- Freezing foods can be a great way to save time.
- Some foods freeze better than others.
- Freezing bread dough can be helpful.
- Sauce also freezes well.
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Unless you happen to live with a large group of people, all of whom share your food-related tastes, you’re probably familiar with the need to freeze your leftovers. However, this seemingly-simple tactic doesn’t always work out as you’d hope, due to freezer inconsistencies, the water content of different dishes, and variations in defrosting times.
The truth of the matter is that certain dishes thrive in the freezer, while others suffer flavor depletion and textural changes. To help give you a better sense of which dishes fit the crucial freezer criteria, we asked a group of 10 pro chefs to offer up their favorite freezable dishes, and here’s what they told us.
You may not expect a fully-frosted layer cake to be a natural fit for the freezer…but you’d be wrong.
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Plenty of bakers use the freezer to preserve doughs and frostings before assembly … but can a totally-frosted layer cake really maintain its shape, flavor, and texture after freezing? According to pastry chef and blogger Jessie Sheehan, it absolutely can.
“Folks do not realize that you can make and frost an entire layer cake – think chocolate with vanilla buttercream or red velvet with cinnamon cream cheese frosting – and stick it in the freezer for up to a month! Flavor or texture is not compromised and I recommend that you freeze the cake unwrapped, and once frozen, wrap in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil – this helps it from absorbing the smells of the freezer, etc. When you are ready to eat it, remove the plastic wrap and foil and let it defrost on the counter, and voila! A perfect (and special) dessert is ready for you!” Sheehan told INSIDER.
Curry’s bold flavors allow it to withstand freezing with aplomb, as long as you defrost it properly.
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Thanks to their complex flavor profile, curried dishes hold up well to freezing, chef and founder of Digest The Passion Chris Martin told INSIDER.
“The ideal dish if you’re freezing and thawing is curry. It’s great because its hearty flavor stands up well to the freezing process [and it] fits well in your freezer as you can mold it into any shape once it’s packed,” Martin explained.
If you’re looking for an optimal freezing method that will best preserve your curry’s flavor without costing you excessive time and effort, Martin has a few suggestions:
“[If you have a] freezer-safe bag, it’s much better than using a container that allows air. If you’re looking for a quick thaw, put the bag in a pot and leave cold water (NOT hot water) running into the pot. It’s best to weigh down the bag and leave the water running. The circulation will help it thaw faster.”
Breads and muffins can handle freezing like champions.
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Should you find yourself in the throes of a baking fugue and don’t know where to store your surfeit of breads, muffins, and pastries, the good news is that these oven-forged treats count among the most freezer-friendly foods out there.
“Cakes, breads, and muffins can be frozen very successfully,” said Philadelphia-based baker and blogger Eileen Gray of Baking Sense. “If you want to bake ahead [of time], freezing your breads or cakes is much better than refrigerating. The refrigerator accelerates staling because the cool temperature causes the starch in the item to recrystallize, and in the process, moisture is released. The freezer stops the process and keeps your cake or bread perfectly fresh.
“I recommend double-wrapping the items in plastic and then a layer of foil. Defrost at room temperature in the plastic wrap. [To get] a crusty bread, a few minutes in a warm oven will revive the texture.”
The moisture in banana and zucchini breads allow them to freeze and defrost without drying out.
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When frozen and defrosted correctly, bread typically turns out very well … but yeast-based bread does run the risk of a compromised texture post-thaw. Luckily, founder Julia Skinner of Root in Atlanta, Georgia found a fail-safe loophole: banana and zucchini breads.
“These breads are really moist and, because they don’t have the texture of yeast breads, they’re less likely to dry out or get hard when defrosting. I usually make zucchini bread at the height of harvest season, freeze it in slices (separated by pieces of parchment paper), and defrost a slice at room temperature most of the way before toasting it in the oven to warm it before serving,” Skinner explained.
Another baked-goods freezing hack: make your dinner-roll dough ahead of time and freeze before use.
The time-consuming nature of baking sometimes turns off prospective participants, but if you’re willing to make smart use of your freezer, you can prep your dough ahead of time and start the baking process at your own convenience.
