Don't freeze me, bro!
December 31, 2009 12:45 PM   Subscribe

What kinds of food can't I freeze? Any tips about portioning?

We've had posts before asking what kinds of foods freeze well -- if anyone wants to link to them, please do -- but the more I read about freezing foods lately, the more it seems damn near anything can be frozen. I'm beginning to think it might be easier to know what foods freeze poorly instead.

I'm also interested in general guidelines for what won't freeze well, and if possible, an explanation of what happens if you freeze it anyway. For example, "don't freeze XYZ because it is grainy once thawed and prepared."

I'm also interested in things that merely freeze "okay," i.e. you can freeze it and it will be plenty edible afterward, but fresh tastes better. For example, I'd like to know if beef and chicken fall under this heading.

Finally, I'd like to know tips people have for portioning. Examples of this are reducing chicken stock down to fill an ice-cube tray and reconstituting a cube with a cup of water; some things can be frozen in silicone muffin tins and moved into freezer bags, etc. Are there any other creative uses of containers? Creative ways to say, freeze a big block of soup and then cut it into portions? Thanks!
posted by Nattie to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Anything with cells (animal or plant) that freezes slowly will form large ice crystals. Those ice crystals will puncture cell walls as they grow. When the food is thawed, those ruptured cells will goosh out their fluid and be not very tasty.

Anything frozen really fast will form small ice crystals, meaning fewer ruptured cells and better thawed food.

With this theory in mind, you want to freeze things fast, so thin, small portions that will freeze through to the core quickly are better than large chunks of food that will take hours to freeze. Also "pre-freezing" things by cooling them in the refrigerator will help keep ice crystals to a minimum.

Additionally, I believe items that are high in sugar content will keep ice crystal formation down and should freeze well.
posted by Menthol at 12:52 PM on December 31, 2009 [6 favorites]

posted by delmoi at 12:52 PM on December 31, 2009

This thread has lots of answers. This comment (which has lots of useful tips) says you shouldn't freeze lettuce, celery, or sprouts.

Many vegetables should be cooked before freezing. I sauteed portabello mushrooms in olive oil in a skillet and froze them, then rinsed off the excess oil once I was ready to use them. This worked very well, and it's particularly convenient since fresh wild mushrooms go bad pretty quickly.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:56 PM on December 31, 2009

I hate frozen berries. The texture is always so wrong.
posted by bearwife at 1:02 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Eggs don't freeze particularly well, unless you separate them and add a little salt to the yolks before freezing.
posted by electroboy at 1:03 PM on December 31, 2009

Best answer: As far as creative container ideas, you can freeze fresh herbs in an icecube tray. Pour a bit of water in each cube, then fill it most of the way up with herbs (chopped finely enough to fit easily), and then fill the rest of the way up with more water. What I do is freeze some of the herbs I use most commonly in cooking, like thyme and parsley (basil is also supposed to work). When a recipe calls for these herbs to be cooked into the dish (rather than added at the end), I just drop a cube or two into the pan -- as long as the dish is already wet enough that some extra water (from the ice cubes) will have a good effect.
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:07 PM on December 31, 2009

Best answer: Alton Brown has a method of freezing strawberries with dry ice that's supposed to work pretty well. Speeds up the freezing process so you don't get big ice crystals that rupture cell walls, like Menthol was referring to.

In general, you should blanch all vegetables before freezing.
posted by electroboy at 1:07 PM on December 31, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Cheese doesn't freeze that well. What you get out of the freezer is fine for melty things [like grilled cheese or pizza or whatever] but not at all okay for something where you're appreciating the texture [cheese and crackers]. Similarly if you're freezing something that has cheese in it where texture is important [I'm thinking pesto here] you may want to freeze it cheeseless and then add the cheese when you reconstitute it. Thawed cheese can be a little mealy.

Milk freezes totally fine but as it thaws the fatty parts thaw first. So if you're a frequent traveller like me and put your milk in the freezer before you skip town for a week, when you thaw it you'l wind up with fatty milk first, if you're anxious to pour some into your coffee before it's totally thawed. The skimmer your milk is, the less this is an issue.

