Growing up, frozen foods were more of an exotic novelty rather than the norm in our household. Nonetheless, when the occasional packaged or boxed item made it on to the table, my mother would never have dreamed of heating and serving it without an added flourish. Canned tomato soup would get extra grindings of black pepper, a dollop of Worcestershire sauce and a poached egg, and even humble packaged ramen noodles were always garnished with roasted pork goodness in the form of char siu (sometimes home made), steamed greens and eggs, and the noodles were cooked separately to avoid added starchiness in the broth.
Now, in my own kitchen, I follow the same principles on those nights when even takeout seems too complicated. Here are five tips to get the best out of your freezer forays to turn those frosty treats into gourmet goodies.
1. Think fresh
Add fresh ingredients, whether a sprinkling of garden herbs, some chopped tomatoes or even a squeeze of citrus to take away that freezer aroma from your frozen lasagna or cannelloni. A quick perusal of your crisper and a couple of minutes with a knife will give you a myriad of choices: think hot or sweet peppers, green onions or zucchini for crunch.
2. Texture contrasts
It’s a sad, but true; the freezer can bring out the worst in foods in terms of texture, making things soggy, mushy or, in the worst case, slightly freezer burned. A crunchy topping such as chopped nuts, coconut, bacon or panko crumbs sauteed with garlic and butter can make a huge difference to that creamy casserole or tikka masala chicken. If your entrée of choice is crispy, such as a freezer pizza, think of adding a creamy element before tossing it in the oven, whether it’s fresh mozzarella or even an egg cracked (gently!) on top.
3. Sweet and sour
A little splash of acid can brighten up a frozen stew or hearty pasta main: red wine or sherry vinegar will add a piquant touch. If a marinara or tomato-based sauce is too acidic, a basil purée or even a tiny bit of sugar will help balance it out. For a final flourish, pour on a touch of luxury with a good olive oil or some truffle oil.
4. Get saucy
Lean proteins, such as chicken, turkey, shrimp or fish, or frozen vegetables such as edamame or peas can be eaten by themselves, but why not give them the benefit of a simple sauce? For a go-to favourite, try Laura Calder’s , which can be the foundation for herbs, cheese, Dijon mustard or other flavourings. Or, layer your proteins or vegetables over rice and make your own topping with ponzu or soy sauce, sesame oil, hot sauce, rice wine vinegar or whatever you pull out of your fridge door. For bite-sized morsels such as chicken nuggets, those items can be combined in different proportions or added to mayonnaise to make your own dip creation.
5. Add starch
Need to make a meal? Add pasta, rice or noodles — or why not whip up a batch of biscuits to drop onto your frozen stew or casserole to add some starch? Alternatively, you can combine freezer foods such as frozen pie crust and creamy chicken a la king with fresh chopped vegetables, to make a “homemade” pot pie. For starchy side dishes such as macaroni and cheese or cheese pierogies, make them into an entrée by adding fresh or frozen vegetables and flavour-packed toppings such as fried bacon, shallots or onions.
Inspired to see your freezer in a new light? Try 12 Make-Ahead Meals You Can Freeze, stock your freezer according to our 11 Delicious Ways to Use Freezer-Friendly Foods, and make the most of your space with 20 Life-Changing Freezer Hacks.