What’s The Best Way to Cook and Freeze Stew or Casserole?

Q.What’s the best way to cook and freeze a beef stew? I recently made one which contained potatoes, carrots, onions, mushrooms, parsnips and beef amongst a couple of other things.

It tasted really good so I froze some of it in the freezer. When I reheated it I found that some of the vegetables broke down into much smaller pieces.

Is there any way to avoid this? Also sometimes I notice the flavour is not the quite the same after freezing and re-heating a cooked casserole. Are there any ingredients which simply don’t freeze well?

(N.M, 27 March 2009)

A.Cooking a beef stew is usually very simple. There are really only three rules: cook slowly, cook gently and leave it to stand.

Cooking a Tasty Stew

What this means in practice is that the slower and more gentle the cooking process, the more tender the meat and the more blended the flavours. Traditionally, cooks would make a stew the day before it was to be eaten, to allow the flavours a chance to blend and develop fully. A slow cooker or crockpot is a great way to make a beef stew, as it is cost-effective to cook the meat for six to eight hours so that it is beautifully tender.

Reheating Tips For Perfect Stews

When freezing a stew you need to think about the thickening agent you used. If you simply cooked it until the liquid thickened naturally, then you can freeze it in either a freezer bag or a plastic container without any further concern. If your recipe calls for the sauce or liquid to be thickened with flour or cornflour, it may separate on thawing. You can either use rice flour, which remains stable after freezing, or tip off some of the separated liquid and boil it up, with a little more cornflour, whisking thoroughly so that the liquid stabilises again and then pour that stabilised liquid into the stew when it begins to simmer, stirring it in gently so that you don’t break up the vegetables.

You should used frozen stews within three months. A good tip, if using a rigid box or container for your stew, and there is an air gap between the food and the lid, is to lay a sheet of cling film over the surface of the food before putting the lid on – this stops moisture globules forming on the surface of the stew which can lead to freezer burn on exposed vegetables. Freezing both stews and curries can make them even tastier, by allowing the flavours to mature, but if your food contains a lot of onion, you should eat it within a month, as onion can become quite potent if frozen for longer and overpowers the other flavours in the food. Some people say it develops a sweaty flavour, which they find horrible.

When defrosting, leave the stew in the refrigerator overnight then reheat either by decanting into an ovenproof dish and heating in the oven or use the microwave – but remember that microwave re-heating can cause potatoes and carrots to explode! This doesn’t affect the quality of the food although it does mar the appearance a little. Stirring the stew too aggressively can also make the vegetables break up.

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