If dinner rolls are on the menu, try these tips from pastry chef Ann Kirk of Little Dom’s in Los Angeles, California: “Make the dough for rolls and shape and freeze them ahead of time. The night before baking, transfer the rolls from the freezer to the fridge and let them thaw overnight. In the morning, let them proof at room temperature.”
If you prep the filling to a chicken pot pie ahead of time, you can freeze and thaw for an easy dinner anytime.
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Like many comfort foods, chicken pot pie requires a significant amount of effort to assemble and prepare. But if you’re dealing with a busy schedule, making extra filling in advance and freezing it can shave off plenty of time.
Chef Timothy Buma of Restaurant Associates (with clients including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Hearst, and The Smithsonian) recommends “making a double batch and freezing the filling for use later. When you thaw it, you can make it an easy weeknight meal by using frozen or other pre-packaged biscuits as the topping. It’ll taste as good or better than it did the first time!”
Because meatballs cooked in tomato sauce are made from pre-ground meat and pre-crushed tomatoes, they don’t fall victim to the freezing issues that often torment un-cut meat and veggies.
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Spaghetti and meatballs can be effectively adapted into a freezer-friendly context.
In the words of director of culinary operations Frank Proto of the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, “meatballs in tomato sauce freeze well without any flavor or texture degradation. When items with a lot of water in them are frozen (like fruits and vegetables), the water turns to ice crystals, [which] cut cell membranes … That’s why, when you defrost frozen vegetables, they weep liquid.
“Meatballs are made of ground meat and binding materials (breadcrumbs, eggs & cheese) that are already broken down by grinding, so they won’t weep. The same goes for the tomato sauce. The tomatoes are either crushed or pureed, so the cell walls are already cut. I normally defrost [meatballs and sauce] in the refrigerator overnight or over a few nights if I have a large amount. I like to freeze in Ziploc bags in a flat layer so things will defrost faster.”
Braised foods — especially braised meats — are freezer MVPs thanks to their natural resistance to freezer burn.
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The braising process takes a long while, and it’s easy to assume that it’s not worth the effort … but if you’re keen on saving leftovers in the freezer for a rainy day, you’ll want to invest the necessary time.
“Iron Chef America” alum and Los Angeles-based chef Jet Tila said “I love freezing braised foods! We use our vacuum packer and always have at least 10 meals frozen and ready to go.
“Braised foods are great because they can be frozen in their juices or gravy, which protects them from freezer burn. When using vacuum bags, you can place the bags in the microwave or even place the bags in simmering water. If you want to defrost, place the frozen foods in the fridge a few days before. [If you need to save time,] you can also heat on medium in the microwave so the food thaws evenly.”
You can’t beat a New York bagel … and fortunately, if you’re located far from the Big Apple, they’re great options for freezing.
Chef Judy Joo of Jinjuu in London, England agrees with many that nothing beats a New York City bagel, and because she’s located across the pond from NYC, she needed to come up with a clever way to get her bagel fix in between visits. Her solution?
“I bring a baker’s dozen back to London with me from my favorite place in New York City, Murray’s Bagels, wrap them in plastic wrap individually, stack them into freezer bags that seal and then freeze them. Bagels freeze brilliantly; you just have to defrost them correctly. I remove them from the cling wrap, wrap them in a cloth kitchen towel, and microwave them for about 40 seconds to one minute, just [until they’re] soft and no longer frozen through the middle. Then, I pop them into my oven and toast them until golden and crusty on the outside. I then slice them in half, smear on some thick cream cheese and top with a few slices of lox, and I’m transported back to New York City.”
From marinara to Alfredo to Bolognese, it’s hard to think of a pasta sauce that doesn’t store well in the freezer.
Want to set yourself up for easy and flavorful dinners during your most hectic weeks? Make a big batch of pasta sauce and store it in the freezer. Chef Jeff Osaka of 12@Madison in Denver, Colorado gave frozen pasta sauce a ringing endorsement: “I don’t freeze much, but I do freeze pasta sauce. Pomodoro, pesto, Bolognese, [you name it]. I usually divide into servings for four when freezing and thaw overnight in the fridge. [Because] most dry pastas only take 10-12 minutes to cook, [I] can literally have a meal on the table in 15 minutes!”