Your freezer can play an important role in this. For, lurking within it, is quite possibly the key ingredient that makes tonight’s meal viable. So why not take a look at what you’ve got stashed away in cold storage to see if you can keep hold that shop at bay for another day? Here are just a few suggestions of great ways to use up some of the most common fridge lurkers.
Peas are perhaps the single most common ingredient to be found in the nation’s freezers and the good news is they’re incredibly versatile. You can add them from frozen towards the end of cooking to bulk out a curry. They’re great in a frittata, an Italian take on an omelette that is the ultimate way of using up any odds and ends - try this easy and tasty Pea Frittata recipe. Talking of Italy, they go brilliantly in risottos, too. Thawed, they’re fabulous added to a salad, perhaps with some fresh tomatoes, radishes and leaves of little gem lettuce. They also make a great pesto, which you can use to coat pasta – just mash up defrosted peas with a bit of garlic, parmesan, olive oil and lemon juice and any fresh herbs you have (mint and basil are both good).
Green beans are a common culprit when it comes to freezer lurking. Again, they’re super-useful. Defrosted, they’re a good addition to an Asian stir-fry, along with batons of carrot and red pepper. They make a useful addition to a Thai green curry – throw them in from frozen for the final 10 minutes of cooking. They’re also a handy way to bulk out many kinds of soup, from an Italian minestrone to a hearty beef and veg.
There are plenty of uses for frozen sweetcorn, from simple fritters (bound in an egg batter and fried) to salsas (add to chopped tomato, chilli and coriander, adding a squeeze of lime). Why not try it in a sweetcorn chowder? Sweat some chopped onion, carrot, celery and red pepper (you don’t need all – use whatever you have), then add sweetcorn, some peeled cubed potatoes, water or stock, and any woody herbs you might have (thyme is good). Cook until the potato is soft, remove any herb stems, then blitz with a hand-held blender or in a food processor. Stir through some cream or crème fraiche and serve.
Fruit is another common ingredient in our freezers. Happily, all those frozen fruits we buy to make into smoothies have plenty of other uses. Take blueberries. They’re great in fluffy American-style pancakes – for breakfast for 4, mix 140g self-raising flour, 250ml milk, 1 egg, 1 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt. Place a frying pan on a medium heat, melt a knob of butter, then add ladlefuls of the mixture, dropping in half a dozen frozen berries per pancakes. Cook on both sides till the pancakes are golden and the berries are lovely and jammy. Of course, home baking is a great way to spend some quality family time during lockdown and blueberries are good here, too. They are a brilliant addition to a lemon drizzle cake – just remember to dredge them in a little flour before adding, so they don’t all fall to the bottom.
Perhaps surprisingly, frozen mango has quite a few savoury uses, particularly in south Asian and Caribbean or Mexican dishes. It’s good roughly chopped with chilli and fresh coriander, mixed with defrosted sweetcorn, and a little sugar and lime juice to serve as a salsa. Add a splash of Tabasco and a squirt of ketchup for a Tex-Mex vibe, or a slug of Thai fish sauce and some sriracha for an Asian flavour. It can also go well in curries, either with chicken in a Thai green curry or with minced lamb in an Indian keema.
Most of us know what to do with the ubiquitous pack of minced beef, but many freezers will also have a bag of prawns hiding within. Try adding these at the last minute to a curry sauce, made with tomato, red pepper and perhaps some sweet potato or cauliflower also from the freezer. They’re also good tipped into a risotto, thrown into a stir-fry, or added to an egg fried rice, with chopped spring onion and lashings of soy sauce. Alternatively, bind in a parsley-flecked white sauce and top with mashed potato for a fisherman’s pie.
The chicken breast is another common protein straggler. Perhaps you don’t believe you have enough for a full family meal? No worries. Place the thawed breast between two sheets of clingfilm, then thwack it a couple of times with a frying pan to flatten. Flash-fry the flattened breast, then cut into strips to add to a chilli-laced tomato sauce for pasta, or to fill a rolled tortilla along with some strips of fried red pepper, a sprinkling of grated cheese and a squeeze of lime.
Maybe there’s a couple of salmon fillets you’ve been wondering what to do with? The good news is that you can cook them straight from frozen. Season the fillets and place them into a snug-fitting baking dish, tightly cover with foil, and cook in a 200˚C/gas 6 oven for 15 minutes. Then remove the foil, the return to the oven for 8 minutes, or until the fish is piping hot in the middle and the flesh comes away in flakes at the pressure of a fork. Enjoy with new potatoes and some green beans from the freezer.
Many of us have burgers in our freezer and, if you don’t have any buns, then there are plenty of other things you can do with them. Defrost, then crumble into a hash and add to a pan of fried onions and red pepper, season with cumin, chilli powder and oregano, then tip in a tin of tomatoes and some kidney beans. This quick chilli con carne is, of course, good with rice, though it also works well in enchiladas – use the sauce to stuff tortillas, line the rolled tortillas side-by-side in a baking dish, then top with grated cheese before cooking in a 200˚C/gas 6 oven for 20 minutes or so, until the cheese turns golden.
Fish fingers are another freezer favourite. Of course, it’s hard to beat eating them in between two slices of soft, white bread with plenty of tartar sauce, but there are other ways you can enjoy them. With a little bit of ingenuity, you can make a rough-and-ready fish pie. Line the base of a baking dish with cooked fish fingers, cover with a layer of cooked frozen peas or baked beans, then top with creamy mashed potato and brown under a hot grill for 5 minutes. Alternatively, bake cooked fish fingers in a Yorkshire pudding batter for a fishy take on toad-in-the-hole.
If you’ve got some puff pastry in your freezer, you’re never short of a supper. Roll out your pastry into a rectangle, then score it lightly around the edge to create a rim, about 2cm from each edge. Use whatever you have to top the pastry – good combos include salmon and spinach, cheese and bacon, leek and sausage. If your filling is a fairly moist, prick the base all over, then part-cook it in a hot oven (220˚C/gas 8) for 15 minutes, before laying on your topping and returning to the oven to finish off. Otherwise, top the cooked pastry with the filling and cook for 20 minutes, or until the pastry rim has risen and is golden.
“Don’t just think about what to use up from your freezer. Now is also a good time to think about what things you could be putting into it, to you more flexible and adaptable over the weeks to come. ”
Fresh herbs: Soft-leaved herbs such as parsley, coriander, mint and basil all freeze well and can be used in cooking straight from frozen. Chop leaves into smaller pieces and freeze them flat on a baking tray, before transferring to freezer storage bags.
Chilli and ginger: Both fresh chillies and root ginger can be preserved in the freezer. What’s more, you can grate off however much you need from frozen.
Chicken carcasses: If there’s one single thing that will improve the flavour of your home cooking, then it’s a good chicken stock. So, don’t throw away the carcass when you’ve had a roast chicken – and if you haven’t got the time to make stock straight away, then keep it in the freezer until you do.
Cheese: You can extend the shelf life of hard cheeses by grating, freezing flat on a tray, then tipping into freezer bags. Cheddar, Red Leicester and Stilton all freeze well and can be added from frozen to top pizzas or shepherd’s pies.
Tomato sauce: Next time you’re making a tomato sauce for pasta, think about making twice or three times the amount and freezing the rest. This kind of batch-cooking can make you much more flexible when it comes to family-meal inspiration – the sauce can form a base for bolognese, chilli con carne, shepherd’s pie, pizza and more.