Shopping for an array of fruits, vegetables, meats, and more will help you craft delicious meals for the week ahead. Before you get to cooking, however, it's important to identify where to best store these ingredients when you bring them back from the grocery store—especially if you won't be using them immediately.
Luckily, deciding which items you can safely freeze is easy: "This refrigerator and freezer storage chart, provided by the Food and Drug Administration, includes safe storage times for many widely used foods," says Tamika Sims, PhD, senior director of food technology communications at the International Food Information Council (IFIC). "Many different foods can be stored in airtight containers or freezer bags for extended amounts of time in the freezer."
But while certain freezer-friendly items, like vegetables that come frozen and ice cream, are obvious, others are not. That's why we're sharing some unexpected ingredients you didn't know you could freeze now to make a dish later. An overarching rule of thumb? "Never freeze something you won't be excited to eat later," says chef Ronna Welsh, owner of Purple Kale Kitchenworks cooking school in Brooklyn, N.Y.
If you have extra eggs or would like to stock up for baking projects when eggs are on sale, keep them in the freezer, says Welsh.
Whisk Before You Freeze
"If you'd like to freeze eggs, you can crack them, whip them up, and freeze them in an airtight container. Use them within one year," says Sims. "You can also freeze egg whites this way." Blending the egg yolk and white together before freezing is recommended since, as the USDA notes, "freezing causes the yolk to become thick and syrupy, so it will not flow like an unfrozen yolk or blend very well with the egg white or other ingredients."
Freeze Exact Amounts
Welsh recommends freezing the exact amount of shelled whole eggs you need for a favorite frittata or quiche recipe; she suggests freezing egg whites in the exact amounts you need for making meringues, macaroons, sponge cakes, or marshmallows.
Dried Chile Peppers
If you love to add a kick to your meals, consider storing dried whole chiles in the freezer. They are the key to slow, meaty stews or soups, rubs, sauces, and salsas, says Welsh.
Since dried whole chile peppers are often sold packaged in large bundles, and because they become brittle and lose vibrancy once they are exposed to light, Welsh recommends freezing them over storing them in your pantry—especially if you use dried chiles infrequently.
If you have extra ripe fruit that may go bad before you can use it, your first instinct might be to toss it out. Consider tossing it into the freezer, instead.
"Ripe bananas [are great] for ice cream or smoothies," Welsh says. Sims notes that bananas are best peeled before freezing as the peels can be difficult to remove once the fruit has solidified. "Place peeled bananas in a freezer bag or airtight container that is freezer-friendly and the fruit will stay good for up to one month," she says.
Freezing nearly-too-ripe berries is a smart way to preserve them, since they spoil quickly. Spread berries out on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet—lining the sheet prevents the berries from sticking to it—and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer the berries to a freezer bag or container and return to the freezer where you can store them for up to six month.
Unlike store-bought frozen berries, fresh ones that you freeze may be mushy when you defrost them, but Welsh says they are still good for smoothies or fruit crisps.
Herb Purées or Pestos
Have any leftover herbs? Blend them up and freeze them. "Homemade herb purées and pestos are a great way to use up and preserve an overabundance of fresh herbs," says Welsh. While it can be difficult to freeze fresh herbs, purées and pestos are easier. Make sure to leave any cheese out of a pesto you plan to freeze; add it when you defrost.
Store Herbs in Ice-Cube Trays
You can use ice-cube trays to freeze small amounts of herb purée or pesto, so you can defrost just the amount you want. Either add the herb purée or pesto cubes to hot soups, sauces, or pastas before serving, notes Welsh—or let them thaw in the refrigerator or at room temperature and use to to top grilled fish, spread on bread, or add to a grain bowl.
While storing bread in the freezer isn't entirely unexpected, how you slice—or in this case, dice—the loaf before you freeze it can save you time down the line. If you cut the bread into cubes, for example, they will be ready to use for stuffing, strata, or bread pudding when you defrost.
Juices From Near-Spent Fruit
After using the majority of a halved citrus' juice for something like a smoothie, don't toss out or compost the remainder. "Fresh juices are always better than bottled, but squeezing fruit for juice is a big project and not one done quickly on impulse," says Welsh. "If, however, you get in the habit of squeezing the remaining juices from a not-quite-spent piece of citrus into a collection container, that juice is just a quick thaw away."
"I pour the remains of wine into [freezer] containers to have when I need it, without having to open a whole new bottle," says Welsh. "I might add a good glug of red wine to a long-cooking tomato sauce, or a meat braise, or a steak pan sauce."
Frozen and thawed red wine can also be added to a punch or sangria; use frozen white wine when cooking fish or risotto.
While Welsh says saving leftover coffee and freezing it into cubes is common, you can use them in an unexpected way. "Instead of using coffee cubes to chill iced coffee, I use them to make coffee milk (coffee cubes piled high in a glass, with a little sugar, and milk poured over)," she says.
Since it's important to measure your ingredients out before baking, Welsh suggests keeping pre-measured dry ingredients in your freezer in what she calls "cookie kits." Use them to easily make a dessert or dish. "It's a small step that helps motivate people to cook something sweet and special on impulse," says Welsh. "I usually put these mixes into freezer bags along with a note about what else the recipe requires; this cheat sheet makes it possible to side-step having to look the recipe up again."