I have a dark secret no one would ever guess when they meet me. Under the hipster hair cut and love of a modern food trend, I am absolutely *obsessed* with organising my freezer. Genuinely and without hyperbole, few things make me happier than a well stocked and military precision freezer. I want maximum freezer capacity in style.
Some of this is because I grew up in the 80s when people had huge chest freezers that food went into and never came out again. It was stockpiling for the Cold War but really it just meant occasionally being forced to eat freezer burned food and hating it.
Then I moved to London and had one tiny mini freezer compartment between 6 people and all we could squeeze in where some reusable ice cubes in the shape of flamingos and penguins. I used to buy frozen spinach once a week and eat the thawed bag over 7 days and dream of an actual freezer again.
I got my wish when I got my flat and bought the biggest fridge freezer I could fit and afford. Only problem was I couldn’t afford to fill it. The odd fist sized bag of unidentified brown leftovers went in there for ’emergencies’ and accidental freezer roulette. It was grim.
Freezers=misery until I found the two crucial Fs. FODMAPs and flat freezing. Boom! I had my freezer mojo and my new crush was born. FODMAPs mean I eat a lot of meat and being ill meant I watched a lot of daytime TV and the two combined to learn that if you single bag stuff and freeze it flat on a baking tray, you can turn freezer roulette into something sleeker than an Italian greyhound.
I started pooling my cash, hitting up the local butcher and bagging those individual two chicken thighs or a pork shoulder steak or batch cooking stews and freezing for ready meals. Not only did shopping locally save me money, but not having to nip out every few days saved more because I didn’t impulse purchase stuff while grabbing dinner. It was the big shop meets small shop high street blend I needed.
Armed with some decent freezer bags and a Sharpie, I had months of meals economically ready to make the most of my cooking energies, stay creative but save time. This labour saving trick helped me hugely in getting back to work writing and recipe developing for my clients.
And honestly when I come home with 12 kilos of meat to divvy up for the freezer and get my system going wrapping it all with a good podcast, playlist or The Archers omnibus, it was bliss. Some people’s self care is a bubble bath. Mine is a 30 pack of Wilko’s freezer bags and half a pig.
So if you just stocked up some serious freezer game here are some tips to help use your freezer most effectively when we can’t go out and we have to be prepared during coronavirus times.
Be truthful: are you actually going to eat that brown blob at the back of the drawer you have kept since you moved house three years ago? No. We want to have good food in our house right now not any food. Chuck it out. Clear space. Look at your naked empty drawers and ask when you last cleaned or defrosted them? Even lying to yourself, you know it’s bad. Scrub them. Use an old toothbrush on the seal. Make it gleam. Set anything you will eat in a separate drawer to so you can start using it first as stock rotation.
Be prepared: do you have decent freezer bags? Right now we’ll use what we have but maybe hop on Amazon if you have to or hit up Wilko’s site as theirs are the best around for me. So good in fact that I once decided to bulk buy to save on postage costs as I don’t live near a branch. So I ordered 12 bags of 30 and only when they arrived realised I had ordered the wrong size and got medium instead of small.
Mathematically challenged me turned out to be prepared as hell for the cookbook I ghostwrote before Christmas and absolutely pandemic proofed but FYI, this is why we don’t click unless we know our dimensions people. Measure before you buy! Doll’s house furniture, freezer bag overload, they are all a risk especially if we shop late at night shall we say…
Get a system: make sure you have a proper pen. Check today’s date. Now count the stuff to be frozen. Lay out and label the correct number of bags and date them. Open them with clean hands and stack them in a pile. Now open your bags of meat and slide the portions into the bag. Leave them open until you have handled all the raw meat.
Be hygienic: wash your hands well and now seal all the bags, squashing all the air out. Use a straw to suck them totally air free if needs be. Set the bag flat on a shallow baking tray and repeat, topping and tailing the portions until you have all them all sealed and flattened and forming a sort of interlinked wall of bags. Slide this into the freezer on the tray.
I won’t lie. This method uses a lot of single use plastic but saves a lot of food waste and food miles so you pick your poison frankly environmentally.
Keep it clean: if you are portioning batch cooked food such as soups, stews, pre cooked pulses and stuff that is floppy and likely to spill, weigh the whole pot and divide what a portion size is for your household and label your bags while flat.
Then open the bags and set them one at a time into a 1 pint Pyrex measuring jug (this is where buying bigger paid off) and allow bottom of the bag to sit in the jug. Set it on a scale. Measure out the amount needed into the bag with a spoon or ladle. The jug allows you fill it without spillage.
Pull the sides of the bag up while still in the jug and squeeze the air out as you seal it. Lay flat on a baking tray spreading the contents out to be as thin as possible. This takes up less space and you can defrost quicker especially if you have no microwave.
