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Fab freezing with Justine Pattison

If you use your freezer for party ice and peas and then wonder why there's nothing in it for dinner, queen of freeze and food author Justine Pattison is here to help!

From flat freezing to whole-meal freezing, Justine has more innovations, tips and techniques to help us revolutionise the way we freeze food.

Fill up your freezer with flat food!

Flat-freezing chicken curry

  • Ensure the food is completely cold

  • Use either one large zip-lock bag for up to four servings or smaller bags for single servings

  • Fill the bag roughly a third full. Leaving around 2 centimeters of space at the open end to allow for expansion, seal the bag securely

  • Tip the bag on its side and press the food with the palms of your hands to flatten until just 1-2cm thick, leaving the top open for air to escape

  • Label with date and use by date

  • Place on a metal baking sheet. Using a baking sheet to transport the bag to the freezer and for supporting the food while freezing will help maintain its flatness.

  • Freeze on the tray until solid then remove the baking tray and stack

  • Most foods will freeze well for up to 4 months

To serve

Run the unopened bag under hot water for a few seconds then break into chunky pieces while in the bag.

Tip into a wide-based pan and add a splash of water. Because the food is only a couple of centimeters thick, it will be super-quick to heat from frozen. Thaw over a medium heat, then simmer until piping hot throughout, stirring regularly

Make your own ready meals

  • Put your freezer onto fast freeze at least 2 hours before adding foods or clear some space in the coldest part of your freezer

  • Place silicone containers on flat trays or the base of a cake tin to keep the silicone stable

  • If you don't have silicone cake pans, you can also freeze the food in foil dishes or cake tins lined with baking parchment before transferring to bags

  • Make sure that meat and chicken is minced, cut into small chunks or thin slices so it reheats quickly and evenly. Use food that has been previously cooked and then cooled completely.

  • Use fully cooked potatoes roast potatoes, mash and small baked potatoes work best

  • Cut the cooking time of vegetables such as broccoli and carrots by half as they will be cooked further when reheated. Plunge into iced water to cool thoroughly and drain well.

  • Rinse cooked pasta under running water until cold and drain well before using. Stand for 10 minutes to dry out a little before freezing

  • Cooked rice should always be cooked then drained and cooled very quickly by plunging into a bowl of iced water. Once cold it should be drained thoroughly and frozen immediately. Always cook freshly for freezing and never use rice leftover from another meal.

  • Divide foods between the containers, keeping loosely arranged and not more than 2-3cm deep. The flatter the food the more quickly it will freeze and reheat.

  • Add a gravy or sauce to help keep everything held together once frozen. Make your gravy or sauce wetter than usual as they tend to thicken further when frozen.

  • Once you have plated your meal inside the silicone pan cover loosely with cling film and freeze until solid

  • Once frozen completely transfer the frozen meal into labelled freezer bags. Press out as much air as possible and seal tightly. Freeze for up to 1 month.

To Serve

Unwrap the selected meal and put on a microwavable plate. Cover with a plastic microwave food cover with the vents open to allow steam to escape.

Microwave on HIGH for 8-14 minutes or until piping hot throughout. Microwave ovens vary as will the density of your food, so it is important to check that it is hot right through to the middle with no icy patches or cold spots.

Remove the cover and separate the food a little with a fork after 5 minutes then return to the microwave and continue to reheat. (You can also stir halfway through the reheating time if appropriate.) You should thoroughly heat foods to a minimum core temperature of 75 degrees C. (In Scotland it's recommended that foods are heated to minimum core temperature of 82 degrees C.)

You can also reheat meals in the oven at around 200C/fan oven 180C/gas 6. Put the frozen meals in Victoria sandwich tins (or similar), lined with baking parchment and place on a baking tray. Cover with foil and reheat for 30-45 minutes or until piping hot throughout.

Extra freezing tips

  • Make space in coldest part of your freezer or put the fast-freeze button on at least 2 hours before freezing turn it off 24 hours after adding the food

  • Make sure foods are completely cold before freezing

  • Freeze flat to save time and space

  • Label bags and containers before adding the food

  • Wrap really tightly to keep air out

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