Do I ever have a treat for you all today!
I think it's pretty obvious that I love and adore and talk about pressure cooking waaaayyy too much, but this week's discussion about one of my favorite features of the pressure cooker is totally worth talking to everyone about! Including your cashier, your waitress, your hairdresser, heck even the guy filling his gas tank next to me seemed like a good target one blizzard-y winter evening. We are talking FREEZER MEALS, people, and it is a topic worth discussing for sure! So here are my Top 15 Tips for How to Make Freezer Meals for the Instant Pot.
After receiving a surprisingly enthusiastic response to this post on How I Prep Freezer Meals for the Pressure Cooker/Instant Pot, I decided a more in-depth discussion on this was needed. So all this week I'll be sharing some tips, tricks, and examples of how I use the pressure cooker to make the best/easiest/quickest freezer meals you'll ever have. Knowing you've got meals ready to go in the freezer that take 30 seconds of prep and can be ready typically in under an hour, is a complete blessing for busy lives.
For a list of Freezer Meal ideas, check out my Instant Pot Freezer Meal Archive.
Today I'm going to discuss my –
TOP 15 TIPS FOR HOW TO MAKE FREEZER MEALS FOR THE INSTANT POT/PRESSURE COOKER
All of these tips are meant to teach you how to prep meals for your pressure cooker so they can be taken straight from the freezer and thrown in the pressure cooker for busy or lazy nights. Here we go!
FREEZE IT IN THE POT
Perhaps the #1 most important tip, because if you have a frozen chunk of somethin' sitting in your freezer that's even 1/4 inch too wide, it's a no go. When you prepare your freezer meals, place a gallon size freezer ziplock inside your pot (sometimes I use the 2 gallon ones depending on the volume of the food), fill it with food, squeeze the air out of your bag, zip it up tight, then place the pot with the freezer bag of food inside, into your freezer. Once your food is frozen, you can remove it from the pot and leave the now perfectly pot sized freezer bag inside your freezer for another day. This also works perfectly for freezing whole chickens and turkey breasts (thanks to my friend Rich Lum for that tip!)
RESERVE COOKING LIQUID
For recipes that include water, chicken broth, etc in the recipe, do not freeze that along with the solid food and seasonings. That liquid is easy enough to pour into the pot when you're ready to cook your freezer meal and it will help the pressure cooker build pressure quicker. Examples of this would be the White Chicken Chili or Creamy Chicken Enchilada Soup. In those recipes you would add all of the ingredients except for the broth into the freezer bag, then when it's time to cook up your frozen soup, just add the chicken broth into the pot along with the rest of the frozen ingredients.
DON'T FREEZE DAIRY INGREDIENTS
95% of the time, it just doesn't work. Don't risk it!
DON'T FREEZE PASTA, RICE, OR OTHER GRAINS
While pasta, rice, and other grains might freeze just fine, they will be overcooked by the time any given recipe has thawed and cooked through. Cook them in your second pressure cooker (you have at least 2, right?) while your freezer meal is cooking.
AGAIN – YOU CAN'T FREEZE EVERYTHING
For example, if you're making this Chicken, Coconut, Cabbage Soup, if you try to freeze fresh cabbage, the texture is going to be awful. However, in this White Chicken Chili where the zucchini is going to get pureed, it's not going to matter if it turns to mush once it thaws. So keep in mind the ingredients in your recipe. If the texture of it is integral to the recipe, don't freeze it! Again, milk and pasta – not a good idea.
MAKE DINNER AND PREP FREEZER MEALS AT THE SAME TIME
When you are buying ingredients for your favorite meal, buy double or triple of the amount so you can make your freezer versions of the meal right along with the dinner you are making for that night. For example, when I make these Egg Roll Bowls, I triple the amount of meat, use 1/3 of it for dinner, then split the rest of it into 2 bags to freeze for another day. It takes very little extra effort but you'll be singin' your own praises another night.
RULE OF THUMB FOR FROZEN FOOD COOK TIME
When I cook from frozen, I one and a half the original cooking time. So if the original cook time was 30 minutes, I cook it for 45 minutes. This isn't perfect for every situation, but it's my rule of thumb and a great place to start if you're not sure. Exceptions might include recipes like this Pepperoncini Beef where the cook time is already quite lengthy. I might only add 15 minutes to this one, open the pot and if it shreds perfectly, great! If not, I'd put it in for another 10 minutes.
PREP MEAT BEFORE FREEZING
When you come home from the store with bags full of chicken, roast, or ribs that you found on an amazing deal, make sure and season them well before you freeze them. Then it's ready and flavorful right from the freezer! There's a recipe for Jerk Ribs in our cookbook Master the Electric Pressure Cooker that this tip would be perfect for. This tip would work really well on this Buffalo Chicken as well.
FREEZE IN MARINADE
If you're using a marinade for your meat instead of dry seasonings like the above tip, then freeze your meal right in the flavorful marinade! Just don't forget to freeze it in the pot so it will fit back into the pot once frozen. This would work perfectly for meals like this Pepperoncini Beef.
AVOID STORING MEAT IN AN ACIDIC MARINADE
Lime juice, lemon juice, vinegar, etc tend to partially cook meat and make it tough and chewy. If those ingredients are in your recipe, instead of adding them to the bag to be frozen, wait to add those to the pot when you are ready to cook the meat.
LABEL, LABEL, LABEL
I never cease to amaze myself at how many times I think I will just remember the what, where, when of a recipe. Do yourself a favor, and label everything! I suggest labeling with the recipe title, the contents, and even the cook time so you don't have to bother looking up a recipe when you're ready to use it. I also like to label it with the extra ingredients I'm going to need that aren't included in the freezer bag, like the soup toppings in this Soul Soothing Coconut Cabbage Soup
SINGLE LAYER OF MEAT ON THE BOTTOM
If you want several pieces of meat to cook evenly (like chicken thighs, chunks of chuck roast, meatballs, etc) spread them out into the bottom of the freezer ziplock bag in a single layer as much as possible. When you cook it, the meat will be the first thing to thaw in your bag insuring that they are cooked through.
CUT LARGE ROASTS INTO SMALLER PIECES
While it is possible to throw a 4 pound roast into the pressure cooker and get it cooked through, I find that you'll end up with tender pieces and tough pieces as you cut through the roast. Instead, cut the meat into smaller pieces (3-4 chunks) and press it into a flat layer in the bottom of the freezer bag like in the tip above for more even cooking.
SOMETIMES FREEZE INGREDIENTS BEFORE BAGGING
For example, my favorite meatball recipe in the history of ever is in our Master the Electric Pressure Cooker cookbook and I always double the recipe so I can freeze half of the meatballs. I place the shaped meatballs on a sheet pan, freeze them first, then place them in a freezer bag. This makes it so the meatballs will maintain their shape and also makes it so I can pick how many I want to cook for any given night. This would be great for meatloaf as well or anything that needs to keep its shape for cooking.
HUG IT OUT
Finally, and most importantly, give your pressure cooker a big hug after it makes you that glorious meal that saved you so much time and energy. This is both a perfectly acceptable and understandable thing to do. Or I'm a total weirdo . . .
Here's a video to demo one of my favorite freezer meals
If you have any extra tips that I missed, let me know! I get super excited about such info, if you couldn't tell.
I'll be back later this week with a step by step demo of my FREEZER MEAL process. It's gonna be good!
ITEMS USED FOR INSTANT POT/PRESSURE COOKER FREEZER MEALS
Master the Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook (it's full of good freezer meals)
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