- Frozen vegetables, particularly peas and corn, are big hits with chefs.
- Individually Quick Frozen (IQF) products are most favourable to buy due to the products being frozen at peak freshness.
- Ice cream is the go-to frozen dessert.
Not all frozen products are considered taboo in the kitchen. In fact, many items, especially things that quickly go out of season, are routinely frozen by professional chefs for later use.
“When it comes to the freshness of a frozen item, you want to look for a product that is Individually Quick Frozen, or IQF,” says Anthony Jones, executive chef, Junction at The Essex, Vermont’s Culinary Resort & Spa. “The idea behind IQF is to quickly freeze the product in smaller, individual servings to preserve as many of the natural health benefits as possible.”
Chefs also note that freezing things like produce at peak ripeness allows vegetables to maintain its sweetness, freshness, and nutrients, in addition to flavour.
While some chefs decided to share with us their go-to frozen ingredients to cook with, others shared their favourite frozen snack foods and indulgences. Here’s what these 21 chefs had to say.
Quality frozen items can be dressed up.
“I always keep a couple of boxes of Mrs. T’s Pierogies in the freezer. Some sour cream, apple sauce, and browned butter really dress them up, and they can be enjoyed as a hearty little snack on a cold day or even made into a meal. “
– Christopher Curren, chef, Fulton Market Kitchen
Frozen vegetables maintain their true flavours.
“I have three frozen vegetables that tend to be my go-tos when I’m cooking, including corn, peas, and brussels sprouts. Once an ear of corn is picked, the sugar inside the corn kernels that gives it such buttery sweetness starts to turn into cornstarch. This means that over time, freshly picked corn becomes less sweet and more chalky. Frozen corn, however, doesn’t have the same problem and you can rely on sweet corn consistently.
“Sweet peas are another great frozen option, as they’re very temperamental and delicate. Buying frozen peas helps maintain a consistent flavour. It might not be as good as fresh peas, but for the home chef, it’s far less work than shucking peas – plus, freezing keeps the peas from getting starchy.
“My final frozen pick is brussels sprouts. They are – hands down – my favourite frozen vegetable. So good, in fact, I have debates about why I would ever buy them fresh. They aren’t universally usable because they aren’t great for salads or frying (two rather popular methods), but for quick cooking methods like steaming or stir-frying, they are the best.
“The freezing process helps avoid that strong, eggy smell that cooked Brussels sprouts can sometimes develop, and the cooking time is cut down significantly… important for home chefs with real life to contend with.”
– Steven Lona, executive chef, Waterbar San Diego
This brand doesn’t overcook their beans.
“Zatarain’s frozen red beans and rice – the flavoring is excellent and the beans remain largely intact instead of cooked to death and pasty like some similar products. Of course, no frozen product is perfect … but all-in-all, it’s an outstanding frozen offering.”
– John Currence, chef,Big Bad Breakfast in Oxford Mississippi
Texas toast garlic bread is a great addition to any Italian meal.
“My favourite frozen food is Texas toast garlic bread. I love it because it can be used as a side with almost any Italian meal like lasagna, chicken parmesan or alongside other meals where garlic, butter, and bread would be a great compliment.”
– Carnell Freeman, owner and chef,Cee’s Fried Chicken
Trader Joe’s has great frozen produce.
“When it comes to frozen foods, there are several things I buy pretty often. I heavily rely on frozen peas and artichokes. Trader Joes has great frozen artichoke hearts. For muffins and smoothies, compote and baking with fruit, I love frozen blueberries and raspberries and pineapples. In fact, I’m kind of in love with Trader Joe’s frozen section in total. My favourite item just might be their Tarte d’Alsace which is like a tarte flambe.”
Stick to shrimp that’s been frozen right after harvesting.
“My favourite frozen food to work with is shrimp (with the shell on, frozen in a block) because of their high quality and freshness, which is due to the immediate freezing after harvesting. Often times, individually quick frozen shrimp (IQF) that are peeled and de-veined are easier to use and cook with, but you run the risk of cooking lower quality shrimp that has marinated in a salt solution to artificially increase their size. Stick to frozen shrimp!”
– Brad Warner, executive chef, Bodega Negra at Dream Downtown
If you haven’t had mochi ice cream, you’re missing out.
“While it’s not too often I purchase frozen foods aside from the occasional Chinese dumpling, I do buy my daughters frozen mochi ice cream!”
– Eric Pateman, CEO,Edible Canada
Gyoza wrappers are useful for a variety of dishes.
“Imperial Dragon’s frozen gyoza wrappers work well for wontons, dumplings, etc. I’m also a huge fan of Eggo Waffles!”
– Chris Morgan, co-owner and co-executive, Maydan
Again, you can never go wrong with Eggo waffles.
“Eggos by far! I think Eggos are the perfect frozen food and so easy to pop into the toaster oven to snack on or have for breakfast. They’re versatile enough to add toppings to and Clinton Hall may even have an exclusive collaboration coming out with them in the near future …”
Stock up on seasonal flavours when you can.
