Our freezers are underrated. Most of us have one, but few of us use them to their full potential.
When it comes to saving food from the bin, freezers are our best friends. Store leftover dinners, turn wilting herbs into flavoured butters, freeze overripe fruit for deliciously cold smoothies… whatever you do, the freezer can change the way you cook and help you save money at the same time. Here are some handy tips and tricks to help you make the most of yours.
Access to a good, hearty, instant midweek meal is all in the planning. Whether it’s lasagne, curry, chilli or soup, getting into the habit of making a big batch of dinners at the weekend then portioning up and dividing the leftovers between freezer-proof containers is a game changer. Remember to clearly label them with the name and date so you can easily rotate them and you don’t end up with a freezer full of mystery meals.
It’s a common misconception that frozen vegetables are nutritionally inferior to fresh. As long as vegetables are properly prepped and frozen at their freshest, they will retain most of their nutrients. Freeze a glut of fresh, seasonal produce (peas, broad beans, cauliflower, carrots, broccoli, spinach, sweetcorn and green beans all freeze well), then grab a handful whenever you need to add a veggie hit to your dinner; think curries, soups, simple pasta sauces – the possibilities are pretty endless!
Don’t throw away fruit that’s on the turn – chop it up, bag it, and freeze it. Very ripe fruit is ideal for a morning smoothie or a quick frozen yoghurt. You can even freeze grapes whole and use them as ice cubes to keep your summer tipple extra cold without diluting it. For more ideas on how to save your fruit, see my article on freezing fruit.
Breads & doughs
Got a loaf of bread you know you won’t use before it’s stale? Slice it up and freeze it for emergency toast, or try biltzing it into breadcrumbs – they can be used immediately on pasta bakes, parmigiana, or to bind mince into meatballs and burgers.
Next time you’re making pizza from scratch, think about making an extra batch of dough. Divide and roll it out into rounds (the linked article will show you how), pile them up with a layer of greaseproof paper between each, wrap in clingfilm, and freeze. Pizza bases can make a quick and delicious meal – just throw on whatever odds and ends you have in the back of the fridge, and bake straight from frozen.
While yoghurt and whole eggs don’t freeze well, milk, hard cheese and egg whites do.
Try grating hard cheese into a sandwich bag and sprinkling it directly onto pasta bakes or pizzas before cooking. If you’ve made something with egg yolks like carbonara or aioli and you’ve got a load of spare egg whites, pop them in a sandwich bag (labelled with the number of eggs used) and freeze for making meringues. And next time you’re away for the weekend, save that leftover pint of milk by popping it in the freezer.
Flavour bombs: chillies, ginger, herbs & pastes
Reserve a space in your freezer for the extra tidbits that can easily be used from frozen and will add a punch of flavour to your meals.
Freeze chillies and odds and ends of ginger that are on the turn – they can be grated straight into your cooking.
To make the most of your herbs, turn them into simple herb butters. Combine soft herbs such as coriander, parsley or mint with softened butter and crushed garlic, wrap in greaseproof paper, and pop in the freezer. Alternatively, you can make flavoured oil capsules: tear herbs into ice cube trays and fill each compartment with olive oil before freezing – there are perfect for starting off your cooking, straight from the freezer.
Your freezer can also save half-empty jars of curry paste or pesto from going mouldy – spoon them into freezer-safe containers and keep them for livening up a mediocre meal straight from frozen.
Homemade stock is an invaluable thing to have sitting in the freezer. Make a batch of it with the bones from your Sunday roast, freeze it( clearly labelled), and use it to add wonderful flavour to risottos, soups, paella, couscous or pasta dishes. Remember to save and freeze your vegetable peelings, too – next time you’re making stock, you can add a couple of these handfuls of frozen scraps to the pan along with a few fresh trimmings and you’re good to go!
Last but not least…
Keep your freezer neat and organised. You can have the very best intentions when it comes to freezing your grub, but it’s all too easy to forget what you’ve got in the midst of a messy shelf. Before you start, have a big clear out, group foods onto different shelves, and always be a stickler for labels. Follow these guidelines and you’ll never be short of a good last-minute meal.
When it comes to freezer use-by dates, the general rule is dairy products and leftover meals are safe in the freezer for up to three months. Although it really depends on the efficiency of the freezer, how well-stored your food is, and how fresh it was when frozen, it’s important to remember that quality will always deteriorate the longer it’s left. So go by the three month rule and you’ll avoid any problems down the line.
Make sure to have a look at our favourite freezer-friendly recipes for inspiration!