Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving - Storing Leftovers

Everyone seems ready to dole-out tips for using up those leftover bits from Thanksgiving. I don't know about you, but after a day or two, I get to that point where enough is enough. Turkey is delicious, but you can only eat so much at a time.

Thankfully, I discovered a really great technique for storing turkey to be used over time. If you're like me, you take leftover meat and put it all in a zip-top bag in the freezer. When you go to use it, you find you have a gallon-sized lump of meat that all has to be defrosted at once even if you need only a handful for the dish you're making. Never fear. There is a way to prevent this.

Move stuff around in your freezer so that a sheet pan will fit in it. I know this is difficult, but if you shuffle stuff around, you can often squeeze it in just between other stuff and ceiling of the freezer cavity. Chop the turkey into bite-sized pieces or pieces you feel you can use in recipes and scatter them loosely on the sheet pan. Freeze the pan uncovered for 1 to 2 hours or until the turkey has pretty much frozen solid. Remove the pan from the freezer and rap it sharply on the counter to loosen the pieces. Transfer them to a zip-top bag, remove as much air as you can, and return to the freezer.

What you've done here is created "Individually Quick Frozen" (IQF) chunks of turkey...roughly the same technique manufacturers use for frozen peas, corn, etc. By doing this, you can now remove only the amount of turkey you need and defrost it or add it directly to a dish for a quick meal. Be sure to store it at the back of the freezer if you can and remove as much air as you can every time you open the bag. This helps prevent ice crystals from forming around the meat.

Incidentally, this same technique will work for most of the other leftovers. Using a cookie scoop or large ice cream scoop with a mechanical sweep, portion-out other leftovers (potatoes, butternut squash, stuffing, etc.) on a sheet pan. Freeze 1-2 hours and move the individual scoops of leftovers into a large zip-top bag.

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