Carrots are a versatile vegetable that can be enjoyed fresh in the summer or cooked from frozen throughout the year. Freeze some at the peak of harvest and you’ll be able to enjoy them in soups, stews and as a side dish any time.
To retain the best flavor over the long term, select the right carrots. The carrots you freeze should be as fresh as possible. If you grow them in your garden, try freezing them shortly after you pick them, preferably within two hours. Keep in mind that smaller carrots are usually more tender and flavorful. Do not use carrots that are dry or cracking – they will not hold their flavor or texture through the freezing process.
The process of freezing involves three main steps: chopping, blanching and chilling, and the actual freezing.
Carrots are best frozen in small pieces, but you can freeze very small carrots whole. Depending on the ways you plan to use them, you can, to paraphrase late-night infomercials, dice, slice or julienne. Start by cutting off the tops and tips. Peel the carrots and then chop into the desired shape and size.
Blanching is essential for most vegetables you are planning to freeze – the enzymes in the vegetable, if left unchecked, will eventually break down its nutrients and diminish its texture and taste. Blanching destroys the enzymes before the vegetables are frozen. Before blanching, fill a large bowl with ice and cold water and keep it handy.
To blanch chopped carrots, add them to a pot of boiling water, about 2/3 full, and cover. Blanch whole, small carrots for about 5 minutes, and chopped carrots for 2-3 minutes. Start counting the time as soon as you place them in the water. You can re-use the blanching water, but no more than five times.
Now for that ice water – as soon as the carrots are done, plunge them in the cold water to ensure they do not get overcooked. Keep them in the ice water for the same length of time that you blanched them. For example, if you blanched whole, small carrots for 5 minutes, you should cool them for 5 minutes as well.
Drain the carrots and then place them in the bag or container you are using for freezing. The type of container is up to you, but you should choose one that keeps out moisture and air to prevent freezer burn. If you use plastic bags, ensure that they are designed for use in the freezer. The Nutrition Resources department of Colorado State University states that good quality rigid plastic or glass containers are best, but also says that plastic freezer bags are good for freezing.
There are two freezing methods: dry pack and tray pack. With dry packing, you simply place the carrots in your chosen container, leaving head space for them to expand. In rigid containers you should leave ½” head space. Fill freezer bags only to within 3” of the top. To tray pack, place chilled, well-drained carrots in a single layer on a tray and let them freeze before packing. Tray packing leaves the carrots separate instead of frozen in one solid block, which can be better for measuring when you need them in a recipe.
You can keep frozen carrots for about ten to twelve months.