Freezing Prepared Foods – Can This Be Frozen?

How to Freeze Prepared Foods | TheShiksa.com #cooking #tutorial

I often receive comments and emails from readers wondering if certain recipes can be cooked and frozen ahead of time. This is totally understandable given that many of the Jewish holidays are centered around a large meal; it’s helpful to prep as much in advance as possible. Cooking for a large group can be stressful, and having the option to cook something ahead of time is a great way to lessen the load. A couple of years ago I purchased a big chest freezer, and it has really helped with my kitchen prep work. That said, some foods freeze really well, while others don’t. How can you know if a prepared dish will freeze well?

In answer to the most common question, “Can this be frozen?” the answer is usually yes– most foods can be frozen. However, not all foods have the same freezer life, and some dishes will not freeze as beautifully as others. Your goal should be to make preparation easier, while keeping food safe and serving something that tastes great. After much thought and research, I’ve created some guidelines that you can refer to year-round. I hope that you will find them as helpful as I do.

Keep it Clean!

When it comes to freezing food, the rules of sanitation, particularly when thawing, are super important. Different types of foods have different shelf lives, and some foods shouldn’t be frozen for a long period of time to avoid contamination. Click the link below for a handy printable chart from the FDA, which will show you how long different types of foods can be refrigerated or frozen:

FDA Refrigerator and Freezer Storage Chart

Always let your food cool down to room temperature before packaging and storing for the freezer. Keep a permanent marker handy for labeling and dating your items, so you know how long you can safely keep them. Frozen foods should be kept at 0 degrees F or lower.

There are three appropriate methods when it comes to defrosting frozen food – in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave. The best choice is to plan ahead and thaw your frozen foods, while still covered, in the refrigerator overnight or for a couple of days (larger items, like frozen turkeys, will often take longer than a day to defrost in the fridge). If you have less time you can thaw under a steady stream of cold, running water while still covered or in the microwave. Only use the microwave if you plan to cook or serve the food immediately after. Never leave food at room temperature on the countertop to thaw. The problem with this method is that the surface of the frozen food thaws more rapidly than the inside, which can result in bacterial growth.  Once the food is thawed, always trust your instincts– if something looks or smells off, better to toss it and start over.

How to Freeze Prepared Foods | TheShiksa.com #cooking #tutorial

Frozen Food Categories

Here I’ve mapped out the rules for freezing most major food items. I’ve also included the best ways to freeze, thaw and bring to serving temperature.

Soups and Sauces: Soups and sauces are some of the easiest things to freeze. If soups contain matzo balls, dumplings or pasta, freeze those items separately (as described below). Before freezing, bring the soup to room temperature. There are several ways to freeze soups and sauces in order to maximize freezer space. I usually use a plastic quart container with a lid, and I leave some room at the top for expansion. I’ve heard that some folks pour the soup or sauce into ice cube trays, then transfer the frozen cubes into an airtight, re-sealable plastic bag. Whatever your method of storage, make sure the soup is cooled completely to room temperature before putting it in the freezer. When ready to serve, transfer the frozen soup or sauce to a pot and slowly heat the soup over low to moderate heat, making sure to boil it for a few minutes. If your soup or sauce contains cream, stir often to avoid burning. Potato soups do not freeze well.

Pasta, Dumplings and Matzo Balls: Cook and bring to room temperature, be sure to cook pasta to al dente or slightly underdone to avoid mushiness. For pasta, transfer to an airtight re-sealable bag and freeze. Matzo balls and dumplings are best when frozen on a sheet tray before transferring to an airtight re-sealable bag. If using in soup or sauce, simply transfer the pasta, dumplings or matzo balls to the warm soup and allow them to come to temperature. If using the pasta for something else, like pasta salad, thaw using one of the three sanitary methods described above, whichever best suits your needs.

Vegetables: Keep in mind that not all vegetables freeze well. Leafy greens, lettuce and salads are always best when prepared shortly before serving. For most other vegetables, blanch them (cook them until they’re almost, but not quite, done) and allow to cool. Par-cooking (blanching), instead of fully cooking, ensures that your veggies won’t become mushy during re-heating. When cool, transfer to an airtight re-sealable bag, leaving room at the top. When ready to use, thaw vegetables and finish cooking using your method of choice.