Bananas freeze great but they don't come out of the freezer looking like bananas. They go black in the freezer and come out like a tube of banana pulp. I'll freeze slightly overripe bananas and then thaw them [in a bowl, they exude bananan ooze] and mush them in with yogurt or use them for banana bread. Apples go gross in the freezer. I find berries are mostly find but again not to pop them into your mouth as berries. You can freeze blueberries on a cookie sheet and then assemble them into bags. They're good tosse dinto cereal if you really really like ice cold milk [as I do]

Chicken and beef pre-cooked, can be frozen fairly well as long as you are careful to minimize ice buildup [usually double-wrapping them]. As far as soup, I just get a ton of little containers or baggies and divvy up the soup into them before freezing. Some people use ziplocs in bowls for this sort of thing, but I don't have the freezer space to really do that.
posted by jessamyn at 1:20 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

We freeze 2% milk all the time, right in the carton (buying the three packs of organic at Costco for just two of us). We also freeze Egg Beaters, also right in the carton, with no ill effects (so presumably you could freeze your own beaten egg whites). Frozen fresh fruit works so long as you plan to cook with it, and not just serve by itself - the texture does suffer. Freezing tofu makes it more 'granular' and when added to chili, seems to mimic the texture of beef.
posted by dbmcd at 2:05 PM on December 31, 2009

I'd like to know tips people have for portioning.

I freeze stuff in metal muffin tins and pop them out and put the pucks in freezer bags (a tip I learned by asking a freezing question on MeFi). The curry and soup I've frozen that way often don't seem as thick as the original version but I couldn't tell you why.

When I freeze bananas I prefer to freeze them as slices with parchment paper in-between layers) instead of whole for defrosting/portioning purposes.

Last time ground turkey was on sale I made turkey burgers and included different cheeses, seasoning, pepper, onion, etc. mixed in. I wrapped each in saran wrap then all of them in foil. They've turned out great and are easy when making a meal for one.

Everyone's always telling me how great it is to freeze butter and its worked for me the few times I've tried. People also like to freeze bread but I haven't liked how its turned out.
posted by Bunglegirl at 2:13 PM on December 31, 2009

Best answer: For a lot of things (e.g. meat), if it's been frozen and thawed once, freezing it a second time will wreck the texture completely.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:13 PM on December 31, 2009

Best answer: Portion soup or stock in stackable small containers. Scoop cookie dough on a cookie sheet with either a cookie scoop or tablespoon and freeze the individual cookies. Once they're solid, throw them in a freezer bag (the same can be done with meatballs). You can shape individual meat loaves in muffin tins and then freeze them, then bag. You can also interleave pieces of bacon with wax paper and then freeze them, so that you can pop off only the amount you want to use. To save room in your freezer, freeze things in as flat a package as possible. Freezer paper is your friend. Squeeze air out of bags if you're using them.

Sour cream, yogurt, mayo, and cucumbers do not freeze well; the texture ends up strange. Same for soft cheeses (e.g., goat cheese, cream cheese), but shredded cheese and blocks of things like cheddar are fine. Muffins and quickbreads freeze ok, but I don't think biscuits do well because they lose their lightness. I think frozen sliced grocery-store bread smells weird after you thaw it. If you freeze milk, make sure you allow room in the jug for expansion.

I don't think cooked pasta does well when frozen, but if it's something like lasagna, where the noodles aren't the focus of the dish, it's fine. Don't freeze eggs in their shells (I actually don't know why; maybe they asplode). I buy big family packs of ground beef and other meats and portion them into serving sizes before freezing -- it's more economical and you can thaw only the amount you need. You can freeze pancakes as well (again, freeze them individually before bagging, or they'll stick together), and then throw them in the toaster. I think chopped basil turns black when you freeze it, but it's edible when added to recipes. I wouldn't use it as a garnish though.

