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How confident are you when it comes to the correct way to prep frozen food? From meat and fish to bread and vegetables, the kitchen can be a minefield if you’re not up to speed with the best practice way to cook food from frozen – but we’re here to help!
Whether you’re a chef looking to brush up on your knowledge, or an enthusiastic home cooker looking to improve the health and safety of your kitchen, our in-depth guide will take you through everything you need to know, including:
- The benefits of freezing food
- The best practice ways to safely defrost food
- The risks of incorrect food defrosting
- The foods that are safe to cook from frozen – and the ones that aren’t
What are the advantages of freezing food?
When it comes to popping your leftovers in the freezer for a rainy day, it seems a no brainer! But what are the other benefits to storing food in the freezer?
- Reduces unnecessary waste – Unless you are a savvy chef who can put leftovers to good use in a creative new way, the chances are most of us will end up throwing leftovers away after one too many days spent in the fridge. Freezing food straight away can go a long way towards a waste-free lifestyle.
- Convenience– There’s nothing quite like getting home after a long day and popping a delicious homecooked meal into the oven or microwave. When you freeze leftovers, you can save yourself the hassle of cooking something new, and instead enjoy a precooked meal in less time.
- Cost-effective – food isn’t cheap, so it makes sense to preserve your fresh produce for as long as possible to avoid wasting money on spoilt goods. Freezing food is an effective way of helping you to prepare food ahead of time and cook bulk meals on a budget without wastage.
How to defrost food safely
The correct way to defrost food really depends on the type of food you’re defrosting, however there are four common methods of defrosting food that you should know about:
- Defrosting food in the refrigerator
- Defrosting food in the microwave
- Defrosting food during cooking
- Defrosting food in cold water
It’s important to note that defrosting food at room temperature or in warm water should never be done as this can cause foods to become warmer than 40°F allowing bacteria to begin to multiply.
What are the risks of incorrect food defrosting?
According to the NHS food poisoning affects around 5.5. million people in the UK every year due to bacteria found within food. Whilst many people are concerned about what foods can be frozen, the biggest risk is actually in defrosting foods, not freezing.
Cooking food that has not been properly defrosted can pose a serious health risk if consumed – here are some of the most common bacteria found in poorly defrosted foods:
- E-coli– symptoms include vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea, high temperature, lack of appetite
- Salmonella– symptoms include stomach cramping, headache, high temperature, nausea, chills, bloody stools
- Campylobacter– diarrhoea, blood in stool, high temperature, stomach cramping
What are the benefits of eating food that has been cooked from frozen?
There are many benefits to cooking food from frozen, not least the resourcefulness and convenience. These benefits don’t just apply to foods that you have personally cooked and frozen either, in fact – buying food straight from frozen can be even more beneficial, and here’s why:
- Frozen food is typically more affordable than fresh. Whilst this can vary from product to product, it can save you a lot of money to substitute certain things from fresh to frozen
- Many foods can be cooked from frozen, meaning that you can benefit from the ultimate in convenience eating, without spending loads of money. Eating well has never been so easy!
- Healthy – generally foods cooked from frozen retain all of their nutritional benefits, so you don’t have to miss out on the vitamins and mineral on offer.
This blog will show you what you can and cannot cook from frozen.
What foods can be cooked from frozen?
With so many food groups out there, it can be tough to know which foods are safe to cook straight from being frozen, and which aren’t – let alone the best and safest way to prepare your meals.
From meat and poultry to dairy products and carbs, here you will find all you need to know about the best way to prepare your food, and whether or not its safe to cook them from frozen.
Can you cook meat from frozen?
Meat is a tricky one, cooked incorrectly and you can be exposed to a range of bacteria, however not all meat requires the same level of preparation, and when it comes to cooking from frozen its good to know how things differ.
When it comes to the safe preparation of poultry such as cooking chicken from frozen, the best practice is to allow the meat to fully defrost before cooking. This can be done in the fridge, or in the microwave on the correct setting (may vary depending on the microwave). Do not allow poultry to defrost at room temperature, as this can encourage bacteria to grow.
