When was the last time you took a good, hard look at your freezer? Think about what’s in there. Is it a random assortment of things stashed away and forgotten? Yes, it’s easy to turn your cold storage into permanent, inefficient storage. But the freezer can also be a godsend when it comes to having versatile, ready-to-use ingredients and ready-to-eat meals.
We peeked into our own freezer and then surveyed some of our favorite food people to see what they like to have on ice. Below find their answers, as well as mine.
Tomato paste: You never use up the whole can or tube in a timely manner. Portion into 1-tablespoon scoops, freeze on a lined baking sheet and then pack away in a storage bag or container. The scoops thaw quickly.
Hot peppers: Mostly jalapeños and some other chilies. They store well and can be used straight out of the freezer.
Cooked beans: A whole batch in my Instant Pot is too much to use at once, so I freeze 1½- and 3-cup portions in storage bags that I can easily pull out for burritos, quesadillas and salads.
Ginger: Something else you buy a lot of and only use a little of at once. Freeze in 1- or 2-inch chunks. I find it much easier to peel and grate when frozen anyway (give it a few minutes at room temp if it’s a bit too solid).
Bread: A sandwich (or toast or French toast) is always just a meal away with some bread in the freezer. Especially if I have eggs and cheese in the house, which I always do, I’m set for a quick improvised dinner.
Rachael Ray, cookbook author and television personality
Go-to meals: “I often have some sort of home-cooked and cooled food,” such as a soup, ragu, sauce or a chili. “When I make these things, I cook a double batch, keep some aside, cool it and freeze.”
Pork: “My husband John’s favorite four-letter word is pork. I always have bacon, sausage, pancetta, smoked pancetta, chorizo in many varieties, hot and sweet Italian sausage,” as well as other types of meat.
Bread crumbs: “I always keep bread crumbs in the freezer,” including superfine and panko. She also stashes bread ends for making her own.
Nuts: “Nuts have oil, and oil spoils. I toast pine nuts, hazelnuts and almonds when I need them, but until I need them, I keep them in the freezer,” at least the ones for cooking, not snacking.
Thin cutlets: “I always have swordfish cutlets and chicken cutlets.” She asks the fishmonger to cut the swordfish thin and individually wrap the pieces, and at home, she pounds boneless, skinless chicken cutlets with a meat mallet before wrapping them one by one. Thin cutlets defrost and cook quickly.
Christopher Kimball, founder of Milk Street magazine and public-television show
Rice: Spread cooked rice on a baking sheet to cool and then freeze it before packaging it. Use it for stir-fries and definitely for fried rice.
Specialty flours: “Those go bad pretty quickly,” Kimball says, but not if you cold-store them. Kimball’s stash includes almond meal, cornmeal and rye flour, which he likes to mix into desserts (such as Milk Street’s chocolate chip cookie) to cut the sweetness.
Lard: Worth stocking up on if you can find the good rendered leaf lard. “That’s something I think Americans have stopped cooking with,” he says. Use it for sauteing onions for soups or stews, and Kimball notes that in Mexico, browned lard is smeared on tortillas for flavor.
Coffee beans: Kimball says they will last much longer in the freezer.
Venison: Kimball’s home base is in Vermont, where he hunts, so you’ll often find lean cuts in his freezer that he likes to grill. He recommends double-wrapping venison or any meat going into the freezer, as well as defrosting in the fridge on a metal pan, as metal is a better conductor (to almost wick away the chill) than air.
Sunny Anderson, cookbook author and co-host of ‘The Kitchen’ on Food Network
Compound butter: Some people like to freeze their fresh herb bounty in oil or ice, but Anderson goes for the butter. Combine herbs with butter in a bowl or food processor and season with salt and spices. Roll into a log and freeze. With a sharp knife, you can cut off just what you need. Use on steak, for sauteing eggs or brushing on top of pitas and naan.
Nuts: She likes to add them for texture to almost anything but specifically employs them for salads, cookies and pesto. “They’re very easy to toast right out of the freezer” and come to room temperature quickly, she says.
Cranberries: “I buy cranberries” in the fall, “and I stockpile them.” Freeze on a lined baking sheet and then pack away. Use them to make cocktails, chutney and flavored syrups, and sprinkle them over grilled meat.
