The best frozen foods you’ll want on hand
The best frozen foods are just as much a godsend for professional chefs as they are for home cooks. Trust me – I’ve been cooking professionally since 2002, I’ve written multiple cookbooks and my freezer is perpetually packed to the gills with more than just ice cream. (Though there is a lot of ice cream.)
And here’s a food fact you may not realise: just because a food is frozen doesn’t mean it’s not as good as one that’s fresh. The method for freezing food industrially is far different from how you freeze food at home, so you don’t have to worry about things like freezer burn. Special flash-freezing technology allows fruits and vegetables to be ‘suspended in time’ at peak freshness in mere minutes, or even seconds. This not only preserves flavour and texture but nutrients as well, making some frozen foods healthier than fresh.
There are many reasons for chefs to turn to the best frozen foods, both at home and on the job, from saving time and kitchen space to simply sourcing a better product. (No one wants to use inferior ingredients when making their best recipes!) Here are some chef picks for the best frozen foods you’ll want to stock up on.
The season for fresh berries is short, which is why frozen berries are such a good buy. Not only are they preserved at the peak of freshness, but they also can be easier to cook with in their frozen state. “I bake with frozen berries because they are so easy to add to batters without getting mushy,” says chef, Megan Moore. “You do need to fold in the berries directly from the freezer or they get wet, but the flavour and sweetness are peak season. They are also consistently sized, so they are really perfect for things like muffins, quick breads or pancakes.”
Just be aware that while freezing preserves the flavour of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries, it deteriorates their structural integrity. When water freezes into jagged ice crystals, it shreds their delicate cellular structures like tissue paper. So if you’re buying berries to use whole, like for decorating cakes or tarts, it’s best to spring for fresh.
When it comes to buying prawns, frozen almost always beats fresh. Unless you live in a coastal prawning community where you’re able to buy your crustaceans directly from the docks, nearly all the prawns you’ve ever encountered have been individually quick-frozen (IQF) directly on the boat shortly after being caught. Fresh raw prawns quickly degrade in quality as they sit, so by running them through a blast chiller almost immediately, their flavour, texture and freshness are preserved.
As for the ‘fresh’ prawns you see on ice at fish counter? They’re more than likely previously frozen prawns that have been fully thawed. In some cases, thawed prawns may be treated with chemicals like sodium tripolyphosphate, which causes them to absorb water so they look plumper and fresher – and so they will weigh more when put on the pricing scale. One word of caution: according to chef, Cynthia Valles, you should always check the ingredients list when buying frozen prawns. The only thing that should be listed there is (of course) ‘prawns’.