How to freeze chilies for storage

How to freeze chilies for storage

Freezing chilies is the best way to preserve them. Dry ice is the best way to avoid a defrosted mushy mess.

By Sean Cunningham

You’ve just spent months out in the garden breaking your back and blistering your fingers in the sun, but to show for all your toil is a heaping harvest of habaneros. So, what now? You can’t eat them all now, and if you wait too long they’ll all rot. You could pickle them, but who has the time for that lengthy labor? Besides, you want to preserve the flavor of the fruit of your hard work. The easiest solution to preserving your peppers? Freezing.

Some of you out there may have tried freezing fruits and vegetables in the past to negative results. Sure, they freeze fine, but when you defrost the bag, you’re left with mush. Wasted time, wasted food, wasted effort. However, freezing is the best way to preserve your chilies, and there is a simple, inexpensive, and effective way to do it that won’t leave your harvest garbage-bound.

For this you will need good quality (probably not generic) freezer bags, a small ice chest, dry ice, and a final resting space in your freezer.

Start by portioning out your chilies into freezer bags. You can put as many as you want in them, but keep in mind that you’ll probably only want to defrost small portions at a time. Try using sandwich size bags that are freezer safe. These can be found just about anywhere. To prepare the chilies, puncture the side with a sharp knife. This will assure that there won’t be any exploding peppers in the freezing/defrosting process. Place the desired amount of chilies inside and get out as much air as possible. If you have a countertop vacuum sealer, this would be a perfect use for it.

The undesirable mushy end product that comes from freezing fruits and vegetables isn’t from the act of freezing itself, but from how you freeze. Your ordinary freezer, or even deep freezer, freezes food slowly. Chilies have water in their membranes, and as they slowly freeze, it forms jagged ice crystals that pierce and puncture the membrane, so that when you defrost it, you’re left with a leaky and “tenderized” result. The solution to this problem is easy … faster freezing. If the water doesn’t have time to form jagged ice, you won’t have a mushy membrane. Doing this in your own kitchen is as simple as dry ice!

Dry ice is “dry” because it contains no liquid. It is frozen carbon dioxide gas, which is why it evaporates as wispy white vapor rather than melts. Imagine how cold it must be to freeze gas! This is why you should exercise extreme caution when handling dry ice. DO NOT touch it directly! Use an insulated glove or kitchen tongs to handle it. Contact with skin can cause frostbite. You can probably see why we’d want to use it for really fast freezing! You can pick up dry ice at just about any grocery store. Bait shops usually carry it too.

The next step starts with your small ice chest. The ideal size is just big enough for your bags of chilies and your dry ice, and nothing more. If you don’t already have a small ice chest, a disposable styrofoam one from a convenience store is a cheap alternative. A regular size ice chest is too big, and won’t get cold enough to efficiently freeze your chilies.

Place a layer of dry ice at the bottom of your ice chest. Then, put in a layer of your bags of chilies, making sure not to overlap them too much. You want as much contact with the dry ice as possible. Repeat another layer of dry ice followed by another layer of chilies, and continue until you fill up the chest. Make sure you end with a layer of dry ice, and again, ensure proper and even freezing by not overlapping the bags of chilies too much. Place the lid on the ice chest and walk away.

The amount of time it will take to freeze your chilies will vary depending on size, but don’t open the lid before thirty minutes have gone by. After thirty minutes, check to see how they’re doing. If they’re still a little soft, let them go a little longer. If they’re hard and have no give when you squeeze them, they’re done. Carefully remove the bags and place them in your freezer. You can reuse the dry ice for more fast freezing, or you can keep the lid off the ice chest and let it evaporate outside.

The chilies will stay good in your freezer for several months, but only as good as your freezer bags. If you have a good bag that fights off freezer burn, they can stay tasty for eight to ten months. A mediocre bag will keep them for around six, though you might start tasting freezer burn sooner. And, because the chilies were frozen so quickly by the dry ice, they won’t defrost into a messy mound of mush. Simply leave a frozen bag out on your counter to thaw, or defrost them in your microwave for a minute to a minute and a half. All you have to do then is sit back and enjoy the bounty from your garden!

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