rest (probably good for 2 more meals), she packs them in meal-size portions and puts them in the freezer. When she wants to cook sinigang or nilagang beef, she just takes some of those pre-cooked beef or pork, then add the necessary vegetables and seasoning to make a quick dish. She does the same with pre-sauteed meat like chicken or beef and freeze it. Then she just takes some out when she needs to cook a tasty pancit or sauteed vegetables.
How to Freeze Foods at Home?
How does one go about freezing foods at home? Depending on the characteristics of the food products, the method in preparing to freeze them may vary. But let me share the general steps and rules to follow when freezing foods at home.
1. Prepare. Always start with fresh and quality ingredients. Do not wait to freeze until the last minute when the food item is starting to spoil. Wash, trim and cut to the desired size.
2. Cook | Blanch. For some food items, you may skip this step. With most vegetables, you need to blanch them. Blanching destroys the enzymes in the food that can speed up chemical changes. This prevents the food from having a disagreeable odor or flavor or a different color. Enzymes can continue to operate in the freezer unless destroyed. Blanching is usually done by steaming or boiling the food items in 1-3 minutes.
Fruits may not undergo blanching depending on your intended use. If they are to be used for cooking, you need to blanch them but if you're using them uncooked, you should not blanch them. Though those you did not blanch tend to lose quality more quickly.
Some items that you need to cook include main dishes, pasta and sauces, bread and pastries, sweets and desserts. You may need to slightly undercook some of these dishes if they are to be reheated after freezing.
3. Pack. Cooked foods need to be cooled quickly before freezing. Remember not to allow the food to cool at room temperature or food-poisoning microbes may grow and survive the freezing process. To speed up the cooling process, put the pan containing the hot foods in another pan or sink of ice water. When cooled, pack in small portions then freeze immediately.
Pack the food properly to protect it while in the freezer. Use clean, airtight containers and moisture-vapor proof packaging (like coated or laminated freezer papers, plastic wraps or bags, heavy-duty aluminum foil, plastic containers or glass jars designed for canning and freezing) to prevent evaporation which can dry out the food. If you can vacuum pack it, that is much better. Air spaces inside the packages allow the formation of snow which can cause a dull-dried out appearance called freezer burn. Label the packaged items with the name of the itema and the date of purchase or preparation.
4. Freeze. Do not overload the freezing unit. And do not completely fill the freezer with unfrozen food at one time. This will prevent the freezer from maintaining 00F temperature and will freeze the food too slowly. Therefore, plan as well the food items that you need to freeze. Spread the packages around the freezer and just rearrange after freezing. Properly prepared, packaged and frozen foods may be stored safely for a year at 00 F.
Additional Tips on Freezing Cooked Foods
Reminders on Thawing
It is safest to thaw food in the refrigerator or in a microwave oven to avoid the growth of food-poisoning microorganisms. Thawed food should be cooked immediately to avoid further loss of food quality. Be sure to cook or reheat the food item to the proper cooking temperature.
Freezing Food at Home. World Book Encyclopedia. 2008, pp. 338-339.