“Perhaps the best frozen food I’ve ever had is Peppermint Patty Ice Cream from Sweet Rose Creamery in Santa Monica. It took me right back to my childhood eating peppermint patties. It was one of their seasonal flavours over the holidays and I couldn’t stop eating it!
“There were several nights when I told my wife I was going to eat just one bite before bed, and I ended up eating the entire carton … It may have been one of my best trips to the freezer – ever! It was an epic fail that I didn’t stock up while it was still in season!”
– Donald Moore, chief culinary officer & EVP Kitchen Operations, The Cheesecake Factory
Edamame is a great snack and a special edition to a meal at home.
“One ingredient frozen that I like to use at home is edamame beans. You can easily microwave or steam them, season them with a furikake mix and eat as a snack before dinner. Another thing my kids like is to mix them into a stir fry with rice and other veggies. It’s a good alternative to greens beans that kids like because it has a less chlorophyll taste and more of a sweetness to them. Plus it makes it seem special as if you were at a Japanese restaurant, but you are at home.”
– Jason Arbusto, culinary director, Craddock Terry Hotel at Bluffwalk Center
Individually-quick-frozen products are the gold standard.
“You want to buy an individually-quick-frozen product. Buying an Individually Quick Frozen product means you’re going to buy the individually wrapped filets of frozen salmon versus the large block of filets all frozen together and wrapped in one giant plastic bag.”
“As you can imagine, the food goes through a lot less trauma thawing in smaller batches, thus preserving the integrity and quality as it is prepared. Vegetables like broccoli or carrots and fruits such as berries are prime examples of IQF – frozen in smaller bags, some even steamable, to deliver them as fresh as possible to your table.
“Of course, when choosing a frozen product, if you have the option it is always best to buy local.”
– Anthony Jones, executive chef, Junction at The Essex, Vermont’s Culinary Resort & Spa
Look for the high-quality pints.
“I always have ice cream in my freezer as there are numerous great brands you can purchase that incorporate high-quality ingredients. I’m a huge fan of Ben & Jerry’s.”
– Ron Paprocki, executive pastry chef, Gotham Bar and Grill
Frozen grains are easier to cook with.
“The best frozen foods, in my opinion, would be grains such as quinoa, brown rice, and farro. I like them because some grains can take up to 30 minutes to cook, however, the frozen versions are all ready to go within minutes and cook at the perfect temperature – it takes out all of the guesswork when cooking on the stovetop.”
– Chef Tamra Scroggins, director of food culture, Sizzler
Look for the freshest, highest quality frozen items you can.
“What you see as ‘fresh’ in a grocery store is almost always frozen, defrosted, and sitting out for a day or two at least. Same goes for a lot of steaks and meats that, when arriving frozen, often have a tighter and fresher tasting cold chain than what going to the store can get you.
“I think frozen peas are a great example of something that bodes well for customers as an item they feel excited and comfortable with as a quality frozen product, and I agree. I am still the guy with tote bags stuffed with nothing but fresh peas during their spring and summer seasons, but I’ve learned from a few great chefs that frozen peas can really taste great.”
– Chris Chapman, Head Chef at Good Eggs
Frozen pie crust from Trader Joe’s is a good alternative to making it from scratch.
“Trader Joe’s frozen pie dough is my go-to. I love their pie crust. It’s good quality and if I don’t feel like making a crust from scratch, I don’t feel guilty about it. Also, Cascadian Farms organic frozen fruits are always picked at the height of the season, so has good flavour and works best for smoothies and fruit sauces.”
Potstickers and edamame are easy go-tos.
“For the frozen foods I usually go for Ling Ling potstickers and frozen edamame. I don’t usually consume too many frozen foods. But when I need a quick fix these are what I steer towards.”
– William C. Shine II, executive chef, Denny Bar Company
This is the ultimate salty snack.
“My favourite frozen food is definitely waffle fries.
“We try to always have them on hand when we just need something salty! We can’t eat cake all the time and they’re the perfect crunchy, hot, salty treat for the team to enjoy.”
– Angela Garbacz, chef, Goldenrod Pastries
This chef swears by SeaPak.
“As a professional chef and private caterer, I am always on the lookout for quality frozen seafood and SeaPak fits the bill for every occasion. Based on its, ‘restaurant quality’, taste, I always pick SeaPak when I have special party needs and am looking for already prepared seafood.”
– Chef Jennifer Hill Booker, executive chef and owner, Your Resident Gourmet
Use what is available.
“When we teach culinary classes we want them to be approachable and if a bag of frozen corn is available versus fresh, we advise using it. I will use frozen corn and sauté with butter and herbs to freshen for soups or cornbread. I also use frozen edamame as it re-hydrated quite well for dishes.”
– Sheana Davis, chef and proprietor, The Epicurean Connection
Look for a breakfast sandwich with a kick.
“As far as frozen foods go, I really like White Castle brand Sausage, Egg and Ghost Pepper Breakfast Slider. It’s got some kick to it, and it’s different from other breakfast sandwiches you’ll find in the frozen aisle.”
– Cesar Garcia, chef,Breakfast Republic
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