6 of the Best Frozen Dinner Shortcuts, According to Chefs

published Nov 13, 2021
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Chefs: They’re just like us. While their culinary skill set is of the most professional level, they too love a solid timesaver when it comes to making dinner. Whether it’s a preferred pantry staple or, in this case, a favorite frozen shortcut, the items they reach for at home, night after night, all have one thing in common: versatility.

Here are the six frozen groceries these chefs consider essential for weeknight meals and beyond. (There’s even a recipe for vegan pigs in a blanket below!) Let’s take a look!

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1. Riced Cauliflower

“One of my favorite weeknight go-to meals is my pineapple fried cauliflower rice. With frozen riced cauliflower on hand, you can have an incredibly flavorful dinner on the table in under 30 minutes (prep time included!). Use canned, strained pineapple chunks and you’ll cut your prep time down even further. Frozen and canned vegetables and fruits are picked and canned or frozen at the peak of their ripeness (aka maximum flavor), so I always opt for those rather than buying something pre-chopped by the store. Not only [are those] often the fresher option, but [they’re] the least expensive as well. Win-win!” Nathan Lyon, chef and Emmy-nominated cookbook author

Buy: Boulder Canyon Frozen Riced Cauliflower, $3.12 for 10 ounces on Instacart

Credit: Kate Oczypok

2. Pizza Dough

Note: This is not technically a frozen item, but Diana says to buy it fresh and freeze it for later. “I love using pizza dough for anything savory. I use it to make hot pockets, flatbreads, and empanadas. I also use it with any leftover meat or vegetables.” — Diana Manalang, chef/owner of Little Chef Little Café, New York City

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3. Spinach

“I find frozen spinach to be a great alternative to fresh spinach when fresh isn’t available, or when you don’t want to buy the five bags of fresh spinach that would be necessary to yield an adequate amount once cooked down. Spinach is great for a pop of green to hearty fall soups, as well as dishes like spanakopita and stuffed shells.” — Micah Fredman, chef, ipsa provisions

Buy: Woodstock Organic Frozen Spinach, $3.99 for 10 ounces on Instacart

Credit: Amazon

4. Puff Pastry

“I use puff pastry in quite a bit of my cooking — especially around the holidays! You can add some baked-off puff pastry to the top of a soup to make it like a pot pie. Personally, I make a mushroom pot pie soup and add a square of baked-off puff pastry to the top and it has all of those wonderful pot pie flavors. A few brands of puff pastry are actually vegan, so it’s really easy to make some tasty appetizers or desserts that everyone can eat. One of my favorite dishes is vegan pigs in a blanket. You just roll out the dough, brush it with some good mustard and a little bit of maple syrup, and then roll in veggie sausage. You can wrap frozen puff pastry around just about anything and your guests will think that you spent hours in the kitchen making delicious treats just for them!” — Liv Vasquez, chef at LivvieSmalls Events, Portland, Oregon

Buy: Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry, $4.94 for 17.3 ounces

Credit: Mara Weinraub

5. Shredded Hash Browns

“I love keeping frozen hash browns and frozen sweet potato cubes in my freezer. They’re great additions to scrambled egg dishes for quick hashes.”—Kristin Beringson, chef, Henley, Nashville

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6. Peas

“I use frozen peas for this easy truffle pea purée: Slice one onion and sauté it in butter until it’s translucent in your cooking vessel (ideally a taller pot with a lid). Add 2 pounds of frozen peas and 6 cups vegetable stock, a sprig of thyme, and 2 bay leaves. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn off the heat and cover with a lid, letting it sit for 10 minutes. After, remove the bay leaves and thyme and purée. Add truffle oil and salt to season. You want the purée to be as smooth as possible. It’s delicious and pairs with everything from poultry to fish to red meat.”— Christopher Arturo, chef-instructor, Institute of Culinary Education, New York City

Do you have a frozen dinner shortcut? Tell us in the comments below!