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Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

KaiJuly 16, 2023

How to make your freezer work for you

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

You are almost definitely not using your freezer to its full potential. Here’s how to fix that.

Take a peek into my freezer and you’d probably think it was laughable that someone with an appliance in such a state was dispensing advice on the best ways to use one. It’s chaos. A disarray of tupperware and glad-seal bags, packed so full that the drawers require a delicate manoeuvre to open, and then a full body shove to close. Let’s just say, Martha Stewart’s deep freeze probably looks a bit different.

But I have great affection for this space. And years of sharing freezers with flatmates has taught me a thing or two about how to manage them. Beneath the aesthetic chaos, there’s a surprising amount of logic. 

Freezers are so often spaces of bedlam. A place where kai is tossed and then forgotten. And yet, the freezer can be so much more. The beauty of the freezer lies in the tangible way it links our present with the future and the past – the contents, a manifestation of collecting, planning and archiving. When we put something in the freezer, it’s like a gift to our future self. When we pull something out, it’s a gift from your past self. It’s one of the rare times in life where we have full control over our fortune. 

The future might be mostly uncertain, but if you decide to put a bag of good sausages in the freezer, you can be certain the future will at least involve some good sausages. There’s freedom in that if we do it right. Here are some dos and don’ts to help you on your way.


Have matching containers

A discordant hodgepodge of shapes is no fun in a freezer drawer: they don’t stack, they’re awkward to arrange and they end up wasting valuable space. We want uniformity and stackability in our freezers. In my case, this means saving those matching rectangular takeaway containers and smaller circular ones from the recycling and putting them to far better use in the deep freeze. Unless you’re already blessed with a heap of matching, freezer-friendly containers, this is more of a long-term goal for your freezer organisation journey – one takeaway order at a time.

Think about how you’re going to use ingredients

This is a moment where you’re really putting yourself in the slippers of your future self. By this, I mean it’s worthwhile considering how you’re going to use the ingredient you’re freezing when you eventually fish it out of the freezer to cook with it. If it’s fruit you plan to make into a cake, chop it into the right size and shape. If it’s bread, cut it into toaster-ready slices. If you’re freezing liquids, measure them into handy sizes – like half cups of white wine for your risotto or cups of oat milk for next week’s smoothies.

The content of the author’s imperfect but beloved freezer drawer. (Image: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

Label and date your kai

You can tell a lot about someone by how they label their containers. But whether you decide to write on containers with a Sharpie, use masking tape or perfectly cut strips of fancy green painter’s tape to write in cursive on, it doesn’t really matter, I just care that you do it. No more playing forensic investigator or palaeontologist to try to decipher what the mysterious frozen vessel of green liquid at the bottom of the freezer is or how many summers ago you froze that bag of strawberries. I promise you, you’ll thank yourself later.

Create a stock bag

In this food economy, what kind of person can afford to blithely hurl a whole onion, a couple of carrots, a leek or two and fresh celery stalks into their humble stock or bone broth – only for them to end up in the compost at the end? And even if you can, why would you, when you can create an ongoing stock bag? That is, a rather unlovely-to-look-at bag in your freezer in which you toss vegetable scraps. 

The peel and ends and leftover bits of carrot, celery, leeks and onions (along with spring onion and garlic scraps, chicken bones and parmesan rinds) can all be stashed away in this bag, awaiting whenever the day is that you next decide to brew a batch of stock. Which leads me to my next point, which is that you should…

Keep at least one container of stock

I’m no homemade stock evangelist, but even I can see the benefits of keeping a container or two tucked away for future risotto, pasta, curries and soups.

Have regular inspections

Whoever thought up the layout of the typical household freezer was just a little bit diabolical I reckon. Their design, which naturally sees the oldest kai continually reburied under newer items, and then eventually forgotten to the tomb-like depths of the freezer drawer, is endlessly annoying. To counter this, every month, I like to exhume everything from the freezer to see what lies beneath and to get a lay of the land. If anything needs to be used, or sparks inspiration, make a mental note to use it at some point that week.

Regular inspections are key to a healthy freezer (Photo: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

Give your freezer personality

Your freezer should, in an ideal world, be a place of excitement, rather than a place of dread. That means having fun with it, and tailoring what goes in, to the way you like to both cook and eat. In my case, I’m happiest when my freezer has some stone fruit for cakes, whole cherry tomatoes for pasta, a few slice of bread, chillies, excess cookie dough that are ready to bake, dumplings, spring onion pancakes, edamame or peas, chimichurri, prawns, sausages, and, if I’m honest, some fish fingers. 

It’s also a great tool to avoid food waste for items you regularly buy but can’t get through quickly enough: cut frozen bananas that haven’t turned completely brown are great for smoothies, leftover coconut cream, tinned tomatoes or wine freeze really well too, as do egg whites leftover from yolk-only recipes – perfect for pisco sours. I’ve also started freezing the liquid from finished jars of pickles which would otherwise be tipped down the sink, to use to brine chicken or for bloody marys. Unconventional, yes. But that’s the beauty of the freezer.

Have a container of ice cream

Enough said.


Freeze food you didn’t like

That soup that wasn’t very tasty the first time around certainly isn’t going to improve with some time locked away in the freezer. As a matter of fact, it’s going to taste worse, so there’s absolutely no good reason to burden your future self with that kind of misery. Ideally, everything you put into your freezer should be accompanied by a sense of excitement for the future deliciousness it will bring you. If it’s not sparking some kind of, dare I say, joy, or at the very least some practical reassurance, it’s time for a parting of the ways.

Freeze things that are already cooked

OK, I am aware that this is a controversial take, but I’m of the opinion that in most (but not all) instances, delectable dishes that have been cooked start to finish, like, say, a chicken casserole or dhal or minestrone soup, lose their appeal once they’ve been frozen, thawed and reheated again. Vegetables are mushy, meat loses moisture and nearly everything takes on an impossible-to-ignore wateriness. Unless you’re someone who is extremely enthusiastic about freezer-ready meals, I say avoid.

A delicious stew is best left unfrozen (Photo: Issy Croker)

Worry too much about best-before dates

We’re all likely aware of the overly cautious nature of best-before dates (if it’s past the use-by date, I’d be far more cautious), which for the most part, don’t need to be complied with. That’s especially true in your freezer, which does a great job of preserving food and keeping it fresh. That doesn’t mean you should throw all caution to the wind – unusual smells (this is a big sign), freezer burns, a slimy texture and dullness could all be signals that things might be awry, and if in doubt, get out of there. 

Go on holiday without freezing kai that is likely to go bad

Your half drunk bottle of milk? Freeze it (though it will only be good for baking purposes, and maybe smoothies if it’s a plant-based milk). Eggs? Whisk them in smaller containers and freeze (they’ll keep well for a few months). Herbs like mint, parsley, dill and coriander can be chopped and frozen in ice cube trays with a splash of oil – or, if you have time, make a chimichurri-esque sauce with whatever herbs are hanging around and freeze for subsequent soups, grilled meat and stews. Garlic? Ginger? Bread? Bananas? You know what to do.

Forget to defrost

Frost build-up means your poor freezer’s motor is working overtime – and if the motor is working harder, that means more energy use, and more money spent on your energy bill. So, once a year, turn the freezer off, take everything out, pop it into chiller bags and let that appliance thaw out. Look after your freezer and it will look after you.

Keep going!