Rachel Allen's freezer favourites
A freezer is perhaps the most time-saving tool in a cook's armoury. Rachel Allen demonstrates how you can get the best out of yours.
We all have those days when we seem to be racing around the place with not much time to cook, yet we still want a delicious, comforting meal.
That's why my freezer is my friend. It's packed with what are, essentially, home-cooked ready-meals, ready to defrost and reheat in just a few minutes. Good organisation saves not just time but your health (and sometimes sanity!) too.
Of course, I can't take credit for the idea of making use of your freezer, but over the years I've learnt a few useful tips about what to freeze and what not to freeze. Some recipes do so well after defrosting that you just won't be able to tell they weren't cooked fresh. Beans and pulses do wonderfully well after defrosting. Their texture can be just as smooth and, as long as they're packed in an airtight container, they'll be perfectly moist. Defrost them in a covered pan, on a low heat, with a splash of water.
Dhal is a recipe I often make with the intention of freezing it. This baked dahl, opposite, made with red lentils, is supremely healthy and easy to make. A stint in the freezer won't alter its texture or make it any less tasty or nutritious. While it's defrosting, you can make some boiled rice, then serve with chutney and perhaps some yoghurt - quite the feast!
Other recipes that are good for freezing include, of course, stews and soups. Anything with lots of liquid is nicely taken care of in the freezer and a gentle defrosting will do it no harm. I always make extra quantities of recipes, such as the chicken pilaff or beef stew, and then make sure I've enough decent-sized Tupperware containers - and sufficent space in my freezer!
Another tip for freezing may sound obvious, but I can't overstate how useful it is to put labels on everything. Clear labels with exactly what's in the container and, ideally, the date it was frozen on, will make your life a thousand times easier.
1 large chicken, about 2½kg (5½lb)
1 carrot, peeled and halved
1 onion, peeled and halved
6 whole black peppercorns
Large sprig of parsley
Large sprig of thyme
750ml (1¼pts) chicken stock
100ml (3½fl oz) white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
250ml (8fl oz) cream
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons plain flour
Mashed or boiled new potatoes, to serve
Green salad, to serve
Preheat the oven to 160°C, 325°F, Gas 3.
Place the chicken in a large saucepan. Add the halved carrot, the halved onion, the whole black peppercorns, the sprig of parsley, the sprig of thyme, the chicken stock and the white wine and bring up to the boil. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, cover with the lid and place in the preheated oven to cook for 1½-2 hours, or until the chicken is completely cooked. I test for this by pulling the leg - if it feels as though it will come away from the carcass easily and the juices run clear when it is pierced, then the chicken is ready. (For a large chicken, cook for 20 minutes per 450g (1lb) plus 30 minutes).
Remove the chicken from the stock and put it on a large plate. Remove all the meat from the carcass, discarding the skin and bones. Cut the chicken meat into strips, roughly 1cm x 5cm (½in x 2in). Cover and keep warm.
Strain the stock to remove the vegetables, peppercorns and herbs and discard them. Return the stock to the saucepan, add the cream, bring the liquid up to the boil and boil, uncovered, for a few minutes to reduce the liquid. Season to taste. As the sauce is cooking, make the roux. Melt the butter in a small saucepan on a medium heat, add the plain flour and allow to cook for two minutes, stirring regularly, until it is a pale golden colour, then set aside.
While the sauce is still boiling, whisk in about half of the roux. You need enough to thicken the sauce, so it just coats the back of a spoon. If it is too thin, whisk in more of the roux. Put the chicken and juices back in the saucepan, taste for seasoning, adjusting if necessary, and keep warm until needed.
Serve with mashed or boiled new potatoes and a green salad.
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely grated
2 teaspoons coriander seeds, ground
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, ground
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
2 teaspoons grated ginger
½-1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
Pinch of ground cinnamon
The crushed seeds of 4 green cardamom pods
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon tomato puree
250g (9oz) red lentils
700ml (1¼ pts) chicken stock or vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 tablespoons chopped coriander
Squeeze of lemon
Preheat the oven to 180°, 350°F, Gas 4.
Heat the sunflower oil in a large casserole over a low-to-medium heat, add the finely chopped onion and the crushed or finely grated garlic, whichever you're using. Cover and cook for 8-10 minutes, until the onions and garlic are soft.
Increase the heat, add the ground coriander seeds, the ground cumin seeds, the black mustard seeds, the grated ginger, the finely chopped chilli, the pinch of ground cinnamon, the crushed cardamom seeds and the turmeric. Stir.
After one minute, add the tomato puree and the red lentils and stir, then add the chicken stock or vegetable stock, whichever you are using. Bring to the boil, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, cover and bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes or until the lentils are cooked and have soaked up all the liquid.
Add the chopped coriander and the squeeze of lemon and season to taste.
Italian Beef Stew
3 tablespoons olive oil
1kg (2lb 3oz) stewing beef, cut into cubes
175g (6oz) streaky bacon
12 baby onions, peeled
18 button mushrooms, left whole
3 carrots, cut in quarters or 12 baby carrots, scrubbed and left whole
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped thyme
10 cloves of garlic, crushed or grated
425ml (15fl oz) red wine
425ml (15fl oz) chicken stock or beef stock
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon plain flour
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, see my Tip, above left
Mashed potato, champ, or colcannon, to serve
Put a large casserole on a medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, then cook the stewing beef cubes and the streaky bacon for a good few minutes, until they are browned. Then remove the meat and toss in the peeled baby onions, the whole button mushrooms and the quartered or baby carrots, whichever you are using - add one ingredient at a time, seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper each time.
Put all the ingredients back into the casserole, along with the chopped rosemary and thyme and the crushed or grated garlic, whichever you're using. Cover with the red wine and the chicken stock or beef stock, whichever you're using, and simmer for one hour or until the meat and vegetables are cooked.
As the stew is cooking, make a roux. Melt the butter in a small saucepan on a medium heat, add the plain flour and allow to cook for two minutes, stirring regularly, until it is a pale golden colour, then set aside.
When the stew is cooked, remove the meat and vegetables. Bring the remaining liquid to the boil and add one tablespoon of the roux. Whisk the mixture until the roux is broken up and the juices have thickened. Allow the liquid to boil. Replace the meat and vegetables, and taste for seasoning, adding more salt and freshly ground black pepper if necessary. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve with mashed potato, champ or colcannon.
Rachel’s clothes: Brown Thomas
Make-up by Jessica Barry for Lancome,
Debenhams, Mahon Point, Cork
Hair by Jennifer Penny Garry of Brown Sugar
Photography by Tony Gavin