This two-part article looks at the many ways to freeze food (including specifics for common food types), as well as a few suggestions for getting the most out of your freezer itself. It can be a wonderful piece of equipment.
In Part I we looked at the basics of freezing, and how to freeze vegetables, fruit and meat. This week we’ll talk about the ways to save money by using a chest freezer, and the all-important defrosting of foods.
Using a chest freezer
A chest freezer is little more than a ‘standard’ vertical freezer lying down. Think of the ones in smaller stores which are filled with Cornettos. Mmm.
Unfortunately, these aren’t quite as popular as their upright cousins, and are often found in the dim, dark corners of department stores and electrical good suppliers. Pity, really – because they’re superb when you know how to use them.
There are two things which put the chest freezer at the top of the list when it comes to keeping food for a while. These are :
Storage : whilst upright freezers often have shelves, ice-cube trays and automatic defrosting gear; chest freezers are generally little more than a big open box. Perfect for large slabs of meat and trays of vegetables. The big stuff.
Stay cold : when the door is opened on vertical freezers, the cold air tends to come out and down (chilling your feet if you stand there long enough); as warmer air rushes in to take its place.
With a chest freezer, the cold air is already sitting near ground level – so there’s less chance of it going anywhere.
In short, chest freezers tend to keep the cold air on the inside, where it belongs. They’ll be cheaper to run.
Chest freezers will save you money
OK, the good part – saving money. There are three ways that the humble chest freezer will help out in this department :
Cheaper to buy : as they’re less common, they’re usually cheaper to buy. If cash is really tight, grab a second-hand one from a repairer, the classified ads or online auction sites like eBay. They last for years.
Cheaper to run : chances are you won’t be lifting the lid quite as often (there’s less temptation to just stand there thinking ‘now, what do I want‘ with a chest freezer – they’re practical things), and the freezer won’t lose as much of the cold each time. Lower electricity bills.
Cheaper to fill : the wide, open space of a chest freezer actually encourages you to buy larger items (which are often cheaper, incidentally) and store them for a long time *. Rather than single-serve tubs of ice-cream, you’ll be filling it those enormous fish you caught over the weekend.
* to find out what you can freeze, and how long it will last, check out Part I of this article.
Final thoughts on Chest Freezers
Whether you’re buying seafood, fruits and vegetables, game or just a few steaks for the coming weeks – a chest freezer is a great investment. And finally, you’ll have somewhere to put that enormous turkey for a couple of weeks.
The whole point of freezing, of course, is to keep food until you’re ready to use it. Before it reaches the oven/pan/grill, however, there’s one crucial step – defrosting.
Defrosting simply puts the food back in the state (or as close to it as possible) it was in before you put it in the freezer. It’s ready to cook, if you like.
Foods that don’t require defrosting
Before we look at the many ways to defrost foods, here are a couple of quick exceptions. These foods can be cooked directly from their frozen state, or even eaten as-is.
Most vegetables : the vast majority of vegetables can simply be thrown into a pot of boiling water (or popped into the microwave) in their frozen state. Notable exceptions are mushrooms, which like to be given a bit of time to thaw out. Just leave them in the fridge for a couple of hours before using them.
Bread : somewhat surprisingly, bread can be cooked directly from frozen. For things like baguettes, just wrap them in foil and pop them in the oven; for toast, well, just put the frozen slices straight into the toaster.
Various ways to defrost foods
On a tray, in the fridge : this is the preferred method of defrosting most items – particularly meat and fish. Place the frozen item on a tray or plate (to catch the juices) and put it in the bottom of the fridge. Just in case.
Time : this will take up to 6 hours for smaller pieces of meat and fish; and up to 1-2 days for larger joints (about 24 hrs / lb). Whole animals (say, frozen turkeys) are a little quicker – around 24 hrs / 5 lb.
NB : I realise that this is an extremely long time to wait, but it’s worth the effort. If you cook partially frozen meat, it’ll be cooked on the outside while the inside is still raw.
In a large bowl of water : if a day or two sounds prohibitive, an alternative method is to place the frozen item in a plastic bag, and completely submerge in a large bowl of water (if necessary, just weigh it down with a plate and the nearest heavy object). To make sure the water stays fairly cold, change it every 30 minutes or so.
Time : about 30 mins / lb .
NB : A common way to defrost items like prawns is to sit them under a running tap for a while. Not only does this waste an incredible amount of water; the prawns lose quite a bit of their flavour. Just let them sit in the fridge for a time.
In the microwave : if you’re really pressed for time, look no further than the microwave (most of them now have dedicated settings for defrosting, based on the weight of the food).
Time : this varies quite a bit from machine to machine, and also with the size and type of food. For most things though, you’re looking at half an hour or less.
Final thoughts on defrosting foods
In general, allow foods to thaw out as slowly as possible. This will allow them return to their pre-frozen state – or as close to it as you can get.
Once foods have partially defrosted, avoid the temptation to put them back in the freezer. A bag of frozen peas will easily survive the trip home from the supermarket; but a steak that’s been thawing in the fridge for 6 hours won’t be happy if you suddenly decide you want fish instead.
This has been the second part of The Ultimate Guide to Freezing Food. You can check out the first part – which details the freezing techniques for a number of foods – here.