How to cook frozen foods
Practical and convenient, frozen food is one of the most useful resources to keep in the freezer and take at the right time, to prepare a lunch or dinner on the fly and at the last minute, when the pantry offers no alternative. In fact, the freezing process also offers other advantages, both from a nutritional and environmental point of view.
What is deep-freezing?
Let’s start with the definition of deep-freezing: this term specifically identifies a production process – regulated in Italy in a meticulous and severe way by decree number 110 of 27 January 1992 – which prescribes some basic standards. First of all, frozen food products can be defined as those that have been “frozen without interruption at values equal to or less than – 18 °C” with a process that allows the “maximum crystallization zone to be overcome and the temperature of the product to be maintained in all its points, after thermal stabilization”.
What are the frozen products?
The temperature set by law at -18 degrees makes the big difference between frozen products with industrial processes that respect the cold chain and frozen foods (which we can also store in the domestic freezer); in addition, the regulatory reference also requires that the packaging preserves the integrity of the food and that it contains precise instructions for thawing and consumption. Frozen products mainly include raw materials, such as freshly harvested frozen vegetables, filleted fish, crustaceans and particular types of meat, but recently ready-made dishes such as pre-cooked pasta, pizzas and so on have also become more widespread.
How to cook frozen foods
To safely consume frozen foods, a series of precautions must be observed, both general and specific for the various types of products; in general, the best way to defrost foods is to refrigerate them for a few hours, which is also the system that takes the longest time, while the use of microwaves is the fastest technique. Some foods, then, can also be cooked directly, which is the best method to avoid the proliferation of bacteria that could be generated by the passage to high temperature.
As a general criterion, frozen foods passed through the microwave should be consumed immediately, while for those brought back to room temperature with the refrigerator we can wait up to 48 hours before eating them.
Precautions for thawing food
The cold, in fact, blocks the action of bacteria, and also for this reason the phase of thawing of food is essential, because it serves to maintain the goodness and characteristics of the products and to protect our health. There are obviously some rules to follow: the first is never to put a defrosted food back into the freezer, because the bacterial load could already have been activated and could cause risks for subsequent consumption. In addition, breaking the cold chain also has an effect on taste, because ice crystals are formed that destroy proteins and nutrients.
Cooking frozen food directly in a pan
A method that preserves the hygiene of frozen food and speeds up operations is to cook frozen foods directly: this is possible first of all with small foods such as vegetables (in particular spinach or peas), but it is also suitable for slices of meat and fish fillets, which must be cooked evenly on both sides, turning the food carefully in the pan.
How to cook frozen foods in the oven
Another way of cooking frozen food is in the oven: the time required will be longer than for cooking on the stove, but the result is good and above all preserves the quality of the vegetables, which are not damaged by the ice and remain firm and with a natural colour.
How to cook frozen vegetables
For the vegetables we have a series of different ways of preparing frozen foods: for the more delicate ones (asparagus tips, artichoke hearts or spring beans), we recommend a bath in boiling salted water just removed from the freezer, boiling them for the necessary time on the packaging or to cook them in a pan with a little water and oil directly from frozen foods.
If, on the other hand, we have frozen leafy vegetables, especially chard and spinach, we can keep them out of the freezer at room temperature for a few minutes before cooking.
How to cook frozen fish
Frozen fish products should always be eaten after cooking, even if it is quick. Fish fillets, for example, can be cooked directly in the pan or in the oven, so that you can enjoy a food rich in flavor that does not lose its original characteristics: the precaution to take in this case is to provide for a longer cooking time than fresh food. For fish fillets or other frozen fish products such as octopus, gnats and crustaceans, it is absolutely necessary to defrost with water, which could lead to the loss of the nutritional properties of the food.