Whether you’re getting ready to go camping or prepping for an emergency, it’s especially nice to know that you can freeze-dry foods you like for whatever tomorrow brings. But that begs the question – can casseroles be freeze-dried?
Casseroles can be freeze-dried by removing any excess oils and fats, and by dividing the casserole into small, individual-sized portions before freeze-drying. Another easy option is to freeze-dry the ingredients to make the casserole so that the casserole can be made at any time in the future.
Freeze-drying will allow you to conserve your favorite casserole dishes without losing any nutritional value and taste. So, let’s talk about how to freeze-dry casseroles, reconstitute freeze-dried meals, and freeze-drying ingredients that you can use to make a fresh casserole.
How To Freeze-Dry Casseroles
Freeze-drying casseroles use the standard steps, as long as the dish is evenly spread casserole onto the freeze drier trays. All foods freeze-dry best if kept to a max of half an inch thick, though deeper casseroles can still freeze-dry with extra time. After filling the trays, put them in the machine and start the timer.
However, if your casserole, like a lasagna, is more than half an inch thick, here’s a pro tip so you don’t have to make your casserole less deep. Just cut smaller servings of the casserole and place them on the tray with some distance between them.
If a casserole serving is too tall to fit into the freeze-dryer, tip the servings over on their side, and leave plenty of room between servings. This will allow the freeze drier to reach every corner of the dish, giving you the best freeze-dried product.
The freeze-drying of casseroles may take between 15 and 40 hours, depending on the meal. The best thing about freeze-drying is that it gets the job done without any hassle once it’s prepped and loaded.
The size, taste, and coloration of freeze-dried casseroles are very similar to the original. Furthermore, the process retains 92% to 95% of the nutritional value and does not allow any bacteria to grow.
Freeze-dried products can last between 15 to 20 years if properly stored and free of fats or oils that could go rancid.
Now, if your casserole is full of oils and fats? Then you’ve got a couple of options. First, you can remove as much of that oil (or fat) as possible to extend the shelf-life of your freeze-dried casserole.
Or you can remember that your dish isn’t going to keep for 20+ years. It may only last 2-5 years with the fat still in the dish. But it’ll still be delicious.
How to Reconstitute Freeze-Dried Meals and Casseroles
To reconstitute a freeze-dried casserole, add warmed water to the dish over time. Reheating the dish with steam can also help to reconstitute it faster and more effectively.
Reconstituting refers to adding water back to freeze-dried meals. You have to rehydrate when you want to enjoy your freeze-dried food. There are different ways of reconstituting freeze-dried meals, but all involve adding warm water to the food and waiting for the coloration to appear.
To rehydrate casseroles, especially pasta, add warm water to the dish and stir a bit. After that, cover the dish with aluminum foil and place it in the preheated oven at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. The amount of water and the time in the oven may vary depending on the dish.
Reconstituting vegetable and chicken soups are also simple. All soups have a base of broth and so adding hot broth to soups will liven them up.
You can also reconstitute meals like scalloped potatoes by adding warm water and waiting for 10 to 15 minutes.
To reconstitute meat, you can submerge it into a bowl of hot water until it gets warm and shows a better color. Rehydrating meat also takes a few minutes to be ready.
Pro tip: start small on the water. You can always add more water to keep things reconstituting, but it’s difficult to pull water out of a dish that’s gone soggy due to too much water.
How To Freeze-Dry Ingredients to Make Fresh Casseroles As Needed
Freeze-drying ingredients can be cooked with in the future, so long as they are reconstituted first or extra water is added to the dish to reconstitute the food while it cooks in the dish.
You can also freeze-dry individual ingredients instead of freeze-drying the whole meal. That will allow you to rehydrate the elements when you want to make a dish out of them.
Ingredients can be freeze-dried using the standard steps for the ingredient in question. Pre-freezing the ingredients can shorten the overall amount of time spent in the freeze-dryer.
Freeze-drying of ingredients can give you the following benefits:
- Freeze-drying of ingredients will remove the moisture, which in turn will reduce the weight of the food. The reduced weight will allow you to store more food in a compact space.
- Freeze-dried ingredients will help you make a quick meal out of them if some unannounced guests come to your house and you do not have anything prepared. The ingredients will give you the leverage of making a new meal which you would not have been able to do if you had stored full meals.
- Freeze-drying also gives you a chance to store seasonal fruit and vegetable that you love. You would be able to eat your favorite food throughout the year instead of waiting for its season to come.
We love baking with our freeze-dried pantry at home or while camping. It’s a great way to cook our favorite dishes without having to worry about weight.
Things to Consider When Freeze-Drying Meals
Freeze-drying meals containing excess amounts of oil, honey, peanut butter, or anything with thick consistency will not give the ideal results.
Freeze-drying only removes the water content from the food, which does not allow the bacteria to grow on them, thereby extending their shelf life. However, if your food includes a high quantity of dense solutions, then the freeze-drier will not be able to remove them, which will affect their shelf life. You can look into other methods like dehydration to store the food for a longer duration.
Another thing to remember is to reseal the packages once you have taken out the required amount of the dried food. If you leave it open, then the moisture in the air will cling to the food, which will affect its life span.
How Long Will Freeze-Dried Casserole Keep?
Casseroles and other prepared dishes that are freeze-dried can last anywhere from 1-10+ years, depending on what ingredients are in the dish. Creamier, fattier, and cheesier casseroles will not last as long as fat-free freeze-dried dishes.
For most creamy casserole dishes, I’d expect the shelf-life of a casserole to be more like 1-5 years. Even so, freeze-drying a casserole is the best way to keep a meal handy in case of an emergency – especially when all you want is comfort food.
The shelf life of casseroles and meals also depends on several factors:
- How you have stored the freeze-dried food. If you did not seal your food properly or left it in a humid place, it might shorten its useful life.
- The fat or oil content of the casserole. Fats and oils will shorten the overall shelf-life of a casserole or any other dish.
That is why it is imperative that you properly pack your food and store it in a dry place to ensure its long life.
Here’s how to get a sense of how long a family-favorite casserole can last while freeze-dried: test it. Freeze-dry the casserole in several batches – and then store it in multiple mylar bags. Open one in a month to see how fresh it still is at that point. Then, test another bag at 6 months, a year, and so on.
Again, if it’s a creamy casserole, I’d expect it to need to be eaten within 1-5 years of being freeze-dried. But always do a sniff test first. And if it’s ever iffy? When in doubt, then throw it out. Food poisoning isn’t worth the risk.
Freeze-drying is arguably the best method available to store food for the long term. It clears out 95% to 97% of water content. The process retains the shape, color, taste, and nutritional value of the food close to the original. Moreover, it stops microorganisms from growing on your food, thereby increasing their shelf life to more than 20 years.
We’ve loved having our freeze dryer – and having a wide variety of our favorite foods stored for whatever tomorrow will bring our way.
To date, most of our dishes don’t last more than a month or two while freeze-dried. Usually, it’s because we run out of groceries and pull out a meal to delay a store trip by another day or so. But it’s a nice way to use up our food stores responsibly – and minimize our waste.
Oh, and make sure you go read my article on freeze-drying candy and sweets next. You’re gonna want dessert with that casserole, right? It’s a fun read – and an even tastier freeze-dried taste test. Enjoy!
Learning from your own experience is essential, but learning from others is also intelligent. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as homesteaders.
- “Hearty Winter Soups And Stews.” Harvest Right, 2021, https://harvestright.com/blog/2017/hearty-winter-soups-and-stews/.
- “Rehydrating Full Meals.” Harvest Right, 2021. https://harvestright.com/blog/2016/rehydrating-full-meals-3/.