For Bon Appetit, by Elyssa Goldberg.
When is freezing and thawing food no longer an option? Can you make a meal, eat it, freeze the leftovers, heat and thaw them at a later date, and then refreeze for a second round of leftovers? Can you refreeze meat? Vegetables? Soups?
According to senior food editor Rick Martinez and Robert Ramsey, chef instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, you can refreeze and re-thaw food—but just because you can doesn't mean you should. At ICE, Ramsey and his colleagues have a blanket rule: "If something's been frozen once, that's it."
The biggest downside of freezing and thawing and re-freezing and re-thawing is that the food becomes excessively mushy. Most food contains water. When you freeze something, the water inside expands, and the cell walls break down, leading to unrecognizable mush, says Ramsey. The only exception, he says, is flash-frozen products. If you purchase something frozen, it likely has gone through a deep, flash-freezing process, so the water hasn't had time to pool and turn your food into sad slop. If you're freezing something in your home freezer, it freezes very slowly (i.e., mush city). For this reason, soup is something you can get away with refreezing, but meat—not so much.
He also notes that freezing stops bacterial growth but it doesn't kill existing bacteria.When we thaw and heat, we introduce more bacteria. That's completely fine—bacteria will always exist. But ICE advocates that, ideally, the amount of bacteria would remain below the threshold where the body can fight it off. And freezing and refreezing tests those limits.
But, if you just want to know how to do it safely, here's how to freeze and refreeze meat, vegetables, and soups safely and effectively.
You probably already know the basics. Wait for hot food to come down to room temperature before popping it in the freezer. Hopefully, you're freezing your food in a self-contained package—like a Ziploc bag or Tupperware—and not just throwing meat into your freezer bare. The absolute best way to thaw something is to move it from your freezer to your refrigerator six to eight hours (or more—chicken may take a couple of days) before you plan to eat it. If you're like many of us, that kind of foresight is a little too ambitious to be realistic.
In that case, the covered container that holds your frozen food in a bowl under running room temperature tap water. Ramsey notes that water is a better conductor of heat than air is, so water will thaw the goods much quicker. Without the running water, your frozen food just acts as a giant ice cube that cools the water and slows down the whole process. No good.
As a last-ditch effort, the third best option is to microwave your frozen container on the defrost setting, with a key stipulation. Ramsey says you have to cook it and consume it immediately. This method works best for something like soup, since the microwave heats most foods unevenly when cooking from frozen. Just crack the lid open a bit (but leave the lid on because you don't want microwave splatter) and occasionally stir to break up icy chunks.
And then, fingers crossed, you're golden. Even though you shouldn't heat, freeze, and thaw multiple times, you can probably get away with it. Just like you've always gotten away with forgetting to take your makeup off before bed. Just like no one actually knows whether you've really even seen Game of Thrones. You'll be totally, completely fine.
Or make this super-fast pressure cooker stew, and never look back:
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