Your freezer can be so much more than the place you stash the ice cream and pizzas. Cook ahead and freeze the extras, and you can set yourself up for months’ worth of meals. Worried about freezer burn, or wondering how long it’s okay keep a dish frozen? Ali Rosen’s new book Modern Freezer Meals: Simple Recipes to Cook Now and Freeze for Later has all the answers, along with 100 family-friendly recipes. Read on for the James Beard–, Emmy-, and IACP Award–nominated Potluck with Ali host’s tips for the ultimate cold comfort food.
1. Portion smartly.
“Not portioning correctly is the big mistake people make,” says Rosen. “Freeze everything in a single serving, even if you’re cooking for your family or planning to serve lots of people.” Individual servings can be reheated a lot more quickly and evenly. Don’t put a whole lasagna in one container, for instance. You might want to defrost and eat only part of it; having individual portions lets you do that for as many people as you’d like with ease.
Same applies to when you are simply putting food in your fridge. How long your food lasts in a fridge depends on strategic use of your containers.
2. Use the right containers.
That is, ones that are freezer, oven, and microwave safe, so they can go straight from one to the other without defrosting. “I hate defrosting,” says Rosen. “A huge portion of my book is things you can microwave. The rule of thumb is, if you can stir it, you can microwave it. The microwave is so much faster than the oven or the stovetop, and when you stir it, you help it heat evenly.” A tempered glass container, like a Pyrex storage container, is best to go straight in the microwave. If you froze something in a plastic container, just pop it out and put it in a microwave safe bowl. Avoid things like Mason jars, which aren’t necessarily freezer or oven safe. For leftover coffee or wine, broth, and extra chopped herbs or garlic in olive oil, freeze small amounts in ice cube trays.
Pro Tip: If you’re planning to freeze pasta, cook it really al dente.
“If you can eat it, it’s done enough to be frozen, is my barometer,” says Rosen. That probably means cutting a minute or two off the time given on the side of the box or bag. Remember: When you reheat it, it will cook a bit more.
3. Label what goes in.
So you can tell your tomato sauce from your bolognese. Rosen doesn’t use any fancy labels (although there are cool ones now that you can stick on and put through the dishwasher with your container); just tape and a permanent marker. Whatever your preference, just be sure to put what it is and the date. She also keeps all the dishes in her freezer in a list on her phone’s the Notes app so she knows she’s got in there.
4. Let food cool first.
If you have even a relatively new refrigerator, it can take it from here—you don’t need to adjust the settings. You just want your food to freeze as quickly as possible, because that’s what prevents ice crystals from forming, says Rosen. Let a container cool all the way before you put it in the freezer, and don’t cram in a bunch at one time, because that can raise the freezer’s temperature. If need be, put half of your containers in the fridge to cool, then stack them in the freezer after the first batch is frozen.
5. Forget about time limits.
Air, not time, is frozen food’s enemy. Keeping it ready to eat is all about maintaining a constant temperature. If you open and close your freezer a lot, aim to defrost and serve a dish within a couple months, just because the temperature may have fluctuated more. If you have a separate freezer you rarely open and package your food properly, it’ll last indefinitely. Although if you make Rosen’s recipes, we bet what’s in your freezer will disappear pretty fast.
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SIDENOTE. This post was last modified on August 26, 2021. However, we regularly update our content as we test more products and new models are released. We also listen to the feedback of our customers and make changes to our product recommendations based on their experiences. So don’t be surprised if you see some old comments below! Since reader comments contribute to the topic, we have decided not to delete them.