At the end of a chilly day, it's soothing to sit down to a bowl of hearty, hot stew accompanied by a basket of crusty bread. Since stews take a long time to cook to let the flavors meld, the easiest way to have them ready to eat at the last minute is to make large batches in advance and freeze either individual or family-size portions. If you place the frozen stew in the refrigerator in the morning, it will be ready to reheat by dinner time.
Old-fashioned beef stew freezes extremely well if you cut the ingredients in large, uniform pieces. Larger pieces stay intact better during defrosting and reheating. If you're using potatoes in the beef stew, choose a waxy variety such as white or red potatoes instead of russets, as they retain their shape better. Country-style pork stew also freezes well, as the flavors of the garlic, onion, sage and allspice slightly intensify during cold storage.
Stews With Poultry
Original Brunswick stew recipes usually called for rabbit, squirrel and chicken, but more modern ones generally rely on chicken as the protein in the dish. The traditional corn and lima beans in Brunswick stew hold up well to freezing, and the tomatoes and bell peppers create a rich, flavorful broth. You can add another layer of flavor and texture to Brunswick stew by stirring in a pound or so of cooked, shredded beef brisket from a delicatessen during reheating.
Fish and Seafood Stews
Crab and corn stew is easy to make and freezes well. You can substitute shrimp for the crab, but add it raw to the stew after you defrost it during reheating to prevent the shrimp from becoming tough. Cioppino is a classic seafood stew traditionally made with sturdy, meaty fish such as halibut, pollock or hake, all of which freeze well. You can elevate the flavors of the cioppino by adding fresh mussels or clams to the reheated stew a few minutes before serving. When the shells open up, the shellfish is ready to eat.
Stew Freezing Tips
Stew will last up to one month in the freezer if properly packaged in zipper-lock freezer bags. The easiest way to package it is to place the bags inside of deep bowls and ladle the soup into them. To prevent bacterial growth, thoroughly chill the soup in the pot in ice water in a large sink or bin prior to freezing. If you place it in the freezer at room temperature, you risk bacterial contamination as it cools to freezing temperature. Lay the bags flat on the freezer shelves to hasten freezing and stack them after they're frozen solid.
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Cassie Damewood has been a writer and editor since 1985. She writes about food and cooking for various websites, including My Great Recipes, and serves as the copy editor for "Food Loves Beer" magazine. Damewood completed a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in creative writing at Miami University.