Colorado State University has a fantastic printable guide for freezing vegetables, with information on the proper containers, storage, and a comprehensive list of vegetables to reference:

Colorado State University Guide to Freezing Vegetables

Meat: Yes! Briskets, pot roasts, and most other red meat dishes do freeze quite well. Cook the meat till it’s just a few minutes away from being done, then bringing to room temperature and freeze. Cooking the meat slightly underdone helps to avoid any chance of drying out when reheating. Wrap tightly with plastic and, if possible, use an airtight re-sealable bag or a large airtight container. When ready to serve, thaw the covered meat in the refrigerator. Large cuts of meat like roast and brisket thaw fairly slowly so be mindful of how much time you have. Once thawed, finish cooking the meat to desired doneness using your cooking method of choice.

Poultry: Cooked chicken and turkey both freeze well. If you are cooking them whole, you should remove the meat from the carcass before freezing. Never freeze stuffed chicken or turkey due to food safety concerns. Immediately upon cooling, store your chicken or poultry in an airtight container or re-sealable bag and freeze. Thaw using one of the safe sanitary methods described above. Bring to serving temperature using your method of choice, being careful not to overcook, which can lead to dry meat. Battered chicken and chicken with a coating won’t always freeze well, depending on the recipe.

Fish: I do not recommend freezing cooked fish. Fish is one of those foods that will always taste best when served immediately after cooking, and luckily it cooks up rather quickly. When it comes to gefilte fish balls, my friend Norene Gilletz recommends simmering the thawed balls in water for about 15 minutes. They will taste like they were just made.

Casseroles and Kugels: Dishes like casseroles and kugels freeze really well. I usually cook a casserole or kugel till it’s about 85% done, let it cool to room temperature, then freeze. After freezing, I bake the casserole or kugel till it’s completely cooked and browned. Most kugels and casseroles can be reheated straight from frozen at 325-250 degrees F. If you’re concerned with freezing a casserole pan that you may need for another dish, simply line your casserole pan with foil before assembling and freezing. Once the casserole or kugel is frozen, remove from the pan, wrap and seal. Now your pan is free for the next dish!

Breads: All bread, including challah, freezes well, whether freshly baked or store bought. Be sure your bread is at room temp, then seal in an airtight re-sealable bag and freeze. Thaw bread in the refrigerator, then allow it to return to room temperature. If you would like to reheat the bread (for that fresh baked flavor), you have two choices. You can thaw in the refrigerator and then bake for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees to reheat. Or, if you’re pressed for time, you can skip thawing altogether and reheat in a 300 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until thawed and warmed through.

Pastries, desserts: Cakes can be frozen at room temperature in airtight resealable bags, then thawed overnight in the refrigerator. I would not recommend freezing a frosted cake, so be sure to give yourself enough to time to frost your cake once it has thawed. Pies are best when assembled ahead of time, brought to room temperature, then frozen. When you’re ready to serve, there’s no need to thaw, just put the frozen pie in the oven and reheat at 350 degrees F. For desserts with a high moisture content, like my Honey Apple Cake or Peach and Blueberry Crisp, I would suggest popping them into the oven for about 10 minutes after thawing to eliminate sogginess. For cookies, freeze in airtight re-sealable bags. I like to bring them back to temp in the oven for a quick few minutes to give them a freshly baked taste. And if your sweet tooth is really aching, go ahead and try one while it’s still frozen. I won’t tell.

What Not to Freeze

Some foods are just not meant to be frozen, including leafy greens, lettuce, salad, cabbage, radishes, cucumbers, celery, onions, peppers, garlic, eggs, fried or battered food, rice, meringue based frostings, mayonnaise. When serving these foods, fresh is always best.

Like I mentioned before, most foods can be frozen. If you’re wondering about a dish that is not included in this list, ask yourself a simple question: Is this dish hearty enough to withstand freezing? Delicate foods will not often stand up to the dramatic shifts in temperature. If you’re wondering about a particular food that does not appear on this list, comment and I’ll do my best to answer! 

Comments (67)Post a Comment

  1. Great helpful post.

    I’ve had good success freezing spinach, kale and peppers. When defrosted they aren’t used in a fresh serving way, but more in sauces, stir fry, soups, meatball manner. None the less, if your garden yields alot and you want to put them to later use, you can still freeze them to use a few months later. :)

  2. Great post thanks! For poultry what I often do is freeze raw chicken pieces in a marinade (usually basil, lemon, garlic, olive oil). I defrost the pieces in refrigerator — and while chicken defrosts, it marinates. I cook the day I plan to serve.

