Skip the blanching, cooling, drying, and packing. Learn the best methods for freezing vegetables quickly and easily. These techniques will make your frozen vegetables taste more like they were picked fresh from the garden that day.
Freezing vegetables doesn’t always have to be a drawn-out process. In The Beginner’s Guide to Preserving Food at Home (Storey Publishing, 2009), author Janet Chadwick provides new techniques for fast and easy ways of freezing fruits and vegetables that leave your produce tasting more like fresh, even in the winter months. Taken from “Chapter 3: Basic Techniques for Preserving Food,” this excerpt explains how to revamp the standard method of freezing vegetables and adds new methods, such as unblanched freezing and the boilable freezer bag method, to your preserving repertoire.
You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: The Beginner’s Guide to Preserving Food at Home.
Freezing maintains the natural color, fresh flavor, and high nutritive value of fresh foods. The objective is to bring foods to the frozen state quickly. When properly done, fruits and vegetables are more like fresh than when preserved by any other method. Best of all, freezing vegetables and fruit is fast and easy.
I had been freezing garden vegetables for years when I began experimenting with the process. I discovered that the old standard method of washing and preparing the vegetables, then blanching, cooling, drying, packing, and freezing them was not always the fastest, easiest way to produce the best finished product. Many vegetables can be frozen without blanching (although their shelf lives in the freezer will be shorter), and greens can be stir-fried instead of blanched for a better product.
Tip: To prevent injury when slicing vegetables with a manually operated rotary slicer, blade slicer, or slaw slicer, wear a clean cotton garden glove on the hand that is apt to come in contact with the slicing blade.
This is the fastest, easiest method of freezing vegetables. It was originally thought that this method was acceptable only for chopped onions, peppers, fresh herbs, or other vegetables that were to be stored for less than 1 month. But I have found that many unblanched, frozen vegetables can be stored for up to twice as long and still maintain good color, flavor, and texture. Try this method with onions, peppers, herbs, celery, corn in husks, cabbage, sugar snap peas, summer squash, young tender broccoli, and green beans. It is the preferred method to use with berries. It can also be used with super-quality fruits, especially ones you plan to use semi-thawed, or baked in a dessert such as a crisp or a crumble.
Cooking tip: Frozen, unblanched vegetables are best cooked by stir-frying. To do so, melt 1 teaspoon of butter per serving in a heavy, preheated skillet. When the butter has melted, add the frozen vegetables and stir and toss the vegetables over high heat to the desired degree of tenderness. Cook until all moisture is evaporated. If more moisture is needed to cook to desired stage of doneness, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time.
1. Make sure your work area and all equipment are spotlessly clean. Assemble your equipment and set your tools where they will be most useful. You will need a scrubbing brush, towels, freezer bags, a small pillow (optional), and a labeling pen and tape.
2. Select vegetables that are slightly immature. Wash the vegetables and drain on towels.
3. Prepare the vegetables: slice, dice, chop, julienne, or leave whole. Leave berries whole; peel and slice or chop other fruit.
4. Pack in freezer bags, expelling as much air as possible. Label with name of product and date.
5. Freeze in a single layer in the coldest part of the freezer.
When freezing fresh vegetables without blanching, they should be used within 6 to 8 weeks. The best methods of cooking vegetables frozen in this manner are stir-frying and steaming.
This method of freezing vegetables often produces the best-tasting product. Since the vegetables never come in contact with water, all color, flavor, texture, and most nutrients are preserved. Adding butter to the bag, when desired, coats the vegetables with a protective film that further enhances the quality and flavor of the finished product. Experiment with combinations of vegetables, such as peas and tiny onions, or peas and carrots. Sliced, diced, or julienne vegetables work best. Whole carrots and beets do not freeze well by this method. Strong-flavored vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and turnips, should not be frozen by this method.
Time is saved with this method because bags of food can be blanched in multiples; cooling requires no special timing or handling (allowing you to continue packing); and since all vegetables are processed within the package, pans need only to be rinsed and dried, making cleanup a snap.
I tested this method against the standard freezing method with green beans. After the initial washing and trimming (time for both was the same), I timed the balance of the freezing procedure. I was able to pack, blanch, and cool a half-bushel of green beans by the boilable freezer bag method in 29 minutes, versus 1 hour and 25 minutes for the standard method. Try it yourself!
The real challenge with this method for freezing vegetables is locating a bag sealer and suitable freezer bags. For step-by-step illustrations of this process, check out the images at the top of the first page of this article.
1. Make sure your work area and all equipment are spotlessly clean. Assemble your equipment and set your tools where they will be most useful. You will need a scrub brush, towels, a chopping board, knives, a food processor, a wide mouthed funnel or large spoon, freezer bags, a small pillow (optional), a bag sealer or electric flat iron, an indelible marking pen and freezer tape, a large roaster half-filled with water for blanching, a large kettle for cooling, ice packs, cubes, or chunks of ice, tongs, potholders, and a timer.
2. Select young, fresh vegetables that are just table-ready or slightly immature. Wash well; drain on towels.
3. Begin heating water in the roaster for blanching.
4. Prepare vegetables as desired: slice, dice, chop, julienne, or leave whole (except for large, dense vegetables, such as carrots and beets).
5. Plug in the bag sealer or iron. Fill four boilable bags with vegetables in meal-size portions, making sure that when the vegetables are distributed, the package is no thicker than 1 inch. Add butter and seasonings if desired. Use as much as you would use if cooking for a meal.
6. Expel as much air as possible and seal with the automatic bag sealer. Or place the bag on a towel, cover with a damp cloth, and seal with an electric iron. Label and date bag.
7. When four bags are packed, drop them into the boiling water and blanch with the pan covered. (The bags will float on top of the water. This is all right, as long as each bag has one side in contact with the boiling water.) Check the timing (see chart in the image gallery on the first page of this article) and set the timer. A rule of thumb is to blanch for double the length of time suggested for the standard blanching method. Use a slightly shorter time for tender young vegetables, and a slightly longer time for more mature ones. Start counting the time as soon as you replace the cover.
8. Fill the cooling kettle with cold water and ice packs or cubes or chunks of ice. Continue packing while the first batch is blanching.
9. When the blanching time is up, remove the packages from the blanching kettle and place them in the ice water. Make sure the ice holds the bags down in the water, since air left in the bag tends to make the bags float. During the chilling time, occasionally knead the bags to move the cold into the center of the packages.
10. Add four more bags to the blancher and continue as before, until all the vegetables are blanched. Leave the processed bags in the ice until you are completely finished, unless you need the space for more vegetables.
When all the vegetables have been blanched, leave the bags in the ice water for an additional 10 minutes. While the bags are cooling, clean up your work area.
11. Remove the bags of vegetables from the water and dry with towels.
12. Freezing vegetables in a single layer in the coldest part of the freezer is best. Remove the ice bags from the cooling kettle, pat dry, and return to the freezer.
Freezing fruits and vegetables this way allows produce to be prepared in the bag , removed and steamed, or stir-fried for faster cooking.