Tips & Techniques Cooking The Refrigerator and Freezer
The Refrigerator and Freezer
Once you have stocked and organized your pantry, you can apply the same time-saving principles to your refrigerator and freezer. Used for short-term cold storage, the refrigerator is ideal for keeping meats, poultry, dairy, vegetables and leftovers fresh. Proper freezing will preserve most of the flavor in meat, poultry and many prepared dishes for several months. For a list of cold-storage staples, click on the link at right.

General tips
Foods lose flavor under refrigeration, so proper storage and an even temperature of below 40°F is important.

Freeze foods at 0°F or below to retain color, texture and flavor.

Do not crowd foods in the refrigerator. Air must circulate freely to keep foods evenly cooled.

To prevent freezer burn, use only moistureproof wrappings, such as aluminum foil, airtight plastic containers or resealable plastic bags.

Storing leftovers
You can store most prepared main dishes in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 4 months.

Check the contents of the refrigerator at least once a week and promptly discard old or spoiled food.

Let food cool to room temperature before storing in the refrigerator or freezer. Transfer the cooled food to an airtight plastic or glass container, leaving room for expansion if freezing. Or, put the cooled food into a resealable plastic bag, expelling as much air as possible before sealing.

Freeze some main dishes in small portions for when you need to heat up just enough to serve one or two people.

Thaw frozen leftovers in the refrigerator or in the microwave. To avoid bacterial contamination, never thaw at room temperature.

Freezing and thawing
For the best flavor and texture, use frozen raw meat and poultry within 6 months of freezing.

Label all packages or containers with the date and contents before putting them in the freezer.

Always thaw frozen meat and poultry in the refrigerator, never at room temperature or by running them under warm or hot water.

Keep it organized
Clean first: Remove items and wash the refrigerator thoroughly with warm, soapy water, then rinse well with clear water.

Rotate items: Check the expiration dates on refrigerated items and discard any that have exceeded their time.

Date of purchase: Label items that you plan to keep for more than a few weeks, writing the date directly on the package or on a piece of masking tape.

Storing fresh herbs and vegetables
Trim the stem ends of a bunch of parsley, stand the bunch in a glass of water, drape a plastic bag loosely over the leaves and refrigerate. Wrap other fresh herbs in a damp paper towel, slip into a plastic bag and store in the crisper. Rinse and stem all herbs just before using.

Store tomatoes and eggplant at room temperature.

Cut about 1/2 inch off the end of each asparagus spear; stand the spears, tips up, in a glass of cold water and refrigerate, changing the water daily. The asparagus will keep for up to 1 week.

Rinse leafy greens, such as chard, spin dry in a salad spinner, wrap in damp paper towels and store in a resealable plastic bag in the crisper for up to 1 week. In general, store other vegetables in resealable bags in the crisper and rinse before using. Sturdy vegetables will keep for up to 1 week; more delicate ones will keep for only a few days.

Storing cheese
Wrap all cheeses well to prevent them from drying out. Hard cheeses, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, have a low moisture content, so they keep longer than fresh cheeses, such as queso fresco. Use fresh cheeses within a couple of days. Store soft and semisoft cheeses, such as fontina, for up to 2 weeks and hard cheeses up to 1 month.

Storing meat and poultry
Use fresh meat and poultry within 2 days of purchase. If using packaged meat, check the expiration date on the package and use before that date. Most seafood should be used the day of purchase.

To prevent cross-contamination with other foods, always place packaged meats on a plate in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Once you have opened the package, discard original wrappings and rewrap any unused portions in fresh wrapping.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast Series, Simple Suppers, by Melanie Barnard (Oxmoor House, 2007).