  3. I fried up schnitzel pieces that I want to freeze and then after reheating I want to pour some general Tso sauce on It and then serve ? Will it be okay ?

    1. It depends on the recipe. Schnitzel generally freezes well, though it won’t be quite as crispy as it is fresh. You can reheat it straight from the freezer in a 350 degree F oven for a crisper result. Since you’ll be serving it with sauce, the crispy coating isn’t quite as important, so I think it will be great. Good luck!

    2. Hi there Esther will you please share your general tso recipe?It sounds delightful! Thanks in advance and Happy Easter!

  4. How come you can’t freeze rice. I think I’ve done it in the past and it’s been OK. Also I successfully freeze commercial hummus. I break down the club-store size container into smaller portions to freeze. I love hummus, but we really can’t eat it all so fast.

    1. Great to know about the hummus! Rice can be frozen, but it’s tricky– you have to follow a specific method, otherwise it will clump together and reheat mushy. Here are some helpful instructions from TheKitchn.com on the best process for freezing cooked rice: link to thekitchn.com

  5. So funny! My cousin was a home ec teacher and she said this was the most-asked question. Her answer, “Sure, but I don’t know if you’ll want to eat it after you thaw it.”

  6. I successfully freeze both onions and celery, but only for use in soups, casseroles and such. I just cook them up in broth or water, then let them cool and freeze them in plastic containers or bags. It lets me use up leftover celery that isn’t needed right away. I’ve frozen celery by itself, with onion, or with both onion and carrot. I will be soft, but I use it in dishes where I want it to be cooked soft anyway. It lets me use it in soups, even if I don’t have any fresh on hand. While you can ‘flash’ freeze onion on a cookie sheet and then package it, I don’t recommend it because the onion smell can spread to everything else in the freezer. Believe me onion ice cream is not a good thing!

  7. We just had a wedding, and there are a lot of let overs. Can I freeze cooked green beans and red skinned parsley potatoes?

  8. Can you freeze baked beans. We are having a lot of people the week of thanksgiving and I would like to make as much food ahead. Thanks for your help.

    1. Hi Veronica, I think baked beans should be fine frozen. I’ve never frozen them before, but there isn’t anything in them that wouldn’t freeze well as far as I know.

  9. Hi, in my exam I intend to mild turmerics for collecting yellow. This color is used to dye squids. But I wonder what happens after freezing. This yellow is pale. Help me…..

  10. I have success freezing green, red, yellow and orange peppers. When I find a sale, I buy them wash and dry quickly. Chop and put in freezer bags. These are used for sauces. I try to use them within two months.

    1. Hi Linda, meatloaf should freeze well, just keep any sauces separate and add them when you bake. It will take a day to thaw a meatloaf in the fridge before baking, so plan ahead. Enjoy!

    1. Hi Mikela, yes you can freeze stuffing in an airtight freezer bag. It may be a bit dry when you reheat, so be sure to have chicken stock (or your favorite stock flavor) on hand to help rehydrate it.

  11. Hi I cooked carrots and parsnips creamed them and added a little garlic was going to freeze ready for Christmas Day but my hubby said no it would ruin the consistency I’m annoyed as I was trying to get ahead for Christmas! I made the dish on Thursday 19th dec would it keep in the fridge until Christmas Day?
    Please help!

    1. Hi Nicola, I would suggest you freeze the puree, it shouldn’t change the texture very much. I would be careful with refrigerating it for so long, it might not be food safe after such a long time in the refrigerator. Just know you may need to reconstitute the puree with a little cream (or whatever liquid you might have added to the puree) as you thaw and reheat it. Hope that helps!

  12. Hi,
    I baked a creamy orange ricotta tart made with cream cheese and ricotta cheese and it has a nilla vanilla cookie crumble crust, can this be frozen.

  13. I make chicken and dressing at Christmas.Mixed it has cooked chicken diced,cornbread,celery and onions cut up and cooked,boiled eggs,sage allspice and poultry seasoning and broth.So everything is cooked when goes in oven.Can I not put in oven and freeze one or two days before Christmas? Can I put it in oven frozen to heat up? Thank you,Judy

  14. I want to freezer commercially produced cranberry sauce, ginger and garlic both in a jar. How long can I freeze them for?

  15. I have a great recipe for scalloped potatoes and ham (heavy cream is used)…should I freeze before or after cooking our not even bother freezing?