Red meat such as steak can be cooked from frozen, and many chefs actually say it tastes even better prepped this way as it is believed to retain more moisture. To prepare frozen steak you can simply start browning it on a hot griddle before popping them into a hot oven to cook. This method takes longer to cook at around 20 minutes but tastes just as good.
When it comes to safely defrosting pork, we advise doing so in the fridge, left in its original packaging. Depending on the weight of your piece of meat will determine how long will be needed for it to fully defrost, and this can vary between 3 and 14 hours.
Can you cook chicken from frozen?
Yes, but extreme care must be taken when cooking frozen chicken, and cooking times will also be much longer (around 50%) to ensure any harmful bacteria are killed. For chicken pieces, they should always be spread out on a baking tray and roasted in the oven. It is not advisable to cook whole birds and large pieces from frozen unless the instructions state otherwise.
Some smaller pieces of commercially frozen chicken can be cooked straight from frozen, usually on the hob. Always follow the packaging instructions to ensure it is safe to eat.
Frozen chicken should never be cooked in a slow cooker, as it can be in the danger zone for too long and increases the risk of foodborne illness.
It is always best to defrost chicken fully and safely in the refrigerator before cooking, especially whole birds and larger pieces. When cooking, the core temperature should always reach 70°C (for at least two minutes) to destroy any harmful bacteria.
Can you cook steak from frozen?
Yes, and some believe it tastes better, as it retains more moisture during cooking and actually cooks more evenly. Frozen steak can be seared in a hot pan until brown and then transferred to the oven for 18-20 minutes (this will depend on how rare you want your steak and the thickness). However, any excess ice should be removed before putting in the pan, as water and hot oil do not mix.
Can you cook sausages from frozen?
Yes you can cook most sausages from frozen, and this applies to most types of meat sausages and meat-free sausages. Always check the packaging or with the butcher, as they will give instructions on whether the sausages will need to be defrosted fully before cooking.
Most types of sausage can be cooked in a pan, oven or on the grill from frozen. The cooking time will depend on which method is used, but it will usually take a minimum of 15 minutes.
It is important to ensure the core temperature of the sausages has reached 70°C and stayed at that temperature for two minutes. This is to ensure any harmful bacteria have been killed, particularly with meat sausages.
Can you cook burgers from frozen?
Yes and no. It depends on the type of burger. Most burgers (meat and meat-free) that are commercially frozen can be cooked straight from frozen. These are usually cooked in the oven or on the grill for approximately 18-20 minutes. This will depend on the type and thickness. Always follow the storage and cooking instructions on the packaging to get a tasty burger that is safe to eat.
For burgers that have been bought fresh and then frozen after purchase, it is always best to defrost fully before cooking. Before serving your burgers, whether cooked from frozen or thawed, it is important to check they are piping hot all the way through, the centre is not pink, and the juices run clear.
Can you cook eggs from frozen?
No, eggs cannot be cooked from frozen. Whilst eggs aren’t typically a food we might want to freeze, it is possible to do so for things such as cakes and speedy scrambled eggs – however when it comes time to cook them, it’s important you first let them defrost.
Eggs should be left to thaw overnight, and this is best done in the refrigerator, although it is also possible to defrost eggs in a cold water bath.
Can you cook milk from frozen?
No, milk should not be used straight from frozen. However, it can be used if it is safely defrosted in the refrigerator beforehand (this applies to dairy and plant-based milks).
One thing to bear in mind is that the freezing and defrosting process can cause the fat in the milk to separate, and the colour may change slightly. Shaking the defrosted milk will mix it up so that it is suitable to use. As defrosted milk may be slightly different in texture and colour, you may want to consider using it in baking, cooking and smoothies.
Be careful on the container you use to freeze milk, as it can expand during freezing, which could cause it to break.
Can you cook fish from frozen?
There are a number of ways to cook fish from frozen, with this being one of the most popular foods to cook straight from the freezer, particularly salmon and cod – so here’s what you need to know:
The first thing to note is that all frozen fish should first be washed under cold running water before cooking
One of the most popular ways to cook fish from frozen is straight into the oven for roasting. Brushing the top of your frozen fish fillet with oil and seasoning to your taste before popping it into a preheated oven for around 15-20 minutes. Times vary depending on the size of your fish.
