Keeping Fresh Food for as Long as Possible
Cook once, eat twice—an efficiency strategy to shorten cooking time and ensure fresh ingredients are always around. You don’t have to start from scratch every time you want to cook at home. This goes for both full recipes and for making single ingredients. It’s all about knowing how to reconstitute a frozen block of food. I’ll cover the foods that benefit you the most from cooking a large batch and freezing part of it for later.
You may actually start to like beans once you cook them yourself. Cooking dried beans takes time, but it’s easy. If you have a slow cooker, it’s even easier. Stop cooking your beans early to freeze them. They’ll break down a little more in the freezing/thawing/re-cooking process.
When freezing dark, leafy greens, the thicker varieties do the best: kale and collard greens. The thinner varieties will defrost slimy and completely obliterated (spinach, chard, escarole). The frozen spinach from the grocery store has been flash-frozen, which is a commercial process of rapidly freezing food to prevent the formation of ice crystals. It’s these ice crystals that break down food in the freezing process. When you defrost flash-frozen spinach, it’s not slimy or mushy. The only way to use home-frozen delicate greens is to puree them into a soup or risotto.
Like we talked about yesterday, root vegetables benefit from multiple textures. With limited exceptions, you can prep your vegetables to your preferred texture, then blanch and freeze for up to a year. The exception is grated vegetables. It’s such a small piece of vegetable that freezing it will break it down so much that it’s mostly mush when thawed.
Other surprising vegetables that can be frozen are tomatoes and corn. Corn can be frozen fully on the cob (remove the silk & hair), or the kernels can be cut off. Tomatoes require some work and can only be used as a sauce or soup once thawed. But you can absolutely preserve fresh summer produce for the winter with your freezer.
Any grain can be cooked and frozen: rice, wheat, quinoa, etc. Let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight. To reheat on the stove, you can steam, re-boil, saute, or do a combination of any of these. Steaming will return the grains closest to their original cooked state.
As you begin to bring fresh produce home for cooking, you’ll find that you don’t get around to cooking everything before it starts to go bad. It’s frustrating to see food go bad, so just know that there is a way to preserve it. It’s much more cost- and time-effective to freeze your food than to throw it away and buy something new. Each vegetable has its own behavior during the freezing process, which I can’t cover here. But it’s all a quick Google search away.
If you’ve already cooked up a recipe, most everything can also be frozen. Soups, meat, vegetable side dishes—the success of frozen food hinges on the re-cooking process. Steam is the most delicate method, although soups or stews can go straight into a pot with just enough water to protect the bottom of the pan until the soup/stew begins to melt.
The only exception to freezing food is dairy (cream or cheese). It doesn’t keep well, so if you plan to freeze any food with dairy, freeze it before adding the dairy. You can add that in when you’re re-cooking it.
Tomorrow, we’ll get into what to do with leftovers other than freezing.
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