By Kelsey Ogletree, AARP, June 2023
10 foods you didn't know you could freeze, can make for faster dinner prep, fewer shopping trips, and lower food bills. Cool! Your freezer is one of the most underrated kitchen tools, says David Lee, cofounder and executive chef of Planta restaurants in Miami and Toronto. It can help you jump-start dinner, take advantage of sales, reduce waste and spoilage, and always have the ingredients you need on hand. Try keeping these unexpected items in the freezer. It’s a game changer!
Slice in half, peel and remove the pit. Brush the avocado halves with lemon juice and wrap them tightly in plastic wrap. Add them to a freezer-safe bag, then press out the air before sealing and freezing. Thaw, then mash into guacamole.
Stock up on high-quality butter when it’s on sale at the supermarket, and it will stay fresh in your freezer for up to nine months. Keep the butter in its original paper covering, wrap with a dry paper towel and place in a freezer-safe bag, says Richard Sandoval, a global restaurateur and leading chef in Latin cuisine. To thaw, microwave a tempered glass or jar half-filled with water for 1 minute, then pour out the water and place the warmed glass over a stick of butter on your countertop. Avoid melting butter from the freezer to use in baking, however, as added liquid will result in dense dough.
3. Lemon or orange slices
Freeze them in a glass container. Defrost them for eating or cooking (such as adding them to a sheet pan dinner or using them to stuff a chicken), suggests Palak Patel, chef at the Institute of Culinary Education.
4. Other fresh fruit
Sort, wash and drain the fruit and pit, then slice or chop the fruit to the sizes you’ll want to use; put it on a tray and allow it to dry. Although you can freeze fruits in a sugar or syrup pack, the healthiest way to freeze them is to dry pack them. Pack the fruit into a plastic freezer container, freezer bag or freezing jar and freeze directly, or spread the fruit on a shallow tray and freeze, then promptly pour it into a container. Fruits frozen without sugar may freeze harder and take longer to thaw, according to the Department of Agriculture’s National Center for Home Food Preservation, but “raspberries, blueberries, steamed apples, gooseberries, currants, cranberries, rhubarb and figs give a good quality product without sugar.” Note that freezing does not sterilize food, but it does slow the growth of microorganisms.
5. Dried chili peppers
If left on the counter and exposed to light, dried chili peppers become brittle and lose their vibrancy, Sandoval says. Pack dried peppers into a double-zippered, freezer-safe bag and they’ll stay fresh in the freezer for up to one year. To thaw, soak the peppers in warm water until they’re soft, then blend them into a paste.
Pour the milk into a container, allowing enough room for the liquid to expand. It will appear curdled when you defrost it (but it will taste OK), so it’s best used for baking, Patel says. Or use the thawed milk to make homemade buttermilk, blending it with a touch of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar.
Speed up dinner prep by defrosting partially cooked and frozen pasta. Undercook the pasta by a few minutes, then rinse it with cold water, Patel recommends. When it’s cool, toss it with a little oil, spread it on a baking sheet and freeze it for a few hours before transferring it to a bag. Ready to eat it? Finish cooking it in a sauce.
Harder kinds of cheese, such as aged cheddars and Parmesan, withstand freezing better than soft ones, says Joe Baird, cheesemonger and culinary consultant for Real California Milk. Keep the cheese whole, in its original wrapping, and place it inside a freezer bag near the front of the freezer.
9. Fresh herbs
Don’t let excess parsley or basil go to waste. Blend it with olive oil or water, then freeze in an ice cube tray, notes Mario Garcia, executive chef with Hilton Chicago. Stir the frozen cubes into sauces.
10. Leafy greens
Steam spinach or kale until it’s completely wilted, then allow it to cool. Freeze up to 1 pound at a time in a sealed bag, Lee says. When you’re ready to use it, thaw it in the fridge overnight; heat the greens in the oven after tossing them with olive oil, salt and pepper.