Sometimes you need just a handful of this or a little bit of that: berries for a smoothie, a single hot dog to satisfy a hungry child, or a slice of cheesecake to finish off a meal. That's why it's worth it to "flash freeze" individual portions of food so they're ready and waiting in the freezer, in the exact quantities you need.
What Is Flash Freezing?
In food-industry terms, flash freezing (also known as blast freezing) refers to freezing foods at extremely low temperatures with cold, circulating air. This quick-chill method keeps ice crystals small, which prevents moisture loss in the food when it thaws.
For the home cook, however, flash freezing refers to the practice of freezing individual pieces of food separately (usually spread out on a baking sheet or tray), then packing the frozen food in airtight containers or freezer bags or wrapping with foil or plastic wrap for longer storage. The first step of this process keeps individual pieces of food from fusing together during the freezing process. Flash freezing allows the cook to thaw and use just the amount of food needed, rather than thawing larger volumes of the food all at once.
Foods That Can Be Flash Frozen
Whether raw or cooked, just about any food that comes in individual pieces--or can be broken or cut into individual pieces--can be flash frozen. The best candidates, however, are those foods that freeze well in general and are particularly useful in smaller portions. A few ideas:
- Fresh berries, such as blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries
- Individual portions of meats, such as chicken breast halves, steaks, chops, and hot dogs
- Cooked or uncooked hamburger patties, meatballs, and bacon slices
- Fish steaks or fillets, shrimp, and scallops
- Baked cookies, scones, and muffins
- Baked bread slices, rolls, and biscuits
- Unbaked bread dough, shaped into rolls
- Shaped unbaked cookie dough
- Individual slices of cake, fruit pie, or cheesecake
Foods That Should Not Be Flash Frozen
Because they loose flavor, texture, or overall quality when frozen, these foods are not suitable for flash freezing:
- Eggs in shells, whether raw or cooked
- Cooked egg whites or yolks
- Custard- or cream-base pies or other desserts with cream fillings
- Battered and fried foods
- Stuffed chops or chicken breasts
- Fresh fruits and vegetables: Aside from berries, most fresh fruits and vegetables are not suitable for flash freezing. They may be frozen but require specific steps beforehand, such as blanching or packing in water, fruit juice, or syrup.
- Soups, stews, and other soft or liquid-base dishes: Such foods may be frozen in freezer containers; however flash freezing does not apply to dishes that cannot stand on their own on a baking sheet.
What You Need to Flash Freeze Foods
- A baking sheet or tray (make sure it fits in your freezer)
- Resealable freezer bags, plastic freezer wrap, heavy-duty aluminum foil, and/or freezer containers
1. Prepare the Food for Flash Freezing
- Most foods do not need to be washed. The exception is fresh berries; stem the berries (if needed), then gently rinse the berries and pat them dry.
- If applicable, divide food into small, individual portions or pieces. Examples include shaped individual dinner rolls, individual chicken breasts or chicken breast slices, meatballs, and single servings of cooked meat loaf.
- Place the food on a baking sheet or tray. Make sure the edges of the food do not touch, as this can cause the pieces to fuse together as they freeze.
Tip: For easier cleanup, line the baking sheet or tray with parchment paper, waxed paper, or plastic wrap before adding the food.
2. Seal or Wrap, Label, and Freeze
- Remove the food from the baking sheet and either wrap it in plastic freezer wrap or heavy-duty aluminum foil, or transfer it to resealable freezer bags or freezer-safe food-storage containers with tight-fitting lids.
Tip: Do not use foil to wrap foods that contain acidic ingredients, such as tomatoes or lemon juice. Acid reacts with aluminum foil, giving food an off flavor. Instead, use plastic freezer wrap.
- Label the package using a wax crayon or waterproof marking pen, indicating the name of the item, the quantity or size, and the date it was frozen.
- Return the food to the freezer.
How Long to Freeze Flash-Frozen Food
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, food stored continually at temperatures of 0°F or below will always be safe to eat. That's because freezing prevents the growth of the microorganisms that cause food-borne illness. However, after time, frozen foods might lose flavor, texture, or overall quality. Therefore, use foods within the times suggested here:
- Baked cookies, slices of cake, fruit pies, quick breads, and yeast breads: 3 months
- Individual slices of cheesecake: 2 weeks
- Cooked meats, such as pork chops, chicken breasts, and meat loaf slices: 3 months
- Berries: 1 year
- Uncooked ground meat patties: 3 months
- Uncooked fish and shellfish: 3 months
- Uncooked steaks, chops, and poultry pieces: 3-6 months
- Unbaked bread and cookie dough: 3 months
Thawing Flash-Frozen Food
Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator or microwave, never at room temperature (a few exceptions include breads and sweets that can safely be stored at room temperature).