My Freezer Is a Library of Homemade Condiments
Because water is the least interesting thing you can put in your ice-cube tray.
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For me, at least, this is not the time to be tackling lengthy recipes. I just want to reach into the pantry and quickly prepare whatever looks easiest. And that’s ok! Lazy cooking is never bad when you’re armed with flavor bombs.
Although I don’t usually associate the freezer with intense flavor, I’ve been relying on mine to upgrade all sorts of tired dinnertime basics. In a spare ice cube tray, I freeze small pucks of various flavorful concoctions. I affectionately call them bombs because of their explosive impact on even the blandest of dishes.
With a bag full of these delicious little cubes, any five-minute meal can be spontaneously upgraded: Simply cooked beans, grains, pastas, soups, and stews—basically anything that seems to need a little something to perk it up. And it all happens at a moment’s notice, with no mess to clean.
You Don’t Need Any Fancy Equipment
Flavorful concoctions can be frozen in takeout containers or resealable plastic bags, but using an ice-cube tray creates nuggets that are perfectly portioned for spontaneous home cooking.
I prefer to use a silicone ice-cube trays, which makes pleasingly symmetric cubes that are easy to remove once frozen. Honestly, though, any ice-cube tray will do.
Once equipped with an ice cube tray, the process is idiot-proof. I take practically any flavorful concoction—any paste, jam, juice, broth, purée, etc. — and freeze cubes of it until solid. Then, I pop the frozen pucks into a resealable plastic bag, where they remain protected from freezer burn until I call them into duty.
You Can Freeze Almost Anything
Almost anything becomes more useful when frozen into a pre-portioned nugget, but I have my favorites.
First, there are peak-season delicacies ripe for preservation in the freezer. Right now, for example, my markets are graced with ramps, green garlic shoots, and tender young ginger. I’ll make an infused oil with each one, freezing cubes of the result for yearlong bursts of springtime flavor. When I can get my hands on an aromatic bunch of basil, I’ll freeze flavor bombs out of pesto. In the summer, I’ll do the same with fruity hot chilies infused into vinegar. In the fall, I’ll sauté, blend, and freeze fresh porcini mushrooms.
Then, there are delicate ingredients that I tend to use in small quantities. Quality buttermilk, with its unique texture, tartness, and funk, makes for indispensable flavor bombs—so does freshly juiced citrus, whether it’s a couple of ripe lemons or ruby-red blood oranges. Without freezing these things into flavor bombs, I risk them losing flavor sitting indefinitely in my fridge.
Lastly, I like to deploy my ice-cube tray when I’m making any particularly complicated or time-consuming creations. Slowly caramelized onions, carefully browned butter, deeply reduced stocks or broths, and homemade curry pastes can be demanding to prepare. Why not make lots at once, then freeze individual chunks for easy use in the future?
Any Dish Is Better With a Flavor Bomb
Whatever you might freeze, its applications are nearly limitless, especially to otherwise uninspired pantry cooking.
A cube of frozen yogurt adds creaminess with a hint of tang to my morning smoothies. Cubes of browned butter will improve absolutely any cookie recipe, but I also use them to impart a warm depth to all types of roasted vegetables.
Those frozen nuggets of bright citrus juice make a great salad dressing when shaken hard with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Or, when slowly melted into a glass of cold sparkling water, you’ll enjoy a delicate, thirst-quenching soda.
Most of my flavor bombs, like pungent green garlic oil, are equally powerful whether melted into rice, beans, grains, soups, or stews. A puck of pesto melts into a perfect pasta coating, or could instead be folded into a bowl of slightly chewy cooked farro.
And nothing so quickly lets me add deep, sweet umami to a dish as does a little block of fudgy caramelized onions. Defrosted, I might just layer them into a sandwich. But in a pinch, nothing is better to enrich a soup, pasta, grain, bread, or bean.
The point is: whatever tired basics you’re turning to, don’t stress. Stock your freezer with some cubes of frozen creations, and big flavor is always within reach.