You can also cook fish from frozen in the steamer, which is a convenient and healthy way of enjoying your food. Steaming fish from frozen is particularly time efficient only taking around 20 minutes to cook.
Can you cook salmon from frozen?
Yes, it is completely safe to cook salmon straight from the freezer and it can be just as delicious and healthy as cooking defrosted salmon.
The tricky bit is trying not to overcook it, which can be avoided by brushing the salmon with olive oil, covering it with foil initially when cooking in the oven and then uncovering it until it reaches a safe temperature. Timings will depend on the size of the salmon portion but will usually take approximately 15-20 minutes to cook.
Frozen salmon can also be poached, steamed, grilled, pan-fried or microwaved. For pre-packed products, the instructions will give you the best method for getting tender and flaky salmon.
Can you cook prawns from frozen?
No, but not because it is unsafe to cook them from frozen. It is because it can result in them overcooking. When prawns are overcooked, it can make them hard and chewy.
It is always best to defrost prawns (raw or cooked) safely in a refrigerator before cooking or even under running cold water if pressed for time. Prawns that have already been cooked can be eaten without heating after safe defrosting.
Can you cook bacon from frozen?
Yes you can! If bacon happens to be your go-to breakfast food, then you don’t have to worry – you can enjoy bacon straight from the freezer with minimal effort involved. We often get asked can you cook bacon from frozen, and how?! Whether you want to fry, microwave or bake your bacon – you can still do so from frozen, but here’s what you need to know.
If you are popping a pack of bacon into the freezer, be aware that they will freeze together, and these must be separated before cooking. You can combat this by freezing your bacon slices separately, however they usually will come apart with a little force.
Thanks to how thin bacon is, it shouldn’t require too much extra cooking time, however we advise allowing a few extra minutes when cooking to ensure the meat is properly cooked through.
Can you cook mince from frozen?
Can you cook mince from frozen? Most certainly! In fact, mince can be cooked from frozen and its pretty much the same as cooking it from fresh! Simply pop your frozen mince into a pan and keep it moving over a low temperature as it begins to thaw and separate. Once your mince has come apart you can turn the heat up and continue to stir the mince until evenly cooked. If you’re wondering how long it takes to cook mince from frozen – then don’t worry – it usually takes just around 10 to 15 minutes to cook!
Can you cook pork from frozen?
Yes, especially products that have already been pre-prepared and frozen, such as ribs, chops and loins. These are usually cooked in the oven straight from frozen.
Larger joints, such as legs and shoulders, are usually purchased refrigerated. However, the majority are suitable for home freezing, but will need to be defrosted before cooking unless the instructions state otherwise.
Can you cook meatballs from frozen?
Yes and no. It depends on the type of meatballs and whether purchased fresh or frozen. Most meatballs that are frozen after purchase will require fully defrosting before cooking. Always check the packaging or with the butcher, as they will give instructions on what to do before cooking.
Meatballs (both meat and meat-free) that can be cooked from frozen are usually cooked in the oven or shallow fried, but some are also microwaveable. Regardless of the method chosen or type of meatballs, they should always be piping hot all the way through before serving.
Can you cook lamb from frozen?
Yes, like any other meat, you can cook lamb from frozen. However, it will take longer to cook. The exact cooking time will depend on the cut and size, but you can add up to 50% for larger pieces. Great if you have lots of time, but not so great if you are in a rush.
If cooking from frozen, it is better to use this method for smaller pieces of lamb, such as chops or diced lamb. Frozen chops should always be placed on a baking tray in a single layer and put in the oven, but they can also be grilled or fried. Frozen purchased products, such as prepared shanks, mince and steaks can also be cooked straight from frozen. The instructions will tell you what to do for the best results.
For larger joints, such as legs, racks and shoulders, defrosting fully in the refrigerator is the way to go before roasting in the oven at the correct temperature and time.
Can you cook vegetables from frozen?
