by Ben Miller
I thought Mark Bittman’s Minimalist column yesterday on how to properly take advantage of a freezer was interesting. And while I definitely think his points about carefully labeling things is certainly something worth taking to heart, I have to disagree with the overall premise. Instead, rather than looking at the freezer as a must use, I think we should think of it to be used sparingly and only in a few cases. (Unless you are Emily, who seems to have mastered the freezer unlike anyone I’ve ever met.)
In my mind, freezers are really only good for three things: dark chocolate, already frozen pasta (such as ravioli from Vacce), and fruit for smoothies.* I understand Bittman’s arguments for grain and stock, so I’ll give him those, but I have to draw the line at nice bread and meat/fish.
Nice bread, I find just doesn’t work. If you freeze a whole loaf, you have to defrost the entire thing because you can’t cut it because it’s too hard. And then, even once you toast it, it never quite tastes the same. Sandwich bread is fine, but if you’re using it everyday for lunch you’ll easy go through a whole loaf before it goes bad, so why bother?
Arguing against meat/fish in the freezer seems counterintuitive given that most people use it for that purpose. But there’s several reasons why.
First, meat and fish never quite cook the same after being unfrozen. I remember that one of my biggest kitchen disasters was trying to sear a scallop after thawing it. It just turned into a wet sloppy mess. I’ve had similar experiences with other fish fillets. You basically can’t get a nice sear on anything, which pretty much rules out any sort of stove top cooking. Not the end of the world, but it is limiting.
Second, is there anything more annoying than trying to thaw this stuff? I can’t remember the last time I took a piece of meat or fish out of the freezer more than a day in advance, placed it in the fridge (the FDA recommended way of thawing things), and didn’t end up having to soak the thing in cold water for several hours to get it thawed enough. And even in most of those cases I still had a block of ice in the middle piece of the meat.
Third, it leads to overconsumption of meat. Now, I’m an unapologetic carnivore, but I don’t like to waste things or use more than I need to. Hence, I always buy meat and fish with a plan to use it for a specific recipe or day of the week. If I know I’m going to be too busy to cook in a week, then I don’t buy meat that will go bad that week. With fish, I only buy it the day I’m going to cook it.
But think about how this calculus changes when the freezer is concerned. Eight pounds of chicken for only $1.99/pound? Why not? I can stick the rest of it in the freezer where I’ll never use it again and throw it out three months later! It completely separates the prudent shopping for what we need decisions from what seems cheap and too great a deal to pass up.
I understand that freezers serve a useful purpose and that can be great for preserving certain ingredients. But please, buy your meat/fish/bread when you’re going use it and keep it away from the freezer.
*Frozen fruit is perfect for smoothies because you can use it as a substitute for ice. Take frozen fruit (mangoes, strawberries are best) and blend it along with vanilla yogurt, a banana, and a some orange juice.
Image used under a Creative Commons license from flickr user corporatemonkey.