Chefs Reveal the 16 Items They Never Buy Frozen
Some of the country’s best chefs share what they never buy frozen at the grocery store—plantains, crawfish tails, and pasta included.
For Michael Beltran, the Cuban-American chef who runs restaurants in Miami, buying (and cooking) frozen plantains is practically a sin. Then there’s Michael Sichel, the executive chef in charge of the kitchen the ritzy Hotel Bennett in Charleston, SC. He’s so against freezing ingredients – both at work and in his home – he’s converted nearly all of his freezers to refrigerators.
Read on to find how why you’ll never see this group chefs – including Nina Compton, Jet Tila, and Christopher Li – freeze and thaw these 16 ingredients, from pizza to oysters and lobster.
“They just lose so much of that luscious ocean flavor when they are frozen. At this point, your sauce better be good. Even if your sauce is good, now you're just chewing on something rubbery. No one likes a rubbery, bland mussel.” – Matt Wynn, executive chef of Taste Bar
“While you certainly don't have to make your own dough from scratch, making pizza is so much more fulfilling when you use extra items from your fridge. My advice is to go to your favorite pizza shop and purchase a couple of dough balls. Chances are, they will have extra dough on hand, and shouldn’t mind selling some at all!” – Ian Rynecki, executive chef of The Tasting Room at Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards
“Freezing kills nutrients, texture, moisture, and overall nature of produce.” – Adrianne Calvo, cookbook author, chef and owner of Chef Adrianne’s Vineyard Restaurant and Wine Bar
“Whether it’s chicken, beef, or lamb, fresh meat is much easier to cook and looks much tastier on a plate. Also, frozen cuts won’t absorb a marinade the way that fresh cuts will, and that strongly impacts the texture and flavor.” – Ibrahim AlSharief, executive chef of Simsim Outstanding Shawarma.
“It’s a totally different ball game with shellfish and mollusks. Their water content is so high that when they freeze, the water inside them inevitably bursts the cellular structure. This causes huge texture and flavor differences in the frozen versus fresh product.” – Erik Niel, chef and owner of Easy Bistro & Bar and Main Street Meats
“Being in the crab mecca of the Eastern Seaboard, we are so fortunate to have access to fresh, Jumbo Lump Maryland Blue Crab Meat, harvested wild from the Chesapeake Bay by reputable fishermen that we personally know. I feel I would be doing a disservice to them, and to our guests, to use anything else. Plus, when crab meat is frozen, the cells inside the meat break open, yielding a watery and spongy texture when thawed.” – Harley Peet, executive chef of Bas Rouge
“You will never ever catch me using frozen plantains. Plantains are basically a staple in any Cuban diet and buying them frozen is almost a sin! The texture is completely off when they are frozen and then thawed. I recommend using them fresh, just like my abuelita used to.” – Michael Beltran, chef and owner of Ariete and Chug’s
“I grew up spending my summers in Italy, specifically Puglia where my mother is from. We always ate vegetables in season at the peak of ripeness, period. This is harder to do today, but I really try to stick to this rule. To me, frozen vegetables totally lack taste. Corn doesn’t taste like corn, and broccoli doesn’t taste like broccoli. They all kind of become one bland distant cousin of what they should be.” – Donatella Arpaia, chef, restaurateur, television personality, and partner of Prova Pizza Bar
“You never know how old the fish was before it was frozen. Plus, fish loses flavor and texture when it’s been frozen.” – Demetrio Zavala, corporate culinary director of Shula’s Restaurant Group
“It is a total sin to buy bread frozen. For me, there is nothing like fresh baked, non-conditioned bread. Go fresh or go home.” – Brian Nasajon, chef and owner of Beaker & Gray
“The meat becomes mealy and mushy. Once they are killed, an enzyme is released that greatly compromises their texture. Freezing can reduce the severity of it but does not eliminate it entirely.” – Judy Joo, chef, restaurateur, and television personality
“It's fresh crawfish or nothing! Crawfish should be cooked live and served fresh. When frozen, they lose their sweetness, texture, and juiciness.” – Evan Ingram and Brenna Sanders, co-executive chefs of Effervescence
Anything with fibrous connective tissues
“Think meat, fish, poultry, and vegetables. They all have a percentage of water running through them, and when the water freezes and expands, it will rupture the fiber. Then when it defrosts, the fibers release all of its moisture and nutrients. I have converted all my freezers in house to refrigeration.” – Michael Sichel, executive chef of Hotel Bennett
“I know we eat a lot of frozen spinach, but they are their own food group. Most frozen leafy vegetables lose all their texture and vibrancy when frozen.” – Jet Tila, chef, restaurateur, and television personality
“I don’t use previously frozen scallops from Japan, even though my vendors have tried to push them on me when I try to negotiate lower prices. They tell me they haven’t been frozen, however, I can always tell from how they look and their firmness. A scallop doesn’t cook well once it’s been frozen.” – Christopher Li, chef de cuisine of Scarpetta