I’m an optimist. When unfavorable weather earlier in the year has a negative effect on duck populations, I’m fairly confident that I’ll still manage to scratch out limits when I’ve got the time.Besides, sitting in a duck blind on a blue-sky day still beats the snot out of staring at my computer. If pheasant breeding is down and the chances of finding roosters aren’t so good, I’d still rather be following my setters, Mac and Floyd, through thick cover than just about anything else I could be doing. Fortunately, my wife doesn’t read my blogs.
As usual, I’m feeling pretty good about a great hunting season. But before I start loading up the freezer with all things furred and feathered, it’s always best to use up the game from season’s past. Before your freezer is overloaded with this season’s harvest, why not make a big batch of stew with a mixed bag stew? While the stew is slowly, um…stewing, take some time to tidy up the freezer and get it organized for the record harvest ahead. If it goes the way I’m anticipating, I might even need to get another freezer to store all the critters I’ll be dragging home.
Making a large pot of stew early on in the season accomplishes a few things. You make room in the freezer with game that should be consumed sooner than later and, once cooked and cooled, the stew can be frozen in batches for quick meals later in the season. I freeze it in gallon-sized freezer safe zipper lock bags and then remove the bags and vacuum-seal. When you do freeze it in the zipper lock bags, make sure that you leave a few inches of air space to they won’t bust open as they expand when freezing. The frozen vacuum-sealed bags can be set into a pot of boiling water for 30 minutes or so while you’re hosing off your waders and taking a warm shower. Put on your slippers and enjoy a comfortable bowl of stew that tastes way better than anything you’ll get from a can.
When it comes cooling the stew before freezing, don’t leave it out at room temperature or even place it in the fridge. Neither of those methods will cool it fast enough. Instead, it will encourage bad bacteria to do what it does best- make you wish you had cooled it faster. Transfer the stew to another container in an ice water bath and stir often. I have jugs of frozen water that I place inside the stew to cool it even faster. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer (but you should), ladle soup into freezer-safe bags, make sure they are tightly sealed (best to use 2 bags, just in case) and lay them flat in the freezer. When they’re frozen flat, they are much easier to stack in the freezer and will take up much less room. As always, label and date each package.
Here are a few other tips to consider when freezing soups and stews.
- Vegetables should be a little undercooked. They’re going to cook some more when bringing back to serving temperature.
- If it contains any dairy, leave it out and add when reheating. Milk and cream give them a funky texture and can separate after warming. Add dairy products while bringing up to serving temperature.
- Leave the pasta out of the recipe when making a batch to freeze. Pasta gets mushy when frozen and reheated. It’ll taste fresher if you cook a separate batch of pasta and add it before serving.
- To make it taste fresher after reheating, add a little garnish like fresh minced parsley, other herbs or diced fresh tomato.