Friday, August 21, 2009

The Significance of a Full Freezer

Our freezer, with the ever-vigilant Cosmo making sure all is right and proper

When I was a kid, my mother once kept a whole mallard duck in the freezer--feathers and all--looking as if he were perched on a frozen pond, awaiting the spring thaw. She was painting a winter landscape with ducks in it, and Mr. Frosty McDuck, Esq. was her model. She'd pull him out and paint for a few minutes, then rush him back to the freezer before he began to thaw. I don't remember how long she kept him in there, but it seemed like forever that I had to push him out of the way to find one thing or another. He never made it onto the table as anything more an artist's model, but we ate plenty of duck each winter, so I don't recall his sacrifice for art depriving us too terribly.

A full freezer was an ever-present reminder during my growing-up years that we were going to be well fed throughout the winter months (artist's models excepted). Each autumn we had a steer and a hog butchered, with those dozens of neatly wrapped packages of potential meals divvied up amongst my parents and various other family members. We'd stash our share in what my folks called the "locker," a giant treasure chest of a freezer that dominated the room connecting the house and the garage. After all the meat was packed in--except for the hams and slabs of bacon, which were suspended from the rafters of the smokehouse--the rest of the space in the locker was devoted to whatever fruits and vegetables that had not been relegated to canning. I can still see the topnotch of that ginormous pressure canner dancing atop a geyser of steam, its bulk and hardware reminding me of a cross between Frankenstein’s monster and the tin man. But I digress.

Most freezers I peer into these days are packed with pizzas, frozen dinners and ice cream. It's all about convenience. But my freezer doesn't say, "Hey, let's eat now." Rather it says, "If you've got the time, I've got the ingredients." While I make and stash plenty of sauces and soups, my freezer harbors a collection of raw materials for constructing something yummy:

√ pint containers of homemade beef and chicken stock
√ the skeletal remains of a chicken I fabricated and from which I'll make more stock
√ homemade demi-glace
√ boneless, skinless chicken thighs--my secret weapon (they have great texture and flavor, and the meat doesn’t dry out)
√ hog jowls, another secret weapon, which I stash in my luggage each time I return from a visit back home in Tennessee
√ chunks of parmigiano-reggiano rind, which I toss into the soup pot to give it extra richness
√ bags of assorted nuts and dried fruits, which keep much better there than in the cabinet
√ frozen cranberries, so that I can cook and bake with those tangy gems when it isn’t November or December

Notice that lone box in the freezer? My one concession to pre-made is puff pastry dough. I actually did make p√Ęte feuillet√©e a few times after culinary school, but dang! That's a lot of work. I guess you just have to decide what you do and don't have time for. Oh, and frozen croissants from my favorite French gourmet market. 19 minutes in the oven, and they're the best I've had outside of Paris.

So those are my freezer secrets. It’s not as revealing perhaps as a peek inside someone’s medicine cabinet or bedside drawer. But with that cache of foodstuff, I feel prepared to make a meal that I’m not ashamed to serve anyone.

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