Digging into the freezer files is an inevitable part of cooking at home. Whether you are a bulk buyer or just lamenting leftovers, freezing food is an economical and efficient way to make your supplies last far past supper. But once it’s in there, it’s often forgotten, and knowing if that awesome chicken soup will taste awful three months later can be hard to nail down. Thanks to the food scientists at the USDA we have guidance for how long and how best to freeze most foods. Lucky for a lot of us, one of the most freezable foods on their list is Chicken. When prepared correctly, this popular poultry can withstand the frozen test of time but remaining edible is the most important element. We spoke to Chef George Barry, formerly at The Ritz-Carlton — St. Thomas for some tips that will save you from freezer burn and ensure your chilly chicken dinner will be defrosted and still delicious.
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How Long Can You Freeze Chicken?
While the USDA says that technically when frozen correctly chicken can last forever but as Chef George explains, that doesn’t mean it should.
“Chicken should last 9 months or so to a year but you do lose quality the longer it sits in your freezer and sometimes that moisture and crystallization will get in no matter what.”
However Cooked chicken doesn’t have that long of an ice shelf life. You’re going to want to make sure you flash freeze that chicken soup and reheat and eat it within four months.
How to Freeze Chicken
There are many freezer storage bags and vacuum sealers on the market that make packaging poultry foolproof but as George describes, the easiest way is the old-school wrap and push.
“Getting an airtight seal is the key. I like to wrap my chicken in plastic wrap first to help prevent freezer burn and then place it in a Ziploc freezer bag. Make sure to squeeze all the air out before you zip it, date it, and place it in the back of your freezer.”
If you are looking to step up your food saver game, George shares his recommendations for more savvy storage options:
“What I really suggest is to buy a food saver or Cryovac machine. They have inexpensive options that don’t take up kitchen space. They help preserve the quality of your foods and prevent freezer burn. Also saves space in your fridge cause you’re eliminating bowls and containers. It’s great for marinating and preserving meats. Also, can it be used for sous vide preparations as well if you’re into that cooking method.”
How to Safely Defrost Frozen Chicken
Now that you’ve been inspired to bake that bird that’s been lurking back there, defrosting without destroying it is the next step.
The best way as suggested by the USDA and Chef George is in the refrigerator. While it can take a day or more to thaw depending on weight, this is the safest way to protect the chicken’s taste and your stomach.
When you are pressed for time, a cold water bath will speed up the process to about 4 hours and for the fastest results, a microwave with a defrost option always comes in for a quick dinner win. If you are really clucked, it’s completely safe to cook chicken straight from the freezer. It will just take a bit longer to bake or boil that bird.
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