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Last update 02/17/2009

Freeze-Vac Food Packaging

Vacs Frozen since 05/27/07


When I travel either in my motor home or in my semi truck, I carry along a couple of Engel 45 refrigerator/freezers.  Advanced RV is a great place to get 'em. Call for much better pricing, as he never updates his site.

Anyway, having an efficient freezer along means that I can cook in bulk and package dishes in portion sizes.  When I'm hungry just nuke'n'eat.

I've tried several methods of portion-packing foods over the years.  Restaurant-type round Styrofoam cups and lids do fair.  Oils in foods soak through the Styrofoam, the containers are fragile and they don't stack well in the freezer.  I've tried zip-lock bags.  They work better but the seal isn't all that robust, the bags cannot stand the heat of the microwave and they're not very durable.

The semi-disposable containers being sold by all the major packaging companies (Glad, Reynolds, etc), work much better.  They're tough, in the square format they stack OK and they withstand moderate microwave heat.  The only problem is that to this miserly traveler, they're too expensive to use once and throw away.  I find myself with the untenable urge to wash 'em and use 'em again.

After years of procrastinating, mainly because of the cost, I finally broke down and bought a FoodSaver vacuum sealing machine.  Sam's has a nice kit for about $130 as of this date.  The competing product is the Seal-A-Meal.  I don't know which is best but Sam's only carries the FoodSaver and it was a bunch cheaper there.

The bag material (cheaper in rolls than individual bags) is an interesting product.  A triple layer laminate, it is very tough, is impermeable to oil and food odors and loves the microwave.  For frozen food the major benefit to vacuum sealing is the elimination of air, stopping freezer burn in its steps.  I portion out all sorts of stuff from white beans to coffee.

The major complication comes with liquid dishes.  One can't vacuum seal gooey stuff like stews and chili because the juice gets sucked out of the bag and into the machine.  Therefore one must freeze the product before sealing.  That leads to a fairly complicated process.  Cut the bag and seal one end.  Ladle in the product.  Place in the freezer, preferably on a slant so the contents won't bulge out.  Allow to freeze.  Remove from freezer and vacuum seal.  Replace in freezer.  A pain in the butt!  There had to be a better way.

My thought has been to make "food-cicles", frozen single portion hunks of the food.  Put the hunks in the bag after freezing and seal.  The problem has been finding a suitable mold.  It needs to be flexible so that the food-cicle can be popped out.  It needs to be slick so the food releases.  And of course, cheap and available.  I tried things like margarine containers but they were unsatisfactory.

Enter silicone bakeware.  This stuff is God's gift to cooks.  Baked goods cook uniformly and then drop right out with no seasoning or other maintenance necessary. 

An idea dawned.

Silicone is well known for its ability to shed pretty much anything.  Nothing will stick.

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On a recent visit to Camp WallyWorld (Wal*Mart for the uninitiated), I saw just the perfect item.  A cornbread loaf mold.  The volume of each hole seemed just about right for a single serving of stew, chili and so on.  I grabbed several.  
In this instance I've made some of my world famous (ahem) spaghetti meat sauce.  A couple of gallons' worth.  As you can see in this photo, the sauce has been portioned out, frozen and one brick has been removed.  It just popped right out when I squeezed the sides of the mold.  
Here is the finished frozen spaghetti brick.  
And here it is vacuum-sealed in its very own bag.  These bags stack well in the freezer.  When it's time to eat the bag can either be tossed in a pot of boiling water (boil-in-bag) or placed in the microwave.  When the food is hot, the steam will swell the bag like a basketball but it won't leak.