How to Freeze and Fridge Pre-cooked Food
By Kelly Dean
Saving items in the refrigerator or freezer is a smart thing if you do it properly. How to do it without freezer burn or fridge flavor are generally the issues. I have written about buying in bulk and re-portioning raw items for freezing, and you can read about those sanitation techniques here.
Re-freezing or refrigerating pre-cooked items properly is also important.
In the freezer, air gaps are a bad thing. In all air gaps, there is moisture. Moisture freezes inside the container or wrap when inside the freezer. Try to keep air pockets to a minimum as much as possible.
The freezer has an obvious stale scent and flavor. But
thankfully, water will rinse away most minor freezer flavor. Therefore, if you are going to cook frozen, packaged vegetables or meat, including those from the
store, you must rinse them in a colander under water first. Smell them to make sure they are unaffected — every time, regardless of source.
However, serious freezer burn is un-fixable because it has invaded deeply into the frozen item. It most cases, this comes from freezing food more than a month. Judgment is based upon inspection: look, smell or taste.
To avoid freezer burn in your short-term cooking projects, take a few additional steps, whether for pre-browned meat, vegetable stocks or simple leftovers.
- Use a freezer-safe storage bowl or freezer-safe zip bags. Plastic wrap alone only buys you about 24-48 hours in a freezer. Commercial wrap used in stores and freezer bags protect a bit longer.
- So long as it works with the type of dish, pour a thin layer of some kind of oil — olive, vegetable or other — on top of the frozen item to help make a seal from the frosty moisture. Then, when you rinse the item in hot water before re-heating, the oil will carry away much of the freezer taste.
- A layer of lemon juice or vinegar works best when oxidation is the main issue, such as in the refrigerator.
- If there’s air space in the bowl, place a layer of cellophane wrap over the oil and food item; press it down all the way to the edges to eliminate any air, taking advantage of the oil for a better seal. Fold the excess wrap into the container or trim.
- Place a tight-fitting lid over the food and plastic wrap. Put it into the refrigerator or freezer. In the fridge, it can buy you up to almost week. In the freezer, it can buy you a few weeks. But realize, freezing is still just a temporary thing.
It is worth your effort and expense buying a vacuum sealing device if you freeze or refrigerate a lot of items for long-term on a frequent basis.