Some foods keep fine in the fridge for longer than others, and whether you observe the rules of the USDA (which advises that most foods be trashed after three to four days of refrigeration) or live by the sniff-and-taste model, it’s good to be aware of when the final day is near—and nearly a week out, the end is darn well nigh for this year’s Thanksgiving leftovers.
If you hate tossing leftover meats but you’ve run out of time and appetite, break out the zip top bags and reusable food storage containers and turn to the freezer. As you of course know, meats like turkey, roast ham, or prime rib all freeze well when raw, but they’re also perfectly fine for freezing after they’ve been cooked. But when you’re ready to freeze them, keep future you in mind, and make it easy for yourself to thaw the meat later.
If you have a large, solid hunk of meat, break it down into serving sizes, or small slices. This ensures quick freezing, and quick thawing on the other side. Freezing in individual portions is a great idea, as you should only thaw what you plan on eating right away—it’s not recommended you refreeze meats numerous times, as this can result in loss of moisture and degrade its quality.
So if you happen to have lots of small containers, portion small amounts of meat into them. If you only have large containers, layer pieces of meat with parchment, waxed paper, or plastic wrap between them. Not only does this ensure you’re not fighting with a giant brick of meat next week, but the small portions are easier to work with when you’re ready to cook.
Thaw the meat wisely. If you think ahead, you can move individual servings of the previously cooked meat down to the fridge to thaw slowly overnight, which is the best way to avoid bacterial growth, and the most hands-off approach. If you forgot to thaw it and you’re hungry now, don’t fret: you can run it under cold water for a few minutes as long as it’s in an airtight plastic bag. Once the meat is cold but once again pliable, you can use it in sandwiches, salads, or wraps.
If you plan on reheating the frozen leftovers in hot food, like a stir fry, casserole, braised dish, or soup, you can skip the thawing step completely. Remove the individual portions from the freezer, chop into the appropriate pieces, and drop it in with the other ingredients.
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