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Chat Leftovers: For no-fail freezing

Howdy, Food fans. Another Wednesday, another Free Range chat, your chance to ask us about your culinary conundrums, large and small. On hand at noon will be Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin, who writes today about wood for barbecuing.

It's always a lively hour, but it's just an hour -- usually not quite enough time to handle all the questions we get. Like this one, from last week's chat:

Is there a good rule of thumb for which dishes are good to freeze and which aren't? I know that casseroles and soups are good. Mashed potatoes, as I discovered, are not. I'm trying to avoid cooking something great, freezing it and being disappointed as a result.

Like you said, casseroles and soups are good bets for cooking and freezing. So are stews, ragouts, goulash, chili, tomato sauces and baked meatloaf. Pasta dishes such as lasagna and ziti that are baked in tomato sauce also freeze nicely; same with rice dishes.

On the negative side of the scoreboard, freezing can cause curdling or separating in certain foods that are heavy on these ingredients: milk, half-and-half, cream, sour cream, cream cheese, cottage cheese, buttermilk, yogurt, and sauces and fillings made with those ingredients; cheese sauces; custards; mayonnaise; and gravies thickened with flour.

Some other foods and food components that might not freeze well: Mature potatoes can become watery, crumbly and dark (new potatoes usually fare better); canned hams, other cured meats and cooked egg whites can get tough; frostings made with egg whites can get sticky and weep; gelatin dishes can weep; jam can get watery and runny; rice and pasta can become chewy or mushy if frozen by themselves instead with a freezable sauce; fried foods get soggy; uncooked vegetables with a high water content tend to get mushy and soggy (celery, eggplant, tomatoes, cucumber); raw garlic can suffer, and so can imitation vanilla -- but you wouldn't use that anyway, would you?

Here's a great recipe to add to your freezing repertoire. It's specially designed to make and freeze, so there's no guesswork involved with this one.

-- Jane Touzalin

Mango-Cranberry Chicken

For this quick-cooking curry, it's best to use low-sugar, unsulphured dried mango.

Serve over rice or noodles.

MAKE AHEAD: Raw, cut-up chicken can go into the cooled sauce for direct freezing (4 large freezer-safe resealable plastic food storage bags), or the chicken can be cooked in the sauce as directed, then cooled and portioned into bags -- ideally, along with some cooked jasmine rice. Freeze for up to 1 month (raw or cooked chicken); defrost in the refrigerator before cooking or reheating.

16 servings

6 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, excess fat trimmed
About 4 ounces dried mango, chopped (see headnote)
1/4 cup unsweetened dried cranberries
2/3 cup boiling water
About 2 cups mango chutney (18 ounces total)
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1 medium onion, minced (3/4 to 1 cup)
9 cloves garlic, minced (3 to 4 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/2 to 3/4 cup mango nectar or water, plus more as needed

Cut the chicken into bite-size strips. (At this point, the raw chicken could be divided evenly among four large freezer-safe plastic food storage bags.)

Combine the mango and cranberries in a large bowl, then cover with the boiling water; let sit for 3 minutes, then add the chutney, vinegar, onion, garlic, sesame oil, curry powder and mango nectar or water (to taste); mix well. (At this point, the sauce could be cooled completely, then divided evenly among the bags containing the chicken, to be sealed and frozen.) Add the chicken and stir to coat.

Transfer the chicken and sauce to a large skillet over medium heat. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the meat is thoroughly done yet tender. If you'd like more sauce, add mango nectar or water. Serve hot.

By Jane Touzalin  | October 6, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Tags:  Chat Leftovers, Free Range, Jane Touzalin  
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