Repeat with each portion, again topping and tailing the bags. Freeze on the tray and then slide the bags off and stack. Once you have one layer of flat bags, you can build on it to really stock the freezer.
Cut down food waste: you can freeze pre-cooked or prepped base ingredients. Get some ice cube trays solely for food use. You can freeze chopped fresh herbs in them and then store in a bag to take out a cube as needed. Slice up lemons and freeze them in a bag and take out slices as needed.
Know what freezes: You can freeze garlic. Puree it up and flat freeze in a thin layer and snap off a portion as needed. Roast lots of garlic to add slow flavour to fast meals. You can also freeze fresh ginger, lemongrass or galangal too. Or make a homemade curry paste and freeze portions of it.
Frozen onions are a godsend. My book Slow Cooked has a recipe for slow cooking onions down until rich and golden. Portion them into the freezer and add slow cooked taste to a 15 minute meal without hanging around. Life is too short for the over optimism of recipe writers when it comes to onions. You can also dice and freeze raw onions.
Use the freezer to meal prep: this prep ahead thing is also perfect for a mirepoix or soffrito of onion, carrot and celery. Meal prep and a huge batch of this some afternoon. Cool and flat freeze. Either portion size or break off as needed to speed up meal times or make the most of fresh veg during coronavirus shopping. No one wants to be braving the streets for celery. You can do a holy trinity of onion, garlic and green peppers as well for Cajun dishes.
Frozen is still fresh: as we’ve said peppers love the freezer. So do cooked mushrooms. Wilt kale or spring greens, squeezing out any water and freeze. Mashed avocado freezes well. You can freeze beaten eggs. They remain perfect for baking or making omelettes or adding to meals if you can’t get fresh eggs right now. Just label your bag with the number or weight of eggs to prevent confusion or wastage.
Dairy products love the cold: whipped cream freezes easily and fresh milk can freeze well. You can freeze whole containers of milk and then shake it when defrosted if it separates. Or flat freeze portions of milk so you use it a pint at a time and it takes up less space than a big bottle. Hard cheese like parmesan and cheddar freeze really well either as blocks or ready grated. Frozen parmesan rinds are ideal for adding flavour to soups and stews.
Avoid bulky bags: the thing that interrupts a flat freezer is opening a shop bought bag and ending up with it bunched up. Instead when you buy frozen sweetcorn or peas decant portions into freezer bags. Lay these flat and use the veg from this instead of cramming one blob of a bag into your filing cabinet freezer.
Switch out shop packaging: this works with any pre-packed stuff. It’s also sensible to take things like fishcakes, sausages or ready meals out of as much bulky packaging it came in and into the single flat bags. This enhances freezer space but also clears your house of recycling and packaging now while bin services are still running. If you live in small flats or communal ares stashing extra rubbish is bulky and even if you have outside space it can attract vermin.
Declutter your freezer: use up any of those chicken carcasses you stashed in their to make homemade stock but never got round to. Gently simmer with any aromatics you have, cool, portion and flat freeze. Now you have more space and soup if you get ill with COVID-19.
Make your own ready meals: if you have time and anxiety on your hands, do some batch cooking. Make and portion comfort food or defrost meat you had the freezer already and turn it into meals. This can give purpose or use up the fresh stuff you might have over bought and saves time later if you are unwell or simply feeling like a quick dinner.
Multi task: if you were lucky enough to get mince make meatballs and split your base meat and filler into several portions and add different flavourings or spices to each batch. That way you save freezer boredom but use meal prep wisely. This works with soups and pulses too.
Following these tips gives you more space to feed yourself, cut down the temptation to ‘just nip out’ when really we should be avoiding the shops and makes you freezer a happy place full of small joys not penury. I look forward to dipping into the freezer for my tea instead of that slightly dread feeling of ‘I should be using stuff up’.
Maximise space to make room for treats: all this preparation gives you room to fit in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s or some slices of cake or brownies either from a local business you are supporting or that you baked.
Freezers make us mindful: freezing food can also help calm that panic mode the brain hits where we are likely to binge or devour our stash too fast and get guilt and shame at a tricky time when we have enough mental health challenges.
Freezers help us budget money and resources: freezing food can stop kids or other family members eating stuff you have carefully meal planned. I know a lot of women particularly are carrying an extra mental load to keep multiple people and households fed at the moment and the freezer can be your friend here if you need some back up to be measured.
For me there is something so calming and soothing to me when I have both a full freezer and a neat orderly freezer. I look at those rows of bags and feel safer somehow like the world is just not as frightening when that one corner of it is so organised. Who knew this would finally turn out to be my healthy coping mechanism with food?