Feast without Frenzy: Freeze It

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One of the easiest ways to free up time once house guests arrive is to have an arsenal of homemade frozen meals already prepared. And I don’t mean Birdseye. I’m talking chili, soups, braises, grains, pulses and even meat like pork carnitas and duck confit. The trick is to choose the best candidates to freeze. Here are three tips for scrumptious freezer meals.


Some foods are just better suited to freezing than others. Here’s a quick guide:

DO freeze these:

  • Meat (whole cuts and ground), poultry and fish, both raw and cooked (use common sense here . . . things like breaded chicken fingers are great to freeze fully cooked; temperature-sensitive cuts like steaks, on the other hand, not so much)
  • Grated cheese, milk and butter
  • Cooked beans, pulses and whole grains
  • Cooked bread, cakes and cookies
  • Raw pastry, pizza and cookie dough
  • Stocks, broths, soups, stews, chili, braises and casseroles
  • Butter and milk (shake well once thawed)

DON’T freeze these:

  • Eggs—either raw or hard-boiled
  • Vegetables and fruit with a high water content like lettuce, cucumber, jicama and melon
  • Gravies and thickened sauces
  • Fully-cooked potatoes and pasta
  • Yogurt and sour cream

Whatever you DO freeze, though, freeze it as fresh as possible. Freezing in essence pauses the process of spoiling, but it doesn’t reverse the process. Foods frozen fresh will taste best when thawed.

Chill Individually and Quickly. Pour liquids into a metal pot or bowl and set in an ice bath (a larger bowl partially filled with ice and water) or place in a wide, shallow container in the fridge (uncovered) until cool, then transfer to a freezer-safe container or zip-top bag. I like to store liquids in zip-top bags frozen flat so they can be stacked in the freezer.

Arrange smaller portions of solid cooked foods in a single layer on a cookie sheet and lay (carefully) in the freezer until frozen solid. Then wrap the pieces loosely in parchment paper and seal in a freezer-safe zip-top bag, pressing out air before closing. Chill casseroles uncovered in the fridge and, if keeping whole, seal with a covering of heavy-duty foil before freezing. Or cut them into individual portions and follow the cookie sheet procedure above.

Label, Time and Thaw. Label everything you freeze. You may be absolutely certain you’ll remember it was chicken fingers you froze, but trust me, in a month or two they’ll look suspiciously like the fish sticks you froze a week later. Use a permanent marker to label each container with the name of the dish and the date you froze it. Most foods can keep for quite some time in the freezer, but their quality begins to deteriorate after about three months. So plan accordingly.

Don’t ever thaw food at room temperature—the outside will dwell in the “danger zone” (40 – 140 degrees) while the inside continues to defrost. Instead, either thaw in the fridge (allowing roughly five hours per pound) or the microwave. In general, food frozen raw should be thawed before cooking while most cooked dishes can be reheated from their frozen state; just be sure they’re cooked completely through before serving.

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Revelationary Duck Confit

This duck confit recipe, originally inspired by the Revisionist Confit of Duck Leg in Sally Schneider’s A New Way to Cook, is one that has been repeated over and over again in our house. Because the duck legs are cooked in their own fat and juices–rather than being simmered in a layer of duck fat–it is loads lighter than traditional versions, yet still fall-off-the-bone succulent. I normally kick off winter by cooking up a dozen and freezing them. Whole, they’re delicious crisped up in a frying pan or the oven. Or shred their meat into salads, soups, pasta–even dumplings or tacos.

duck-confit-recipe3 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 tablespoon juniper berries
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon pink peppercorns
5 garlic cloves, minced
3 bay leaves
5 tablespoons salt
12 duck legs

In a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, pound or grind fennel seeds, juniper berries, peppercorns, garlic and bay leaves until a rough paste forms. Mix in the salt so the mixture is the consistency of coarse, wet sand.

Lay the duck legs out in a single layer in two roasting pans and rub on both sides with the spice mixture. Cover with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Remove covering from roasting pans and dab spice mixture off duck with a paper towel. Wipe out any liquid in the pan as well. Place a sheet of heavy-duty foil over each roasting pan and press down slightly to it rests closely to the duck. Seal well all around the edges. Transfer to the oven and cook for 2 hours. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before uncovering.

If using immediately, either shred meat or crisp in a frying pan or on a cookie sheet in a 450 degree F oven. If freezing, lay out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and place flat in freezer until frozen solid. Then wrap loosely in parchment paper and seal in a freezer-safe zip-top bag.

Serves 12

  • http://nourishnetwork.com/members/liahuber/ Lia Huber

    Mollie Katzen tweeted to me that cookies, also, freeze and thaw beautifully–and I’m grateful she reminded me! So I’ve added those to the list above.