Pearl onions: “They’re already peeled, they’re little nuggets of love,” Anderson says. Add them to stock, or throw them in a soup or stew the last few minutes of cooking. They make an easy side for steak when paired with mushrooms. Or cut in half and grill.
Summer corn: Shuck the ears, cut off the kernels, freeze on a lined baking sheet and then store. You can use them straight out of the freezer without even cooking them, or add to chowders, soups, burritos, enchiladas and spoon breads.
Michael Solomonov, cookbook author, restaurateur and Philadelphia chef (Zahav, Federal Donuts, Dizengoff)
Overripe bananas: “You never have to worry about bananas going bad. If some have gone too far, simply pop them in the freezer and save them for your morning smoothie!” Also great for banana bread and banana muffins.
Mahlab: A powder made from the seeds of a specific type of cherry. Solomonov suggests sprinkling it on breads and pastries to add a mix of bitter, floral and nutty flavors.
Grapes: “Frozen grapes are a fresh and healthy little burst, feels like a treat — perfect during the summer when it’s hot.”
Chicken stock: “Chicken stock is a great way to really build flavor into a rice dish,” such as rice pilaf. “Chicken stock is a beautiful base for cooking.”
MorningStar Farms Chik’n Nuggets: “You can say they’re for the kids, but they’re really for yourself as well.”
Pati Jinich, chef, cookbook author and host of ‘Pati’s Mexican Table’ on public television
Puff pastry: If you’re motivated like Jinich, make your own. (“Since I started making it at home, it just doesn’t compare with store bought.”) Or grab a package from the freezer aisle and use it to make empanadas, appetizers, cheese sticks and desserts.
Chicken broth: “I make a super big pot of chicken broth every Monday, without fail, and store it in quart containers.” She uses it for soups, stews, enchilada casseroles, cooking rice, finishing off salsas, flavoring sauces and pasta dishes.
Homemade chocolate salami: “A great dessert to bring along to a dinner or potluck when you forgot you needed to bring something to a dinner, and you can also pull it out when you didn’t have time to whip up something” for guests.
Mexican chorizo: “We love it for so many things,” including tacos, quesadillas, chilaquiles, eggs and charro beans. It lasts in the freezer for months and thaws quickly.
Adobo or mole sauce: “Whenever I make some, I make it a point to make extra.” The adobo sauce is for marinating chicken, pork and seafood, and a mole sauce can go into enchiladas and chilaquiles or on top of grilled chicken and potatoes.
Stella Parks, cookbook author (‘Brave Tart: Iconic American Desserts’) and contributor at Serious Eats
Unbaked pies: Freeze, wrapped in plastic, in a glass or disposable aluminum pie plate. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and then a bit more on the counter. You may need to bake a bit longer to get the fruit hot and bubbling, covering the crust as necessary to keep it from burning.
Caramel sauce: “A homemade sauce is great for dressing up store- or bakery-bought desserts on the fly.” Thaw in the microwave or on the stove top — you want it warm anyway.
Swiss buttercream: “I can whip up a cake on short notice since I can thaw the frosting while the cake bakes and cools.” Freeze flat in a gallon zip-top bag, which also helps it thaw quickly. You want it at about 70 degrees after thawing, which can be done on the counter or very carefully in the microwave. Rewhip before using.
Ground cookie crumbs: Parks says she has a stash of gingerbread crumbs. Use them like graham cracker crumbs in a press-in crust, or over ice cream.
Portioned cookie dough: Ideal for when she wants something freshly baked, especially for visits from her niece and sister-in-law. She prefers to thaw them to about room temperature to avoid having to think about adjusting timing, but many recipes can go straight from the freezer to the oven with good results.
Molly Yeh, food blogger, cookbook author and host of ‘Girl Meets Farm’ on Food Network
Tater tots: “For tater tot hotdish emergencies!” I daresay, tots are a pretty satisfying side dish or snack, too.
Green smoothie packs: “I make a bunch at a time with tons of kale, spinach, apples and peanut butter and then have easy access to greens.”
Halvah: “It lasts longer in the freezer, and I put it in everything from cookie dough to straight in my mouth.” The sesame candy is widely available at grocery stores these days, and I can confirm, it is in fact delightful eaten right out of the freezer.