Here's a list of foods and the appropriate freezing methods.
posted by runningwithscissors at 2:14 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Cooked potatoes freeze poorly, defrosting grainy and mushy. When you make a big batch of stew or soup to freeze, and it would ordinarily contain potatoes, make it without them and add freshly cooked ones to the defrosted portion.
posted by KRS at 2:42 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

runningwithscissors - eggs in their shells crack apart, as the egg expands while the shell doesn't. I've had this experience when my fridge was too cold, you only find out when they thaw and go everywhere!
posted by tomble at 2:46 PM on December 31, 2009

Best answer: Freezing large roasts is a bad idea. They take many, many days to thaw in the fridge. Last time, my boneless leg of lamb was almost frozen solid after two days in the fridge. Microwave thawing is a nightmare, the outside starts to cook before the inside thaws. Avoid.
posted by crazycanuck at 2:52 PM on December 31, 2009

Butter does great in the freezer. Sour cream doesn't.

I freeze bananas by peeling them, cutting in half, wrapping each half separately in Saran Wrap and then into freezer bags. I use them, one or two halves at a time, in smoothies.
posted by marsha56 at 4:02 PM on December 31, 2009

I was astonished by the amount of preparation expected for freezing eggs, which conflicted with my childhood impression (from Jack London) that an egg could be frozen and last indefinitely. So naturally, the next dozen eggs we got, I put a few in the freezer, and over the next few days, unthawed & fried them. I couldn't discern any difference between the previously-frozen vs. the never-frozen eggs. Whatever problem that the official sources are hyper-concerned about wrt freezing eggs, it apparently doesn't apply to me. (Claimer/disclaimer: these were standard, mass market eggs, so subtleties wouldn't be noticed. Otoh, there'd be minimal variance between samples..)

On preview: I didn't have the problem of the egg shells cracking, but that may have been my allotment of good luck for the year..
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 4:08 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For portioning soup, I line small tupperware containers with plastic wrap and freeze them. when they're frozen, I pop the soup blocks out (made easy because of the plastic wrap) and put them in a freezer bag- it takes a lot less space than the containers. I've also stacked the frozen cubes on top of each other and wrapped in a few layers of plastic wrap to form one big roll of soup cubes. I would cut off the very top of the roll, pull out a cube, then fold it closed again. Multiple layers of plastic wrap cut down on freezer burn.

On the top tips section of Lunch in a Box, she has a lot of tips about freezing stuff (under the freezer section), especially about portioning (for example, freezing pasta in muffin tins and letting it thaw out until lunchtime)
posted by kro at 4:29 PM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

Oranges (peeled) are actually fine, as is melon, or berries, in a smoothie. Frozen grapes and orange segments are also wonderful as snacks on a hot day.

Rice freezes well.
posted by eleanna at 9:33 PM on December 31, 2009

For cookie dough (specifically chocolate chip), I don't find it necessary to initially freeze the individual balls of dough separately on a cookie sheet. I just chill my dough in the fridge, form the dough balls and put them into a ziploc bag. The ziploc bag then goes into the freezer. The balls can end up a little stuck to each other this way, but it's easy enough to pull them apart.

(If the dough gets too warm and sticky while I'm portioning it out, I'll stick it all back in the fridge and finish later.)

I've had horrible luck freezing whole peaches -- they liquified when I thawed them.
posted by wyzewoman at 2:46 AM on January 1, 2010

Best answer: Re: portioning

For liquidy meals (sauces, stews, soups) cool a bit and pour into freezer ziplocs. Remove as much air as possible when closing so you can lay them flat in the freezer. Thaw in a vessel full of water, at least enough to breaks chunks into whatever you plan to reheat it in. Voila! Takes up minimal freezer space too. I find medium sized bags suitable for one or two servings, the really big ones for two or three. Happy portioning!
posted by sunshinesky at 5:43 AM on January 1, 2010

Best answer: I portion out tablespoons of tomato paste and put them on a single large sheet of plastic wrap, three to a row, spaced about 1.5 or 2 inches apart, and I roll the wrap over the paste after each row is formed. Then I fold it into thirds; the folds go between each stack of tomato paste blobs. If you don't press too hard they don't squash around everywhere. You could also use the cookie sheet method described above but I don't have room for that; plus, it's about the same amount of work to just do this.

