My concern when I first heard about “cooking for the freezer” was that the texture of the previously frozen meal would be unappealingly mushy once thawed and reheated, especially the vegetables. While looking for dishes that would freeze well, I kept texture in the forefront of my mind. I concluded that by cooking less tender meats in a soup or stew and then freezing the fully cooked results, and by marinating and freezing tender cuts, and then roasting, grilling, or sautéing the meat just before serving, I could prepare meats ahead of time and still enjoy good flavors and textures.
Since I prefer most vegetables minimally sauced and cooked, I prepare them just before serving, usually by steaming or roasting. Both methods preserve nutrients and enhance flavor with minimal effort and attention. While the vegetables and meat cook, I have time to prepare a salad. As long as I remember to thaw something ahead of time (and admittedly, I don't, often), I can have a home-cooked meal on the table in less than 30 minutes without breaking a sweat.
When preparing meals for the freezer, I make my marinades and cut up vegetables for stock before cutting meat, so I only have to clean my work surface thoroughly once. I choose a soup recipe to cook on the stove and a stew recipe to cook in the oven, so the stovetop isn’t so crowded.
I’ve used chicken as the example for this method, but you can follow the same principles with any meat. Use bones and scraps to make stock, tougher cuts to make soup and stews, and tender cuts for marinating. Before Shopping
Review the following recipes at Epicurious
and determine what ingredients you need. You won't be using a whole rooster as called for in the coq au vin, but eight thighs from four chickens, and instead of using a whole chicken for the soup you'll use meat picked off bones used to make stock and from the drumsticks.
Authentic Coq au Vin
Chicken Corn and Noodle Soup with Saffron
Grilled Chicken Wings with Carrot-Cumin Yogurt Sauce
(Note: You will prepare and freeze the soup without
the noodles called for in the recipe. If you want to have noodles with the soup, prepare them and add just before serving. I have prepared the soup recipe with and without the saffron and like it better without. I grill and serve the wings on the same day or I freeze them, unbrined, for later use.)
Pick a marinade or two for chicken breasts from the following list
. Note which ingredients you need. I haven’t tested all of these recipes, though most seem to be enough for 2-4 breasts. You’ll have to decide whether to multiply the recipe or not.Shopping List
After determining which marinade you will use, reviewing the recipes, and noting which ingredients you need, add the following items to your shopping list:
- Four whole chickens
- One bunch celery
- Two carrots
- One large onion
Begin by preparing your selected freezer marinades and brine for wings (if you plan to grill and serve them within a day) according to your chosen recipes. For the broth, coarsely chop one large onion, two carrots, and four celery stalks.
Melt four tablespoons butter in large stockpot over medium high heat. Add chopped vegetables to stock pot, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
For my husband, preschooler, and me, I apportion two chicken breast halves per meal. Decide how many marinated breasts halves you want per meal and label the appropriate number of bags with the recipe name and date.
Wash chickens, set aside innards for whatever uses you prefer (cat food?), and cut up the rest of the chicken into parts. I leave the skin on for flavor and to protect the chicken from drying out while cooking, but remove it if you prefer. Put drumsticks and thighs in sealed containers and refrigerate.
Cut tips off wings and cleave wings at joint. Place wings in prepared brine, refrigerate.
Put breasts into labeled zipper lock bags. Add equal portions of marinade to each bag. Remove as much air as possible from bags, lay flat on a cookie sheet, and freeze.
Add chicken drumsticks, necks, backs, wing tips and any other remaining chicken pieces to the stock pot. Add 16 cups of water, plus more if necessary to cover chicken and vegetables by one inch. Bring pot to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, then remove the chicken. Keep the pot simmering while the chickens cools and you remove the meat from the bones. Return the bones to the pot. Refrigerate meat. Simmer for another three to four hours, until broth has a good chicken flavor. Season minimally or not at all.
Remove broth from heat and allow it to cool some. Strain vegetables and meat from broth. Strain broth again using two layers of cheese cloth. Refrigerate broth overnight.
The next day, spoon off the fat that has risen to the top of the stock. Prepare all vegetables for both Chicken Corn Soup and Coq au Vin recipes. Use two cups of the finished stock and all eight thighs for Coq au Vin. For the Chicken Corn Soup, use the drumsticks and the meat you picked off the day before (do not cook this meat again, but add it after the soup is mostly cooked). Start the Coq au Vin and once that is in the oven, begin preparing the soup. Once the soup is underway, grill the wings.
When the coq au vin and soup are finished, allow to cool somewhat, then ladle into solid-sided freezer containers and label. You should have enough of each recipe for eight portions. Freeze in whatever size containers make sense for your household.Serving
Thaw the item in the refrigerator overnight. To cook freezer marinated chicken breasts, preheat oven to 350F, then cook for 20-30 minutes, until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 170F. The cooked soup and stew can be reheated in the microwave or on the stovetop. I typically serve the soups and stews with spaetzle, potatoes, or a grain and a garden salad. The marinated meat I serve with steamed, sautéed, or stir-fried vegetables and a salad.
© 2006 Chris Musser. All rights reserved.