From pancetta to tater tots, these super-versatile ingredients last (basically) forever in the freezer.

By Clarissa Buch
April 08, 2020
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Wondering what your favorite chefs keep inside their home freezers? Peas, leafy greens, and tater tots are among the items these chefs always make sure to have on hand, because they last for a very, very long time and taste as good as new when prepared. Read on for more surprising picks and easy freezer meal inspiration.

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Pancetta

“The fattier, the better. Pancetta is my go-to. Works for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can use pancetta in anything, from eggs to sandwiches and pasta.” —Ben Rablat, chef of La Fresa Francesa

Fatty fish collars

“Fatty fish collars (salmon, hamachi, large mackerel) are great in soups and stews. They also roast up really well without a serious decline in texture compared to some other fish. —Nemo Bolin, executive chef of Eastern Standard

Tater tots

“Tater tots are more universal than you think! You can mash them up to make potatoes and eggs, loaded baked potatoes, and cheese fries; or you can serve them on their own as the starch on the table." —Ed McFarland, chef/owner of Ed’s Lobster Bar  

© Eva Kolenko

"Flavor bombs"

“I am a big fan of ice cube trays to store frozen flavor bombs. All you do is make your base, put it into ice cube trays, and pop them out into an airtight bag for later. These are great to have on hand always. It's also a great way to store leftovers. You can do this with reduced chicken stock, basil pesto, tomato paste, chopped herbs, roasted garlic, and even avocados." —Amy Mehrtens, chef of Copper Vine

Chicken stock and wine for sauces

“Since the birth of my son last year, my freezer has been full of breast milk! But beyond that, I always have chicken stock from Dickson’s Farmstand Meats, as well as wine that I freeze for future uses, like deglazing pans and making sauces.” —Camilla Marcus, owner of West-Bourne

Leafy greens

"Hearty leafy greens are great to have. Spinach is really watery, but ingredients such as kale and chard retain less water and are super versatile.” —Nemo Bolin

Ground meat

“I like to stock up on ground meat when I go to the butcher shop. I’ll ask them to pack individual pounds of turkey, beef, and pork, which I can just pull from the freezer to make a quick pasta sauce or chili. Whenever I cook pork, I also make sure to set aside the rendered fat and throw it in the freezer.” —Erling Wu-Bower, chef/co-owner of Pacific Standard Time

Victor Protasio

Rendered pork fat

"Whenever I cook pork, I make sure to set aside the rendered fat and throw it in the freezer.” —Erling Wu-Bower

Bananas

"Bananas, when they are sweet, stay soft even though they are frozen. They make a great snack for when you are having a sweet craving. Just slice and freeze. They will have a texture similar to ice cream. They are also good in smoothies or banana bread.” —Amy Mehrtens

Smoked meats

"Smoked meats like bacon and salted cod stay surprisingly well and are always good to have.” —Mike DeCamp, executive chef of Jester Concepts 

Peas 

“I tend to make and freeze a lot of my own cooking with the help of a vacuum sealer. It’s great for storing large batches of food for a long period of time and is worth the investment. Something I always have on hand in the freezer is frozen peas (better than fresh in my opinion), and lots of frozen pizza. —Mike DeCamp

Puff pastry

“Let a puff pastry thaw slowly, and you’ll have a great, fresh-tasting buttery pastry crust for anything savory or sweet. Puff pastry adds that 'wow' factor to just about anything.” —Judy Joo, chef, author, and television personality

Big-butt ants

“I'm Colombian and in the region where I'm from, we eat a very particular ant called big-butt ants (hormiga culona). I always have some in my freezer, and when I'm craving them, I bring them out and sauté them with a little butter until crispy, add some salt, and eat them like peanuts.” —Carlos Torres, executive chef of Villa Azur

Corn

“I have great memories of growing up and eating corn on the cob and shucking it in the summer, but I'll take the frozen version too because I like it year-round. For a quick dinner, I recently sautéed shrimp with frozen corn and cherry tomatoes, and it tasted like my childhood. You can put together an easy version by sautéing other vegetables with corn and cooking it all in chicken stock, with the option of adding a protein.” —Damon Menapace, culinary director of Primal Supply Meats

Recipe: Corn Chowder

M&Ms 

“Fruits and vegetables last the longest up to around 10 months. M&Ms last 12 months so they win.” —Richard Hales, chef/owner of Grateful Hospitality

Texas toast

“I love frozen Texas toast. It’s a childhood food my mom would serve as garlic bread. Also, it never hurts to have spinach to make creamed spinach.” —Jose Mendin, chef/owner of Pubbelly Sushi, La Placita, and Rivertail

Red, white, and blue popsicles

“My freezer is always stocked with them. Very limited nutritional value, but they damn sure make me feel better.” —Clark Bowen, executive chef of Fooq’s

Jennifer Causey

Raw shrimp

"There are endless dishes you can make just by pulling shrimp out of the freezer, such as shrimp scampi with pasta, sautéed shrimp and broccoli with pasta or rice, basic breaded shrimp, shrimp parmesan, or even fried shrimp and tater tots." —Ed McFarland

Scampi butter 

“Scampi butter is a great ingredient to have on hand in the fridge or freezer as it elevates everyday vegetables, proteins and starches. While this product requires a bit of work to create, the end result is worth the extra steps and it holds up well in the freezer for several months.” —Andy Kitko, Executive Chef at Oceans 

Ice cream (when frozen properly)

“Pro-tip: Minimize the time your ice cream is outside of your freezer. Put a few scoops into a bowl, then use the back of your spoon to smooth out the surface and immediately place it in the back of your freezer. Ice cream loses quality when it melts and refreezes, so by limiting the amount of time it sits outside of the freezer and the area exposed to air, you can significantly preserve the quality of your ice cream. That being said, I do believe the proper serving size for ice cream to be one pint.” —Daniel Levine, chef/owner of Dasher & Crank