Fresh veg can be pricey and can spoil really quickly – so buying frozen veg or freezing fresh veg can be a smart way of preserving your stock and avoiding unnecessary waste. But can you cook veg from frozen, and how easy is it?
Surprisingly, there are plenty of veg options out there that can be eaten from frozen, no cooking required! Things such as sweetcorn or peas that can be easily tossed into a salad or pasta dish for a boost of goodness without the hassle of cooking.
However, if you are cooking your frozen veg, it is better to do so in a pan, as oven cooking and steamers can quickly lead to soggy veggies that are less than appealing!
Bear in mind cooking vegetables from frozen often takes less time than from fresh, so if you’re stir-frying frozen veg, simply cut the time in half!
Can you cook bread from frozen?
Frozen sliced bread can be cooked from frozen, and in fact it’s pretty delicious! However, there are some important things to point out about this! Frozen bread dough that has not been cooked cannot be cooked from frozen but must first be left to defrost.
It is always advisable to follow the instructions on the packet for the precise cooking times of your frozen bread.
Can you cook soup from frozen?
Absolutely, you can. However, it may affect the texture and the colour, which will depend on what ingredients are in the soup.
If soup is cooked straight from frozen, it is best if it is heated slightly in the microwave on a low heat. The frozen soup should be placed in a microwave-safe container and heated for a few minutes until it is a slushy consistency.
It should then be broken up and stirred regularly to ensure it defrosts evenly. The soup can then be transferred to a pan or continued to be heated in the microwave on a higher heat. It is important to continue to stir the soup regularly to ensure heat is evenly distributed.
Ideally, frozen soup should be defrosted safely in a refrigerator overnight and then placed into a pan and heated slowly on the hob. If the soup has a higher fat content, it can separate. Therefore, it should be thoroughly stirred when cooking. Some water may also need to be added if the soup has thickened too much during freezing and thawing.
Whichever method is chosen, it is important to ensure the soup is fully defrosted and piping hot before serving.
Can you cook fruit from frozen?
Frozen fruit is highly popular, especially as toppings for porridge, thrown into a smoothie or for the perfect fruit pie filling. Fresh fruit is great, but it doesn’t offer a very generous shelf life and so can easily become wasted, so frozen fruit is certainly a popular option for many.
And the best bit? You can cook fruit straight from frozen – no need to defrost at all!
Can you cook pasta from frozen?
You can enjoy your favourite pasta cooked from frozen in the same way you’d enjoy fresh pasta. Simply pop it into a pan of water set to boil and stir gently. Depending on the type of pasta your cooking, times can vary but generally don’t take more than 8 minutes to cook.
Can you cook rice from frozen?
Yes, rice that has already been cooked can be cooked straight from frozen. There are even frozen rice steam bags available that you can pop in the microwave for a few minutes.
Frozen rice can be used in many different dishes and cooked in various ways, such as in the microwave, frying or boiling. It can even be used in rice pudding made on the hob or baked in the oven.
If you have cooked too much rice, you can freeze it. However, it is vital to chill and freeze it quickly due to the risk of Bacillus cereus. Rice can be defrosted before cooking, but it should be cooked quickly or kept refrigerated for no longer than 24 hours. It is also crucial to heat the rice thoroughly until it is piping hot and never reheat it more than once.
Can you cook foods from frozen using a slow cooker?
Slow cookers are wonderful things, and can make cooking and prepping food a breeze – but can we cook foods from frozen using one? Unfortunately, the answer here has to be no. Whilst logistically foods can be cooked from frozen using this method, it is highly dangerous and here’s why:
- Cooking from frozen in a slow cooker can lead to the growth of bacteria before the food reaches a safe temperature. This is particularly true with meat.
- Heightened risk of food poisoning due to high chance of bacteria
Cooking straight from frozen can be an incredibly convenient and beneficial way of enjoying food, but it’s important to know the best practice ways of handling different food groups, and which foods require a little more time and attention.
By following our guide, we hope you have found some helpful pieces of information, and now feel confident to tackle your meals more efficiently whilst staying safe in the kitchen!