Bittman Talks Freezer Burn

The freezer is a great resource when used well. (Photo: Lost_in_the_Midwest/Shutterstock)

Late last Thursday afternoon, I dug through my freezer trying to figure out what to make for dinner. Having two boys in little league right now has just about killed any attempt at an organized life, and I hadn’t been to the grocery store in a week and a half. I was bound and determined not to order in.

I ended up finding about half a pound of beef cubes that were a couple of months old. I defrosted them and cleaned out the vegetable drawer to make kabobs (which I grilled on my neighbor's grill because I was out of fuel, too!)

As I dug through my freezer, I found containers of small, leftover portions from dinners past, many that were too freezer burned to salvage. My efforts to not waste food sometimes fall short. I chastised myself properly, then went on to dinner at hand.

Later that evening, I came across a piece Mark Bittman wrote last week, Freeze that Thought. In it, he encourages readers to “conscientiously use the freezer.” Ah ha, I thought. That’s where I’m falling short. I’m using my freezer, but I’m not using it conscientiously. Bittman could have been speaking right to me when he wrote:

In that messy box you have some ice cubes, some stuff you bought frozen — a pizza? Lean Gourmet? peas? — and maybe, if you cook a lot, some stock or hastily stored leftovers. You also have a load of things you’ve already forgotten about and will eventually toss, even though you would have been guilt-struck if you had discarded them when they were fresh.

Sounds exactly my freezer minus the Lean Gourmet.

He suggests two ways to conscientiously use the freezer.

  1. Freeze raw ingredients that you have too much of or whose life you want to prolong.
  2. Freeze things that are already cooked.

Okay, I do those things. But how can I do them better so the things actually get eaten down the line?

Bittman goes on to give lots of advice on how to freeze foods that make it easy to prolong their quality and easy to figure out what’s in there by labeling it (why don’t I do that?).

He gives tips for freezing leftover meals, beans and grains, stock and materials to make stock, bread, pastry, tomatoes and tomato sauces, bacon, fresh herbs, fish, fruits, vegetables, bananas, tortillas, egg whites, parmesan rinds, chicken or duck livers, wine, citrus, and burritos.

His tips rely heavily on zippered plastic bags, plastic wrap, and tinfoil, but I’m sure many of those things can be replaced with reused plastic bread bags, reused cereal box liners, and other salvaged items.

If you do use zippered plastic bags, wash them thoroughly and let them air dry. They can be used again and again – same with the tinfoil.

By conscientiously using the freezer and conscientiously using and reusing packaging, a lot of waste can be avoided and quite a bit of money can be saved, too.