They are great for stews, soups, or pasta sauce - paste adds great depth of flavor - but I'd never use a whole can so freezing in portions makes paste possible for me. It melts very fast in a hot pan (I add it in the frying onion stage of sauce/soup making).
posted by k8lin at 7:55 AM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I freeze ginger root, then grate it into whatever dish I'm making and pop the rest back into the freezer. It doesn't last forever in the freezer, but it doesn't go moldy before I can use it all. Plus it's so easy to grate when it's frozen.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:00 AM on January 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I find that tomatoes don't freeze especially well. My main experience with this is veggie pizza, where a reheated slice has quite tasty peppers, mushrooms, and onions, but the tomato slices are mushy and less pleasant.
posted by kristi at 3:20 PM on January 1, 2010

I often freeze ground meat, and this is the best way I've found. Fill a zip top bag with your meat. Close the bag almost all the way, and slip a drinking straw in. Squish the meat flat-- you're looking for the meat to take up the entire volume of the bag, so theres no room for freezer burn to grow. You'll get something thats about a half inch thick if you do .5lbs in a quart size bag. If you'd like to portion this, press a chopstick to make an indentation in the middle of the bag. You can snap the frozen meat like a graham cracker along this line later. I also try to keep an area of the freezer open for newly-added things to freeze quickly from all sides. Once it's solid you can stack them like books.

Best trick though, is using a "cold diffuser". Take the heaviest metal pot or pan you have (like a thick cast iron) and slap your flat frozen object on it. Your pan should just be room-temp. Wait about 10 minutes a side, and you will have a thawed piece of meat, and a very cold pan. This works great on those frozen tilapia filets, so you can have spontaneous fish tacos.

Also, while I normally wouldn't recommend freezing most fresh veg, I will toss the last sad carrot, odd half an onion, or celery rib into my stock bag, along with herb stems, and chicken bones. Freezing stock in measured amounts in plastic bags also works, though I usually have a few extra quart size yogurt, or soup take-out containers for that.

One of the more creative things I've frozen were roasted, peeled, fresh Hatch chilies. Froze them in a big loaf shaped pan, and occasionally saw off an inch or two with a serrated knife.

I think its better to freeze fresh pasta, then keep it in the fridge. No chance for moisture to cling to the surface of the pasta and go mushy.
posted by fontophilic at 9:19 PM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some very oily fish (mackerel, herring, sardines) do not freeze well as the fat content can prevent proper cooling. Industrially they use a super deep freeze in order to store these products. A normal home freezer won't cut it.

Apart from the obvious things mentioned that above those are the things I would not recommend.

Tips for good freezer use are abundant.

Slice bread before you freeze it.

When you go for an ice cue pop out all the trays into a big ziploc bag then refill. After a few days you will have a big bag for when you have several guests round.

Nthing make stock and freeze into portions to make small amounts of sauces. Or freeze into an ice cube tray for a small addition to perk up a meal as you mentioned.

If you do some meatballs make extra for the freezer. Easy enough to you can make a simple tomato sauce to go with them next time you want to eat.

A great thing is frozen peas and broadbeans, they keep very well and they are now processed so soon after picking so they keep really fresh. When reheating don't boil, just throw some butter in a pan with the peas. There is enough residual water on them to keep them moist. Can add dried mint or parsley. Fresh herbs are better though.

Frozen peas and frozen lamb mince make a great keema curry. It rare you can pull a meal out the cupboard like this one. All you need is an onion and the rest is dried/frozen but it covers nearly all the bases in terms of health and nutrients.

Spinach is much cheaper when bought frozen and similar to peas retains its vitamins due to quick processing.

Home made falafel freezes well. Reheat in the oven. You can keep your pitas in the freezer and they work out pretty well under the grill.

Tomatoes freeze well but only canned not fresh. Menthols post about cell structure covers this well. Buy bigger cans of good tomatoes preferably San Marzano or at least whole ones as they put the crap specimens in the chopped cans. Freeze what you don't use or make a double amount of sauce to then freeze for later.

Pesto freezes well. Can go with your frozen fresh pasta.
posted by camerasforeyes at 5:56 PM on January 2, 2010

We used to buy huge blocks of chedder at the Costco then chop it into chunks and freeze portions for later...that is until we realized it dried the cheese WAY out and every time we tried to thaw and slice the cheese, it would crumble into an unuseable mess. Fine for melting, I guess, but horrible for regular ol' cheese and crackers.
posted by ninjakins at 8:27 PM on January 2, 2010

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