Canning it: Make friends with your freezer
The L.A. County Master Food Preserver class, led by chef Ernest Miller of the Hollywood Farmers Kitchen, focused on freezing food this week. What may seem like one of the most familiar tools in the kitchen has more to it than one might think.
The freezer in itself is a bit of a modern marvel. It has changed the way we preserve food at home and it deserves recognition. Even if all you use it for is to keep your vodka nice and chilled, you have to admit, it’s a darned nifty machine.
While freezing food in wintertime is one of the oldest preservation techniques, what we recognize as a home freezer only became common in American households in the late 1940s. Before that, people had to rely on commercial icehouses, ice delivery and the seasons, making freezing a regional and expensive endeavor. Thanks to modern advances, most homes now boast one if not more freezers.
Frozen food can be kept for years if stored properly (think about your wedding cake topper), but most should be consumed within a year. Here are some basic tips for a more efficient freezer from the L.A. County Master Preservers:
- Your freezer should be set to 0 degrees. Use a thermometer to determine if it really is that cold.
- Never put warm or hot food in the freezer. Wait until it is room temperature.
- Do not put anything carbonated in the freezer. It will expand and explode.
- Freezing does not kill food-borne pathogens such as salmonella. Make sure to properly cook anything you froze that may be at risk.
- Freeze water in a thick-walled bottle (water bottles are too thin) and submerge in hot soups or stocks to rapidly cool.
- Your freezer works best when full, but not stuffed. Air should be able to circulate.
- Always label everything; it makes it so much easier to identify later.
- Use an inexpensive ice cube tray to freeze stock, leftover wine or juice. When completely frozen, store individual cubes in a freezer-safe bag.
- Wrap food properly. Air is what causes dehydration – aka freezer burn – so make sure your food is completely sealed.
- You can freeze almost all foods, with a few exceptions. A good rule of thumb is that if a vegetable is very watery it will not freeze well. Lettuce, cabbage and cucumbers are all good examples of what not to freeze.
- There are four recognized safe ways to defrost food: in the microwave, in the refrigerator, under cold water (if wrapped) and straight from the freezer to the pot. Do not leave food on the counter to defrost.
- It’s best to blanch vegetables (except those that contain a lot of water, such as bell peppers and onions) by cooking them briefly in boiling, salted water and then draining and drying thoroughly before freezing to preserve texture, color and nutrients.
- Try freezing fully cooked meatballs, fruit in syrup, drop-cookie dough, blanched vegetables and fruit purees for quick meals and snacks.
Los Angeles Master Food Preservers are trained and certified by the University of California Cooperative Extension in food preservation. They are volunteers who provide information and technical assistance to home preservationists in L.A. County. The Master Food Preservers can be found on Facebook.
-- Rachael Narins
(Photo by Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times)