    1. Hi Vivian– yes, you can, but the texture will change a bit when you reheat. You need to re-heat it slowly and gently or it will fall apart. The texture won’t be as good as freshly cooked chicken, and works best if you reheat the chicken in some sort of sauce. Heat it only just until heated through.

  16. Hello! I know you don’t recommend freezing cooked fish, but I was thinking of making a bunch of salmon croquettes and freezing them to be reheated at work for lunch. What do you think? Would the patty consistency hold up better?

  17. When I make New England Clam Chowder I end up with a huge pot of it. We have so much left over. Can it be frozen?
    It has bacon, potatoes, clams, green onions and clam broth and half and half .

    1. Hi Kathy; in my experience milk- and cream-based broths do not freeze well. However, it might be worth trying to freeze a small amount to see how it works next time you make it.

  18. Hi there…I was wondering if you could freeze a creamy boscaiola-type sauce? I add chicken pieces, sometimes bacon slices, LOTS of mushrooms, thickened cream, sometimes white wine & other stocks & herbs (eg. shallots/spring onion, dijonnaise etc). If I make a big batch, can I freeze the leftover sauce for another time and if so, how long can a creamy-based sauce like this, stay frozen? I’ve only recently become friends with my kitchen, pots & pans, so your help would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks, Anna :-)))

  19. I would like to know if I can freeze a leg of lamb, that I have put slits in with slivers of garlic? I know I can freeze the lamb but I’m not sure about with the garlic.

    Thank you, Abby

    1. Hi Doris, it depends on the ingredients. If the whitefish salad contains mayonnaise then no, I do not recommend freezing it, since mayo tends to separate when frozen.

  20. Hi, For Passover I make a vegetarian chopped liver: sliced mushrooms sauteed in oil with onions; which are then put in a food processor with hard boiled eggs and walnuts. Can this be made a week ahead, frozen, then served at the Seder? Thanks

    1. Hi there– that’s a great question. Unfortunately I’m not sure how to answer! If you try it will you please let us know how it turns out?

  21. Hi there. Can I freeze cooked shrimp scampi with penne? I have an infant and I am trying to prepare meals late at night that I can just defrost in a pinch. I used white wine, olive oil, garlic and butter. Also, how would you suggest I defrost the contents if it was stored in a doubled up gallon freezer bag? Thanks.

    1. Hi Ashley, I wouldn’t recommend cooking and freezing pasta ahead of time. Frozen pasta doesn’t reheat well and usually ends up mushy, even if you don’t cook it all the way through before freezing. You can make the sauce ahead of time and that can be reheated in the microwave or in a skillet, then just boil up some pasta. You might want to try angel hair pasta because it cooks so fast, almost as fast as reheating the whole thing from frozen. :)

    1. Hi Robin– you can, but they will lose some texture and become a bit mushy. It’s fine if you plan to add them to sauces or mix them into other recipes, but on their own they will lose some of their “oomph” and won’t be as enjoyable as freshly grilled. Another alternative is to cover the grilled veggies in olive oil and add some garlic to the jar. Most veggies keep this way for a few weeks, and they’ll retain more of their flavor and texture. I don’t recommend freezing potatoes.

  22. I had asked about freezing vegetarian chopped liver. I prepared a large amount the regular way (not freezing) and a small amount frozen. My Seder guests then compared the two. Everyone liked the frozen vegetarian chopped liver better! So, next year I will make it a week or two ahead then defrost for our Seder meal.

  23. Tori, if you would please; I made a chicken stuffing,(dressing), and put onions, red peppers, garlic, and celery–cooked–in it. My concern is that this food will spoil if not frozen–could I do this safely? please answer me.

    1. Ellyn– yes, you can freeze stuffing. When you reheat it may be a bit dry, so add a little chicken broth to it to create some flavorful steam and moisture as it reheats.

    1. Hi Elaine, generally it should freeze fine depending on the recipe/coating. Most schnitzel recipes freeze very well. I recommend reheating in the oven on a baking sheet to retain as much crispness as possible.

  24. Can cooked sausage and peppers in sauce be frozen —-if the sausage was already frozen and then cooked??? Thank You

  25. I was wondering if I can freeze cooked soy meat prepared with other veggies (onion, tomatoes, bell peppers, mushrooms )? its for my weekly meal prep. Hope you can help:-) thanks!

  26. Hi. Do you know if i can freeze potato knish and vegetables knish??? And What about potato blintzes.
    Thank you so much

Leave a Comment

Please read through the entire post and comments section before asking a question, as it may have already been answered. First time commenting? Read the comment policy.